It's now 5 weeks to the day since I made my Ironman debut. Having just returned from a 2 week holiday away from everything swim, bike and run (well, almost!), I find myself reminiscing about race day, the lead-up and the highs, lows and relentlessness of training, and once again I am truly in awe of what the mind and body is capable of.
I was so excited when my coach and I decided that the time had come for me to give an Ironman a crack. I signed up for Ironman Lanzarote knowing it was one of the toughest on the circuit but buzzing with the challenge that lay ahead. As one by one I told my family and friends what I was training for, I was met with one bemused look after another. I was told I was crazy so many times, I started to question whether I actually was. But as soon as I settled into the winter training graft and began to thrive once again off those morning hurt locker sessions, I knew the decision and the time were both right.
With the race date fast approaching and the weekly countdown heading into single figures, I found myself facing the same question every time I met up with friends or family: "Do you feel ready?" As much as my confidence was gradually building in my ability to do what I needed to do, I would struggle to answer with an honest "Yes". How can you be ready for something when you have absolutely no idea lies ahead? How will it feel? Will my body give up on me? Is my mind strong enough? One elusive question came to mind... What does it even mean to 'be ready'? I then remembered one of the most important things that I have learned from my coach - "if you can't imagine it, you can't execute it". Meaning that to execute something that you are truly capable of, you need to plan for success. And this means 'plan' in the most literal sense of the word. I had to imagine that perfect race, step-by-step, the emotions, possible hurdles, every eventuality, and write it down.
I feel particularly lucky to be working with a coach who I have 100% trust in. His plan for me was of course to both train my body AND develop my mind to be able to cope with anything and everything on race day. He knows my strengths, weaknesses and fears better than I do. So, aside from the physical training, every conversation we had leading into Ironman Lanzarote I was told, reminded and re-reminded about the likely scenarios I was going to face. When it came to developing my personal race plan it was, therefore, a fairly easy task. After each race-specific training session I would note down how I was going to feel on race day and how I was going to overcome different emotions. Within a few weeks I had a succinct race plan which had addressed all of my apprehensions and was committed to memory.
I went into that race with a confidence that I hadn't felt before, despite the fact the 6 month lead-up to this race had me dealing with and learning to manage a hamstring tendinopathy injury. Not ideal when you want to be running a strong marathon after 6-7 hours of windy, hilly biking! I knew this was likely to be one of the hardest things I'd ever done.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a race target in mind, but I discovered the best thing about feeling 'ready' is that you don't need to focus on or even think about the target. I had a race plan to execute and with the confidence that I could react and adapt to whatever the day threw at me, I knew the rest could take care of itself.
Race day came around. I really wanted to podium in my Age Category. I wanted to run a sub 3hr40 marathon. I absolutely wanted to finish with a smile on my face. And I knew deep down I was capable of all of these things. So how did the race pan out?
I finished the swim slower than I expected (and it was horrendous - if you've taken part in Ironman Lanzarote, you'll understand!). I messed up my fluid intake on the bike by not adapting it to the temperature on race day. The salts and electrolytes my body needed were passing straight through me. I came off the bike and started the run with a nagging headache.
Now the above isn't exactly the glowing, positive race report you would expect from someone who has just written about how ready she was. But the point is, and hopefully this is proof to anyone reading this, you don't need to have a good race to have a successful race. All it took were some smart race decisions and reactions to bring the reality of each situation back in line with the race plan. If I hadn't had that plan, it might well have been a very different result.
I crossed the finish line (without any idea of my time or position) in utter elation. I knew I had done everything I needed to do to execute my race. I ran a 3hr40 marathon. I finished 3rd in my Age Category.
If you're ever wondering whether you're ready, look for that missing piece of the jigsaw. Plan for the negatives. Train to develop the positives. Learn how to make smart decisions when under emotional and physical stress. With the right mindset the possibilities are endless!