You Can’t Control What You Can’t Control
You can control many things in a race, such as your effort level, mindset, transition setup, nutrition/hydration, etc. Then, there are things you cannot control, such as the weather, the other competitors, the hills, the condition of the roads, a flat tire, and many more.
One of them for sure is your body. Sometimes, your body does things beyond your control, and you have no idea why it just did what it did. Especially when you’ve pain-stakingly prepared in all aspects of the race. Your stomach turns upside down. You cramp in your quad. Stuff like that. It’s frustrating when you’ve prepared perfectly and executed your race flawlessly, but presto, your body does something weird out of nowhere. What do you do? You deal with it. You think it through. You adjust. You change your race strategy on the fly to keep going.
2.5 miles into the 5K run at the Omaha Tri, (Nebraska State Championships), my calf decided it didn’t like me for some reason. I’d not overtrained. I rested my legs a couple of days before the race. Training had been going well, as had the previous four races this year. I’d warmed up and performed dynamic pre-race movements to activate the muscles. My pace was not insane, and I’d taken electrolyte caps, etc.
Why? Why, with only a half mile to go? No idea. (Well, I have some ideas. My body is just out of wack in some ways. As I’ve written about this before, I’ll spare you the details.) But why now? I was in 3rd place overall at 66 years old in a freak’in State Championship race! So what did I do?
The pain was on the outside part of my right calf. So, I turned my foot/toes inward and kept running half-pigeon-toed to take the load off the outside of my calf when pushing off and shift it just a bit to the inside part of my calf. This eased the pain some, and I was able to gimp along that last half mile to the finish and hold on to third place. When something happens, you deal with it. In other races, an injury popped up, and I had to shut it down completely. Sometimes, that’s the smart thing to do, so no guilt there!
The weather. Yeah, that’s another one. It might start pouring rain in T2 as it did on me (and everyone there) at the Omaha Tri this year. You might wake up to rain on race morning like we all did the morning of the Black Squirrel Tri. What to do? Me? I race unless I hear that it’s called off. We only get a few races a year around here, and I LOVE racing, so, well, here we go!
Racing the Last Blast Tri a couple of years ago, during the bike a massive storm was blowing in from the west. It poured buckets with just a few miles to go. Lightening! Thunder! Wow! As I was coming back into the park, headed for T2, I saw a ton of bikes and athletes who were doing the sprint standing there at the park entry point. “Race is called off,” they yelled. Wait what? No! I’m in 2nd place!! That was a bummer. But it was fun while it lasted.
If the forecast doesn’t look great, hey, come on out and give it a go. Sometimes, the race director will let the race happen. Sometimes it’ll be called off halfway through the race, and sometimes, no matter what, it’s canceled. All of this is done with the athlete’s safety in mind. You can’t control the weather.
When I did the Hawaiian Ironman years ago, it was one of the hottest, windiest days on record. 30 mph sustained winds on the bike with gusts to 40 to 50 mph. Unbelievable! What could I do about it? Absolutely nothing. What could I control? My attitude. (Although I did tear up at one point on the bike while going out to Hawi into that wind at about seven mph, knowing I wouldn’t make the bike cut off at that pace.) My mindset. I started to sing songs in my head to encourage myself. My effort. Just HOW hard do you pedal into winds like that? You’ve got a marathon yet to run! Just make the cut-off and then deal with the 26.2, which I did.
In my other two Ironman races, I went five hours something for the bike. In Hawaii, on that horrific, windy day? Yeah, try about 7:30:00. If you’d told me before the race that would be my time, I wouldn’t have believed I could have gone that “slow.” No way! Yes, way!
What’s the point of all this? Don’t freak out over things beyond your control. I had a friend who, doing an Ironman very early during the bike, hit a nasty bump in the road, causing his behind-the-seat, two-bottle cage to break off his bike. At that moment, he’d lost his perfectly prepared, essential nutrition. Not only that, but now he could not carry more nutrition for the rest of the race. Ugh. It would be very tempting to freak out at that point. I’ve got a list of 30 things that can go wrong on race day and how to handle them. I’ll share those in a blog post soon.
Keep pressing on, be ready for the things you can’t control, don’t freak out, be smart, and race safe!