For many, the Chicago Triathlon is the biggest race of their year. For newcomers to triathlon, it could be the biggest of their athletic career. The days immediately leading up to the triathlon can be some of the most nervous days of training.
“Nerves, excitement, a combination of everything,” Mike Norman, co-owner and co-founder of Chicago Endurance Sports said. “This is the time of year that people don’t think they’ve done enough. We always tell our guys to trust that at this point they’ve done all they are going to get in.”
To combat this expected nervousness, Norman said his favorite piece of advice is to build check-lists. Building a check-list, not only of things to bring but also of things to do on race-morning can help plan out the day and keep things from building up immediately before the race, Norman said.
Similarly, Eunate Garro one of the coaches for the Chicago Athletic Club Triathlon Training group, said to get as much done in the days leading up to the triathlon as possible. The more that is left for the last minute, Garro said, the higher the level of stress is. For Garro, the best way to combat stress is confidence and knowing that the training was all worth it.
“Basically, this week there is a lot of work to build the confidence,” Garro said. “All of the stress levels are coming up, it’s kind of like adrenaline because the race is coming. It’s pretty hard to do something in the last week if you haven’t done it already in the last 8 months. All you have to do on Sunday is enjoy it and give it your best, you are ready to go.”
In the final days leading up to the triathlon, both Garro and Norman said there is a desire to get in final workouts. However, it’s important that these workouts don’t overstress the body. Norman said getting in a lighter workout can often shake things up and help relieve nerves.
Garro said that she advises her group to pay close attention to how much they are working, although each event shouldn’t be handled equally. Running can be most problematic, she said, because of the physical stress running puts on the body. Instead of running long distances, athletes should focus on speed training over a short distance. While less stressful, cycling should be handled similarly. Garro said everyone should get on a bike, but work on short bursts of speed then let the bike glide. When it comes to swimming, Garro said the more contact the better. Getting in the water and swimming not only doesn’t cause the same stress but helps work out some of the pains from training. While volume and intensity of the workout should still be limited, Garro said getting in the pool a few times in the final week especially the day before the race can be very important.
This year, one of the changes to the Chicago Triathlon comes in the required attendance for all triathletes at the Expo. This can be both a good and bad thing, Norman said. He always advises triathletes to take in a course talk, a requirement for all this year, and read the Athlete Guide the race provides. These can provide crucial tips in planning to make the race run smoother. The Expo can, unfortunately, be problematic as well. Norman said he warns against getting too involved in everything going on.
“Enjoy the energy that’s there, but try not to get too carried away with it,” Norman said. “Make sure you’re not trying all the foods or buying new equipment that you will need to use the next day. You will have to stick with what you’ve trained with and get off your feet.”
Even with all of this preparation, the final night before the race can be taxing. Garro and Norman both said that athletes need to be off their feet as long as they can, even if that doesn’t mean they are sleeping. Things can often be so tense that athletes get very little sleep the night immediately before the race, Norman said. However, if they have proper sleep in the days leading up to it that can be ok as long as the athlete stays off their feet.
“Don’t walk around, get in bed even if you cannot sleep,” Garro said. “Work on breathing techniques, relax, deep breaths, think about something else. Take out all those thoughts and very likely you will fall asleep. Even if that doesn’t work, it’s better to be in bed relaxed than walking around or on a computer.”
In addition to the required Expo course talk, Norman said he invites all triathletes to hear him talk about the race on Friday. Norman will be speaking at the Fleet Feet Sports Old Town store from 6 to 8pm. Not only will he cover all of his final tips, but he said he will be available to answer questions.
Garro, who will be competing in the Chicago Triathlon as well, said once the race starts the stress melts away. Athletes will hit the water and become focused on the race, she said, and should only worry about racing against their own time. In the end, it’s about remembering not only what got the athletes there, but why they are there.
“My advice to everyone is never forget that you are doing this because you like it and you want to enjoy it,” Garro said. “That is the main reason we are doing it. So there are no worries about it, sometimes that helps when people forget why they signed up.”