Nov 26, 2008


Participating just for completion, or racing for time?

Is one a loser for entering a race just to finish? Should one go full-tilt and “do their best” or should they play it safe “just to finish”?

This question plagues me constantly.

Those who are not intimately familiar with Ironman have no idea about what a “good time” would be, and frankly, don’t care about the final time. All they want to know is “Did you finish?”

I have rarely been asked about my finish time for any of my events.

My coach has great confidence in me. Based on all of his science, technology, spreadsheets and experience, he is very confident I can achieve a time that to me, seems wholly unobtainable. But as Napoleon Hill is credited with saying, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

I do believe that is true, but with this caveat to be added……with proper training, hydration, nutrition, rest, coaching, race discipline to stay within proper HR zones, and baring any unforeseen mechanical issues with the bike, heat-related health issues, hyponatremia issues, dehydration issues, repetitive-motion injuries, and frankly, just freak accidents that can happen at literally ANY point in the race.

Freak Accidents?

Yep. These accidents and unanticipated problems can hit you in literally every part of the race. In the swim, the water can be so cold that your muscles cramp up, in some cases causing extreme pain. One can also get kicked in the head, scratched in the opening turmoil, get their mask pulled off, step on coral or a sharp rock or glass and lacerate their foot before they take even a single stroke!

In the bike, mechanical issues can sideline you quite quickly. Flat tires are to be expected and planned for. But just this past year at the world championships in Kona, the reining champion Chris McCormack was sidelined for the entire race after he broke a shifting cable on his extremely aero triathlon bike. The cable was routed internally, that is, within the frame so as to minimize wind drag. When something like this breaks, one needs special tools, even under the best of conditions. Even the guys from the van with all the tools said that it would take them at least 20 – 30 minutes to fix. At that point, his race was over. But one can also break a chain or have any number of mechanical issues or crashes.

Finally, in the run, one can trip on an elevated gap in a sidewalk. Trust me, after a long day on the bike, one tends to lose a bit of concentration, and one small misjudgment, or turning a gaze to an excited spectator, and one could find themselves face-first in the concrete. Running also brings out all of the real GI problems from the day. These are the worst and you just feel so terrible for these people. At this point in the race, most of us mid-packers are not competing, we are just hanging on to finish. And you really feel terrible when you see someone just coming apart at the seams with vomiting, diarrhea and horrendous gas and stomach cramps. This is a horrible way to end your day, especially if it hits you early in the run and you still have 20+ miles to run/walk/crawl.

All these potential problems swirl through my mind in the week prior to the event.

As an Eagle Scout, I am always prepared…for anything. So my mind races with every conceivable potential problem I might experience and then with possible solutions. It’s tough to rest or sit still.

And all this planning (actually…worrying) has caused a horrible GI problem that has forced me to stick close to home. And this is a terrible cycle, because the more I am at home, the more time I have to sit and think and plan. This only creates more stress and worry, leading to more GI problems.

The worry and jitters are likely caused by an intense desire to finish. To have come this far, gone through so much, all the money, all the training, all the doctor’s visits, all the weekends away from family on 6 – 8 hour workouts, and then to come home with a DNF (Did not finish)? I could not bear that. To me, I would feel ashamed and very embarrassed.

I know logically, that a certain number of participants will always DNF and it will have absolutely nothing to do with their preparedness, fitness or planning. Their DNF will be due to situations totally beyond their control. So no matter how much I plan, there is a chance that I could be one of the DNFs.

My strategy is to finish at all costs. Under all circumstances and regardless of the pain or setbacks. There will be no turning back. There will be no sitting down to rest. I will continue under all hardships until I cross that line or am ejected from the race due to not meeting a time cutoff or due to medical problems.

What this strategy means is that I will be participating at the lowest possible risk. I will “under-perform” by design, keeping my watts, HR and pace below the levels that I normally achieve in training. Not because I am a quitter and don’t want to test myself, but because I will never quit under any circumstances. And by participating at a lever where we minimize the risk of a bonk, a blow-up or other stress related issue, I am substantially reducing the chances of a problem that could possible lead to a DNF.

So the plan is set and I must have the discipline to stick to it. That means, don’t worry when people pass me, and at all times, I must fight the normal temptation to speed up and catch that guy right in front of me.

But even with the plan firmly in place and my coach totally on board to support me and to yell out to me to “slow down and stick to our plan” if he finds that my splits are too fast, I am still nervous.

It’s not until I have created an extremely detailed packing list of everything I will need, and packed everything, checking it 3 – 4 times to double check everything, that I begin to relax.

Knowing that everything is packed, all the gear is labeled and put in separate pouches and categories based on each event, I am finally able to rest.