Train to Fail?
Why do you train? You train to win – even if win doesn’t necessarily mean an award. You start out with a goal, and if you accomplish that goal, it’s a win, right? So, you train to win. But, have you ever trained to fail?
Have you considered the worst case? the what if’s? If not, well, in simplest terms – you should. You know how to change a tube and/or tire, right? If you’re answer is no, stop now & go learn. The blog will still be here later. If yes, good for you. Now, can you change a tube/tire while your heart rate is 180 and you’re dripping in sweat? And, can you use a CO2 cartridge to inflate it? I suggest you try before your next big race, because again (trust me when I tell you), the side of the road in the race you’ve trained all year for is not the place to try to figure it out.
You must learn how to deal with adversity in training. All runs should not be in the early morning in the summer before it gets to hot or in the middle of the afternoon in winter because morning is too cold. All bike rides should not be on beautiful, partly cloudy 70* days with no wind. All swims should not be in a perfectly still, 80* pool. Because, guess what? Anything can happen on race day, and if you wait until then to formulate your plan B, that’s way too late.
It goes beyond the physical setting of your training as well. Think about you and the things you do/want/need during your workouts. Whether it’s only using a specific electrolyte drink, only a certain flavor of gel, only liking ice-cold water, or whatever, be able to function if that can’t happen. Establishing a routine is great, but build in time to test what happens if you deviate from your routine. If you forget to turn in your Ironman special needs bag on race morning (hypothetically speaking, of course), when you get to the pickup point and figure it out, don’t finish the race with no nutrition because you don’t like chocolate gels. Learn (in training) how to react if that’s your only option.
How do you know how much farther you can go if you’re bonking? How do you know if it’s bonking or dehydration? Push those limits so you’ll know what’s happening and so you can figure out how to react. It will take trial and error. That’s OK… you’ll learn what not to do as well, and those can be equally valuable lessons. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone in training. Run harder than you should, ride in the rain, skip a gel on purpose, put warm water in your water bottle… because you may very well get psyched by the screaming crowd and take off at 6:00 miles instead of your safe 8:00’s, miss your nutrition window, and/or get handed a scalding hot cup of water at mile 18 of a blazing hot run.
The anxiety of race day, in and of itself, will push you out of your comfort zone. So, the other various possibilities of things that could happen can definitely rock your world. You can’t train for every conceivable contingency, but why not prepare for as many as you can?
Your logbook is your best friend. Keep track of what you did and how you dealt with it. That way, if it happens on accident in training, you can look back and compare notes. If it happens in a race, hopefully it won’t be the first time you’ve ever considered what you’d do if…
Finally, have a plan for complete implosion. You got kicked in the face and swam 20 minutes slower than planned, you got a flat, a cramp and missed a water handup and barely made the bike cut off, and now you’re melting down on the run. Now what? How resolved are you to finish? How far can you push yourself and not end up in the hospital? Why are you out here and what matters most to you? There are no right or wrong answers, and those answers are different for each and every one of us. You – and only you – can answer for yourself. I highly suggest you have that internal discussion though. I’ve had great races, and I’ve had quite a few where I’d really like a do-over. I’ve questioned many a time as to why in the world I do this to myself, but I always come back to the same answer and same resolve that drives me to race. Find yours and file it away somewhere handy… you never know when you’ll need it.