The race itself is often the easy part to be ready for. You know the distances, you know how to actually do the thing you signed up for but often there are still unknowns. Sometimes it’s these unknowns that can be the most stressful part. Water temperatures that determine wetsuit vs. non-wetsuit swims, weather, wind and heat are all examples of unknowns that are completely out of your control. You can show up for a race expecting one thing and mother nature can throw something completely different at you. Over the years we’ve had athletes do Ironman races where it snowed the day before. We’ve had athletes compete in smoky conditions because of forest fires and yes, we’ve had athletes who show up expecting a wetsuit swim and end up swimming in a speedo.
Here are three things you can do to limit the mental stress that can accompany the unknowns
1. Practice Acceptance.
There are some things you simply cannot change or control. So you have two choices. You can fight, whine and stress or you can embrace these things and practice complete acceptance. When you fight, whine and stress you generate negative energy and increase your stress load both mentally and physically. When you practice acceptance you can learn to embrace the unknowns as part of the challenge, which limits your stress load mentally and physically and puts you into a far more positive headspace.
Acceptance does not mean you do nothing about it. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. By practicing acceptance you will find more clarity around the actions you should take in order to deal with the situation appropriately. By practicing full acceptance you embrace the unknowns as part of the journey- you become process focused rather than outcome dependent.
2. Be Prepared.
You can still prepare for the unknowns even though they are unknowns. You can do this by thinking of possible unknowns prior to the race and doing your best to be ready for them. You can also do some research about the race months in advance. Is the race in a mountain town where weather swings can be frequent and extreme? Is the race in a coastal location where winds can be aggressive? If the race has the potential to be very cold or very hot or very windy, make sure you have appropriate clothing choices for both. If the race has the potential to be incredibly windy, make sure you have appropriate wheel choices. If the race could be a wetsuit or non-wetsuit swim make sure you are prepared and have practiced for both. If the race has the potential to be very hot, make sure your hydration strategy accounts for this. You can still be prepared for the unknowns even though they are unknown and out of your control.
3. Control Self.
The most important thing to remember is that you are always entirely in control of how you react and deal with a situation. You may not be in control of the situation itself but you are in control of your “self” and you are in control of your thoughts and emotions as they pertain to every situation. Thought and emotion can very quickly grab hold of you and send you on a negative spiral that is usually completely unproductive and generates stress. Be aware of your thought process when stressful situations arise. Awareness allows you to maintain control and composure.