The Two Most Important Things That Aren't On Your Triathlon Packing List

Everyone spends the last couple days leading up to their big race scrambling to make sure they have everything they need. From running shoes to nutrition, from sunscreen to reservation details, there are a lot of moving parts that go into making a successful race weekend.

But even the best checklist won’t include the two most important things you’ll need for your race: Patience and Discipline.

The Race Is Going to Happen, With or Without You

In the final hours before your departure, you’ll spend a lot of time putting the final touches on all the details. Making sure you have your aero helmet safely packed away, that you know exactly where all of your computers are, that you have spare batteries for the camera.

But in most cases this is all just nervous energy filling the psychological space between where you are now and where you’ll be on race day.

Because it doesn’t matter if you have arm warmers on or not the start of your bike; the race is going to happen. Race day doesn’t care if you have chamois cream on or not; the race is going to happen your competitors won’t feel sorry for you if your goggles aren’t tinted; the race is going to happen.

The race is going to happen!

Your Equipment Is a Means To the End… Of Your Race

Triathletes are renown for being “Type A” athletes. We sweat the details. Do my shoes match my bike… and my kids? Can I fit eating salt pills and the special pouch I am taping to my bike? eally using 24 ounce size bottles create a higher coefficient of drag than my usual 16 ounce bottles?

The truth is, none of these little things matter because when the gun goes off, it’s your job to get from the start to the finish. Somewhere along the course of your day you’re going to encounter friction and problems.

In many ways, racing is a mental exercise of solving problems en route to the finish line.

But you don’t need all of the things to actually race. You can still ride your bike if you forget your sunglasses. There’s nutrition on the course if you drop your bottles. You can always stop to retie your shoes if the lace lock breaks.

It’s very easy to raise the importance of the widgets and gadgets we use every day, but most of them are “nice to have” items… You don’t actually need them.

How do I know this, you ask?

Because every Ironman® race I attend, and I usually go to eight a year, I see thousands of athletes with every single type of widget imaginable. And yet 95% of them have a sub-par race.

My conclusion?

It’s not what you have strapped to your wrist or mounted on your bike that makes your race––it’s what’s between your ears that matters the most.

Patience

You have been honing this attribute over the weeks and months of training for your big race. You started a long time ago to prepare for this big day. But now that it’s finally here, don’t let your excitement reduce or eliminate your ability to wait.

Those frenzied final minutes of packing should be the exception, not the norm. So put them behind you.

There is no hiding from the fact that 140.6 miles is an insanely long way to go. but what’s crazier than the event itself, is what you’ll see going on around you over the course of your day.

  • People swimming out of their minds to try and maintain a draft.
  • People riding one, two, even three miles an hour faster than they ever have the start of the bike.
  • People standing and climbing in the biggest year they can find, hammering to the top of this random hill at mile 37.
  • People running through aid stations like it’s the local 5K, not a marathon…and certainly not an Ironman® marathon.

Exercising your patience is a strategic advantage in an endurance event. While it’s true that the only way to get to the finish line faster is to move faster, the patient triathlete knows that it’s not about being fast right now, right here. It’s about being faster across the day.

  • Instead of fighting to the front of a group, the Patient Triathlete let’s the group sort itself out as s/he rides steadily.
  • Instead of rushing through transition, the Patient Triathlete deliberately executes the transition plan that s/he has practiced.
  • Instead of getting excited about early speed on the bike, the Patient Triathlete keeps his/her head down riding the proper effort they’ve trained for.

In other words, the Patient Triathlete lets the race come to him/her, instead of chasing the race.

There’s no need to make it any harder than it’s already going to be.

Discipline

In addition to Patience, the other element that stands between you and an outstanding race day performance is discipline. After all, anyone can swim / bike / run. Everyone who is lining up next to you at the start can do this race.

Despite the different types of wetsuits and bikes that you see, there is very little difference between each of you.

If being patient means letting the race come to you, then being disciplined means racing your race across the day.

In the swim, the Disciplined Triathlete…

  • Starts out as fast as s/he has trained…no faster.
  • Settles into the pace s/he has trained…no faster.
  • Ignores the bumping and jostling and focuses on executing great form.
  • Pays attention to his/her effort, carefully not over-performing.
  • Ignores the clock at the exit, as s/he is already focused on transition.

On the bike, the Disciplined Triathlete…

  • Starts fueling properly right away.
  • Scans body for issues post swim.
  • Starts riding at a steady pace…not fast!
  • Stays locked in the aerobars all day.
  • Floats up hills but hammers down them.
  • Drinks enough to pee at least two times (on the bike).
  • Rides mentally and physically to set up the run.

On the run, the Disciplined Triathlete…

  • Nails T2 and the first aid station to start quickly and get calories and fluids.
  • Runs 30” per mile slower than his/her target pace for the first six miles to avoid a late-stage meltdown.
  • Eats when s/he feels good instead of running faster.
  • Focuses on technique, form and cadence to remain smooth and efficient.
  • Walks 30 steps at each of the aid stations so s/he can run between them.
  • Prepares mentally for The Line, where the world gets really small and painful.

Practice Your P and D before Race Day!

While you can’t really simulate what will happen on race day, you can practice your patience and discipline. Remember patience is a perspective, discipine in focused action. Together they’ll help you make the most of your day regardless of what comes up.

Good luck!

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AUTHOR

Coach P

All stories by: Coach P
8 comments
  • keith pape
    REPLY

    great reminder. i’ve always prided myself as an official ‘ghetto smurf’ triathlete that is determined to win (or place high for my efforts) without falling into the pits of spending money for speed. this really reminded me again what is important.

    and can i say – that dude in the pic at the top of the article looks like a BEAST – if i had quads like that – i could push some pedals for sure (i’m assuming he won his AG off of his bike splits!)

    : )

    Keith

  • keith pape
    REPLY

    great reminder. i’ve always prided myself as an official ‘ghetto smurf’ triathlete that is determined to win (or place high for my efforts) without falling into the pits of spending money for speed. this really reminded me again what is important.

    and can i say – that dude in the pic at the top of the article looks like a BEAST – if i had quads like that – i could push some pedals for sure (i’m assuming he won his AG off of his bike splits!)

    : )

    Keith

  • Marvin Dittfurth
    REPLY

    Great article and over 30 years of endurance sports has shown me that what you say is so true. I have never been fas t- not even when I was younger – but I can usually spot early the ones who will crash and burn later down the road. Like Rich writes on his arms for an event: “patience and discipline.” Not a bad mantra for lots of areas of life as well.

  • Marvin Dittfurth
    REPLY

    Great article and over 30 years of endurance sports has shown me that what you say is so true. I have never been fas t- not even when I was younger – but I can usually spot early the ones who will crash and burn later down the road. Like Rich writes on his arms for an event: “patience and discipline.” Not a bad mantra for lots of areas of life as well.

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