Question of the week: I am heading to Kona for the first time next week and am getting really excited and nervous for my first race on the Island. I find myself having a mix of wanting to experience so many of the activities, but not wanting to deplete myself before the race. Can you give me a few tips on how to approach?
It’s a worthy question, with several key insights to provide as you head toward Kona for the first time. I think it is important to frame success for you as you compete in this race. The environment on the Big Island is harsh. Even if one was not racing, it is undeniable in leaving people feeling lethargic and depleted for the first few days and is a tough environment in which to compete. It is to be respected and my strong advice would be to approach the race without any expectations around paces, powers, or placements.
I saw a wonderful quote the other week, which went something like, ‘The world championships, the race where lots of people show up thinking they are good, then realizing they really aren’t.
I don’t mean to lead with defeatism, but your best experience and performance will bubble out of a pragmatic and smart approach of problem solving, self-awareness and management. It will not arrive out of chasing anything -- ever! Leave the pure racing and chasing to the wildly experienced athletes, and instead, go to immerse yourself in the experience and fun of it all.
With this mindset established, you still want to arrive to race day as vibrant and energetic as possible, and physiologically equipped to deliver your best performance in the context of the conditions of the race that you can on the day. This is controllable and doable - you just need to be smart. The first step is to resist the call to make any radical changes to your overall recipe of how you head into a normal race. Maintain similar patterns, eating, and training prep that works for you elsewhere. You don’t need magical sessions, voodoo supplements, or the newest aero wheels discovered at the expo. Keep it simple and repeatable. The only mild adjustment will be to hydrate a little more and lean into the more conservative side of the preparatory training sessions (the exact opposite of what many do!). Stay as cool as possible and rest up. Your acclimation to the environment can occur with the short bouts of training, which is enough to stimulate adaptation, and simply walking to dinner or registration. Extended bouts outside, or restricting good sleep because of avoiding air conditioning won’t help and will just make you tired. As this is your first time, a few things you should consider sampling:
- Join the Purple Patch Meet up and Sessions: It might calm you down and it will be great to connect with other athletes in a social setting. We are all in it together, so connecting with us is a good thing and a way to experience race week.
- Hit the Expo: Not for long, but have a guilt-free trot around it. See what’s there and check out the new and fancy upcoming gear. Just restrict it to once, then put the experience aside.
- The Underpants Run: It’s a Kona tradition and many like the lighthearted and fun parade. It isn’t a prerequisite, but it is a part of the Kona experience and if it appeals then go do it, guilt-free. It is early in the morning and will not hurt your race performance.
- Parade of Nations: Again --a Kona tradition. Not essential, but a part of the fabric of the race. Go join your country and have a pre-dinner stroll. It won’t hurt and will immerse you in the experience.
Beyond these things, stay cool, hydrated, and smile. You are in Kona. It is the world champs and no one expects a darn thing from you other than your best effort. Keep it in context, as for the vast majority of athletes out there, this day is a celebration of earning their spot. Make sure you lock into this emotion and enjoy every minute of the experience -- even the tough parts -- as the memories will indeed last a lifetime.