stress-free racing on the other side of the world

It never fails that just before big races I always start obsessing over how my mental state is going to affect my race. (Cue the hamster wheel/dog chasing its tail.) I’ve raced at various points along the emotional spectrum, from frustrated to happy. And in my racing logs all you’ll find are notes on heart rate and nutrition. Fail.

Despite having fit all my gear into, wait for it, one single solitary carry on, I’ll be going into Ironman South Africa with more emotional baggage than usual. First there was thinking I wasn’t going to be racing at all. Then, it was as if the universe just opened up and dump on me. I’m through it now (thanks to my amazing support crew) but I was left a little stunned by it all. I’m actually looking forward to the long flight for some stillness.

Last (solo) ride today on a rainy morning that gave way to brilliant sunshine and a Masters workout with friends.

It’s been over a year since I flew to a race, and I’m out of practice. So in an effort to board the plane tomorrow with most of my screws tightened, here are some of the things I’ve been researching, reading and taping to my walls.

Jet lag tips

Flying across 10 time zones doesn’t sound like a recipe for Ironman success, so I gathered as much advice as I could  to help me prepare. The tips are disappointingly repetitive: Change your clocks to your destination’s time zone. Avoid all fun beverages. Compress. Hydrate. Blah blah blah. Aside from a curious practice called “Earthing,” there’s nothing really new out there. Plus, the advice can be straight-up confusing, involving calculations of exactly when to sleep and when not to. Here’s what stood out to me from all the chatter.

1. Bring your own snacks. Triathletes are already well-versed in this one. (I can hear the gluten-free chorus rising already.) I’ve got Bonk Breakers, Bare Fruit apple chips, rice cakes, homemade trail mix, and beef jerky packed.

2. Eat according to your destination’s meal schedule. I love  to this one, sure to resonate with always-hungry triathletes: “The trolley appears at the end of the aisle, slooooowly works its way up… and finally, the stewardess puts the tray down in front of you. Honestly, who has the willpower to say ‘No thanks, I’ll just have this grapefruit instead’?” If you’re the kind of person who eats when bored, airplanes are a deathtrap. I’m packing extra willpower.

3. Jet lag hates fresh air, daylight, and exercise. (From travel guru Rick Steves). In other words, the stuff we triathletes live on. In this realm, the prescription is quite simple: expose yourself to daylight in the morning and stay away from it in the afternoon.

Bring your own snacks: Homemade trail mix, crunchy dried apples, and beef jerky.

4. Do a workout at race time every day. (From pro Ben Collins’s advice in Triathlete). Get oriented to the city when you wake up (to natural light, of course) by doing an easy run around your hotel. 

5. Don’t sleep when the clock says it’s day, no matter how tired you are. This means that when I touch down in Port Elizabeth at 2 pm, my goal is to stay up until at least 8 pm, prepped to convince my body it’s nighttime.

6. Be active leading up to your flight. Apparently healthy people are less susceptible to jet lag. Points for us! Quick, frequent workouts in all three disciplines are not only key to a good Ironman taper, and they’ll also help get the blood flowing before and after the 25-hour airplane sit-fest.

7. Drink ridiculous amounts of water. This also comes naturally to us. I’m going to bring a stash of Nuun tablets to make hydrating easy and convenient, and pack two empty water bottles in my carry-on to fill when I’m through security.

The art of the Ironman pre-pack

What can I say, I’m a planner. I was always the annoying student who started research papers a month before they were due. I like the to slow cook my ideas and get a jump on potential stress. Part of this is my tried-and-true, pre-race pack.

I realize that some athletes will just never ever do this. They’ll dig out their bags the night before leaving, and then run around throwing gels and water bottles into it like its some kind of carnival game. But that’s not me. This is me:

Ironman packing list

Tangible lists are my favorite kind.

It’s funny that with all the note-taking apps and Dropboxes and Google Docs I use on a regular OCD basis, when it comes to packing, old-school is it. I like everything in one place, staring me in the face. I dug out my suitcase and made these handy lists over a week before my actual departure date. Every time I thought of something random, like black nail polish for race day, I tossed it. In all the racing I’ve done, to this day I’ve only forgotten a crucial item once. And hey, it made for a good story.

Ironman South Africa packing

I can’t believe I fit it all in two carry-ons and a bike box. 

Mental prep and mantras

All this planning has done more than just make sure I don’t forget a race belt. It also helps calm the mind. A friend said it well on a bike ride last Saturday: Visualize leaving the stress at home. It might mean a mental exercise like filling a symbolic jar with the pieces of the last few weeks and leaving it on the table. Another friend said it even more simply: “Focus on you, sista. Now’s the time to be self-centered.”

Playing director over the weekend at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside.

Racing an Ironman will suck energy from every corner you’re trying to hide it. With my race one week from today, the physical stuff is set in stone. It’s the other junk that can make or break us, and I have seven days to figure it out. To help, I’ve tried to make sure the days leading up to leaving are low-key and a little blah (aside from working/spectating/celebrating at Oceanside 70.3 all day yesterday!). I’ve adopted a bedtime fit for 5-year-olds. I’ve loaded new books, movies, and podcasts onto my various devices. I’ve watched some silly TV, and I’ve eaten a lot of salad. I’ve ridden a couple of solo, no-music rides to get the mind ready. In the mantra department, I’ve chosen one for each leg of my next Ironman. (Following the photo.)

I would have been lost without these two.

Swim: “Strong and smooth.”
Bike: “Steady on.” (Also happens to be one of my favorite Shawn Colvin songs.)
Run: The Ironman South Africa run is three loops, so I’ve decided on the following mantras for each loop. They’re conveniently rhythmic as well: Lap one: “Settle in.” Lap two: “Pick it up.” Lap three: “Show your stuff.”

See you on the other side of the world!

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