Preparing to Suffer On Race Day

Racing a triathlon is tough. Yes, there are countless sayings: "winter miles, summer smiles", "train hard, race easy”, etc. etc. However, that isn’t really why we race, that describes why we train. We race for a variety of different reasons, some very personal to ourselves. Yet it boils down to competition. We want to better a time or a position for ourselves. We set ourselves a goal which is exciting yet challenging. We have yet to come across a triathlete who comes to us for coaching who says, I have done one race I want to do the next one slower, I don't want to inspire my children or I am trying to not challenge myself! This article helps you define what question you are asking yourself by racing and helps you get ready to answer it.

Everyone has a pain face...

Everyone has a pain face...

To make that improvement, we need to ask ourselves a question: Can I go sub ––? Can I win my age group? Can I really go the distance? The answer to these questions is only finally answered on race day and is prepared through training. However, often we forget one really important part as we build into the training. We still need to work on race day to achieve these outcomes. Even in a long distance race where the intensity is so much easier than most training rides or runs – it is easier than you maybe expected – there are dark points. It may not hurt in the same way as a sprint distance effort, but it certainly makes you dig as deep, it is a specific type of suffering.

It is these points that you need to prepare yourself for. Things won’t feel easy, there will be a headwind, someone else will also have the same outcome goal as you and asks you if you really believe in yourself. These dark points shake you to your core, they test you. This is where you define the answer to your earlier question: "Can you?" However, too many of us fall back on the statement that these experiences are character building. The truth is, they are not. They are character revealing.

If you want to win (whatever winning may be defined by yourself from doing your first 5km, to becoming a world champion), you need to be hungry for that win, hangry even! You need to be prepared to suffer and this is the state of mind you will relate to from training sessions specific to your race distance. How many of us have just not been in the mood for a hard or key workout or session? It was at the end of a long day of work, or there were family distractions, you under-fuelled through the day and now you just feel “meh”!? How many of us then underperformed in that session or skipped it in favour of something easier?

It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or of how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.
— The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Jame Brown

Not only do you need to be prepared to suffer, you need to be in the position where you are looking forward to it. No matter how lofty or not your goal is you will need to be in a position to be ready to ask your body and mind to step up when those big sessions and/or races are looming. 

If you have an upcoming race, have you prepared yourself to suffer?