So race day is here. You’ve followed your plan, trained hard, prepared your bike, triple checked all of your gear, mentally run the race several times by now, and likely have a goal time in mind. What is there left to do?
In 2010, as I walked out of the race expo on the day before my first Ironman, I wondered that very question. Ironically, I happened to walk (literally) right into the middle of a pep-talk being put on by a national training group. My nerves were pretty tense at that point and I thought I’d listen to the talk for a while to hear from some experienced athletes. The advice I received that day was instrumental to me setting a PR the next day.(The good news about your first time, is that it’s ALWAYS a PR!!!)
While they talked about a lot of stuff, the key thing I took away was THE BOX. You’ve probably heard the overused cliche of ‘out-of-the box’ thinking a million times, but few people refer to the usefulness of in-the-box thinking, especially when it comes to triathlons.
When you are out on a course for 2, 4, 6, 10, 12+ hours, or longer, you have plenty of time where you are left to your own thoughts. The thing that can defeat you quickest in a race is your own mind. You can convince yourself the finish line is too far away, your pace is off, your nutrition plan isn’t working, and before you know it, you’ve defeated yourself when you are only partway through the race. The key to a successful race is to not let your own mind defeat you. Keep your thoughts in the BOX.
The BOX is invisible and set in your own mind, but includes only that area in your immediate vicinity. Sometimes it extends to the next turn, sometimes it only goes to the next buoy, street sign, athlete, or storm drain. It will probably start out big during the race and get progressively smaller as the race goes on. On the run course, it might only go to the road a few feet in front of you. The key is to not let your mind think outside of that box. Worried about your pace? Forget it, focus on the box. Just had your goggles kicked off, swallowed a bunch of water, and are questioning if this is how my day is going to go? Get your mind in the box and think about swimming to the next buoy. Just passed a friend going the other way on the run course and are trying to calculate how far in front they are? Forget it, focus in the box. Trying to figure out what mile you are on and how many you have to go? Doesn’t matter, focus in the box and head for its edge. Are your legs screaming at you for a break? Surely you can run just to the edge of your box.
The day before the race, there is nothing you can do about more training, better nutrition, or different gear…..it’s too late for that. By getting your mind right and defining your personal BOX, then keeping yourself it in, you will gain an advantage over those who will let their minds slow them down the next day.
Good luck and happy racing!
– Chad Tuttle