Let's Run or Ride or Swim or do all Three Together and see who finishes first

It is with cautious optimism that we say: Racing is back. As COVID-19 vaccines become more broadly available worldwide, the global triathlon community is gingerly dipping its toe back into the pool of racing.

COVID-19 Vaccine

We’ve seen our ambassadors successfully and safely embrace their return to the race course already at 70.3 Dubai, the Florida Intimidator Challenge, and many local running events. And even though we can’t wait to be back to cheering people on in-person, there is an element of anxiety around getting back in the saddle:

Will we remember how to race? What do pre-race nerves feel like again? What is my process when transitioning from bike to run? What is my pre-race routine?

There is a lot that goes into a race of any type and any distance. Nutrition, equipment, emotions, logistics - it can feel overwhelming even to the most seasoned triathlon pros. Add a year (or even more than a year for some) away from any form of in-person racing at all and you can see where the anxiety might creep in.

If you are feeling a mix of happy and nervous butterflies rising in your throat with the thought of your first start line, you are so not alone. It is natural to feel out of practice or even downright scared to return to any activity you haven’t done in a while. This is okay. It is normal, but it is not forever. You will find that mojo again.

Hailey Manning is one of the founding members of Coeur, an 18-time Ironman Triathlete (nine of those being at the Ironman World Championship - and three of those being on the podium in Kona!), mom to an 11-month old, and coach extraordinaire at HardCoeur Coaching. Whew - Hailey is accomplished, to say the least.

Hailey Manning

As someone who has gone to Kona nine times and even stood atop the podium on this world stage, there is no one better than Hailey to talk to about returning to races.

“The return to racing is going to be so exciting for us all,” said Hailey. “There are a few things that should be looked at when choosing that first race back, though.”

Since races are still not guaranteed to happen, Hailey suggested booking accommodations that can be moved or cancelled at no extra charge, just until things settle down later this year.

Being a well-balanced athlete, Hailey also offered the idea that you should choose races this year that marry the fun of racing with the fun of the entire experience around triathlon. For example, if you’ve always wanted to visit Moab or Zion National Park, heading to a race in St. George, Utah, will allow you to enjoy the race but not be entirely fixated on just swim, bike, run.

Outside of trying to recollect just how to get our race day logistics in order, there is an omnipresent element of pressure and stress for an athlete lining up to give an event their best.

“We need to think of our first races this year as if they were our first-ever,” noted Hailey. “I always encourage my athletes to have no expectations of their first races other than executing their race plan and having fun.”

Mitigating those expectations can be hard, so even if you are a Type A, results-driven triathlete, there is hope. Focusing on the day-to-day routine will poise you to be calm and prepared for competition. This means showing up each day, nailing the key sessions, and not letting a lone “meh” workout throw off your confidence.

By ticking off the daily training sessions, you are setting yourself up for success.

Hailey knows what it’s like to face race-day stress and offered this advice: “In moments of anxiety, look at previous years of training and how well you’ve executed your current plan. Know in your heart you have done the work and are ready to go once the starting gun goes off.”

One other way to help with those jitters of wondering if you even remember to tinkle in your wetsuit (hint: always pee in it standing up!), among other tri-related things, is to practice. Okay, maybe don’t practice peeing in your wetsuit. We’ll concede that one.

But - practicing even the most minute of tasks will make things that much more seamless when the time comes to execute.

For example, rehearse what it will feel like to transition from bike to run by incorporating specific brick (bike-to-run) workouts into the schedule. Or, remember how to change a flat tire by moving through the process one evening (preferably with a glass of wine). Take in your race-day nutrition during training.

Essentially, leave as little to chance as possible. Practice does make perfect!

Another tool to put in your racing belt is the power of visualization.

“I have my athletes visualize race day from start to finish weeks before the race happens,” said Hailey. “Visualization exercises will make you that much more confident come the big dance.”

Hailey noted that nothing is too small to leave out from your visualization journey. Closing your eyes and imagining how each of the five senses will feel driving to the race, pumping up bike tires, waiting in line to use the restroom, how you might handle a flat tire or mechanical issue, what the rush of the open water swim will feel like - these are all scenarios worthy of investing your time and senses in visualizing.

We also invite you to remember to be welcoming and inclusive as we wade back into the waters of racing. This sport is for everyone, no matter their background, ability, race, orientation, or anything else. For some triathlon inclusivity tips (and we are by no means the be-all-end-all on inclusivity), check out our blog.

Ultimately, we do triathlon for fun, self-discovery, and community. Spend some time reconnecting to your “why” before embarking on your triathlon journey this year. You might be surprised at how much the skills of 2020 - resiliency, perseverance, and hope - prepare you to handle the challenges of the race course this year and beyond.

Hailey put it so well that we’ll end with this:

“We should all set out to rediscover the joy of racing this year and why we love triathlon so much.”

 About the Author

Kristin is a part-time writer and full-time marketer who has completed eight Ironman races to date. When she isn't hustling from work to training, she is hiking in the Colorado mountains, spoiling her two cats, or chowing down on some pizza with her husband. Kristin currently resides in the Greater Denver Area. Feel free to drop her a line at kristin.goett@gmail.com.

Kristin Jenny