The final six weeks

Our exclusive pro columnist gives an insight into his race planning

“It’s too risky to hope to get by with the bare minimum of planning”

Preparation is key. You can train 40hrs a week but if you forget to put new tyres on your wheels and puncture, or panic when you hear the gun go and nerves stop you from eating or drinking, then all those long hard hours count for nothing.

There are three factors on race day: physical, mental, and technical. The big lesson I’ve learnt is not to focus on the physical preparation and forget about the mental and technical. And sometimes, the latter two go hand in hand. Having confidence in your gear gives you confidence in your ability.

Six weeks before a major race I increase my focus on my intentions for race day. Things like setting your watch to beep every 10mins in training on the bike, just like on race day to remind you to eat and drink. Doing long rides on your own, to push when you feel good, and practise relaxing mentally and physically when you feel flat. Visualising the marathon, when your legs get tired, and working on holding form throughout. All these types of rehearsals count for as much as training physically so that race day is controlled and familiar.

And while training I’m using things exactly as they will be on race day. The same shoes, shorts (yes I ride long rides in my race shorts and they are actually more comfortable than bulky padded pants, especially since I ride an ISM saddle), sunglasses, nutrition, bike set-up, etc. I have my elastic laces in and the socks and hat I’ll wear race day. All these little things can be practised and tweaked before race day to make race day more comfortable and familiar. If you control the controllable, and prepare for the possibilities, then confidence and calmness during race day will prevail.

I know I’m getting smarter (read: ‘less stubborn’) as I get older because my first race of 2013 was Escape from Alcatraz, on March 3 (winter in San Francisco!). The water was 10 degrees. This was scaring the hell out of me. It’s the only race I’ve ever been nervous about, and I’m glad I was, because it made me prepare like never before. I layered more than any other athletes in the race and was toasty warm in the swim, my feet never went numb, and the rest of the race went really well (I finished fourth) while other athletes complained they couldn’t get going on the bike because they were too cold. We all knew it would be freezing!

An Ironman should be approached more as an expedition, a challenge of completing the event in the best shape possible. If you go into the race thinking you will probably be okay with just two bottles of electrolyte and whatever they have at aid stations, or simply hoping that the weather is not extremely hot or cold, then you might fail to achieve your goal time because. It’s just too risky to hope to get by with the bare minimum of planning. Preparing for all scenarios and having backup plans for your perfect race day is the only way to ensure you have a great race. I always race with a backup of caffeine and salt. They are my plan B’s, because these two aids can make a huge difference.

Start thinking about your race-day gear and race-day scenarios, and practise dealing with the negative voices in your head when the going gets tough. We all have them. Prepare thoroughly and your race day will seem like you’re just retracing steps you have trodden many times before.