10 steps to a perfect race

I am a crossword puzzle and Scrabble fanatic; I love words. For that reason, the other day, for no other reason than mild curiosity, I entered “cool words” into Google to see what might pop up. To my utter surprise, there are actual websites dedicated to “cool words”. Some of the words are unusually long, while others just sound funny. Upon perusing one of the lists, I came across this word: syzygy. I was unfamiliar with this strangely spelled and hard to pronounce word and was interested in its definition. Syzygy, in astronomy, is a straight line configuration of three celestial bodies, the sun, the moon and the earth during a solar or lunar eclipse.  I thought more about this word and its relationship to triathlon and I realized that a perfect race requires syzygy.

Perfect races truly are as rare as an eclipse. In my career, part of what keeps me coming back for more, year after year, is the search for that perfect race. My count of perfect races is two. Two! Those are terrible odds when you consider the hundreds of races I have competed in over the years. However, when you consider all that can happen during a race –flat tire, GI distress, crappy weather, feeling tired, injury, illness, poor training, poor pacing – it is surprising that any race ever goes right. But, the notion of a perfect race is tantalizing and so I persist, yearning for a perfect day, a day where exogenous factors do not derail me and my body carries me through to the finish line in a personal best.

My first perfect race was the Chicago Triathlon in 1998. It was my rookie season as a professional and I had yet to attain a big result. On that humid August day, I had a breakthrough performance. I swam and biked with the leaders and started the run feeling like I was floating. As I reached the finish line area after the first lap of the four lap run, such was my anonymity, the announcer said “We have our first lady coming through. I’m not sure her name.  I’ll look that up and get back to you.”  Three laps later, I cruised across the line with my arms in air and a huge smile on my face. Yes, syzygy propelled to my first win as a professional. Nothing stood in my way that day, everything was in alignment.

That day seemed so easy. I had no idea, naïve as I was, how incredibly difficult it would be to match a day such as that one. My career was dotted with big achievements and other wins, but none were accompanied by syzygy.

It took ten years to find another race that would unfold with the flawlessness that leads to perfection.  That race was the 2008 Ironman 70.3 World Championships. An early season assault on qualifying for the Beijing Olympics ended prematurely when I didn’t make the team. I switched my focus to 70.3 races, arguably my best distance. With a few mid-season 70.3 wins under my belt, and a long stretch of confidence boosting workouts, I toed the line in Clearwater ready to race. Similar to my perfect day in Chicago, on this day, I swam and biked at the front of the race. Ten steps into the run I knew I was going to win. It never entered my mind otherwise, and I sailed through the race with that assurance. It was a record breaking day for me; there was no way of knowing that it was the harbinger of a career ending injury. Fortunately, though, no longer the naive rookie from a decade ago, I savored every single emotional moment of crossing the finish line first in a World Championship.

Here are 10 steps to achieve your perfect day:

  1. Make sure you are well rested on race day
  2. Get all of your equipment checked out
  3. Decide on a nutritional plan and practice it in training
  4. Don’t race sick or injured
  5. Don’t get greedy in training and start overdoing it thereby leaving your race at home
  6. Come up with a race plan and stick to it
  7. Don’t let nerves get in your way
  8. Know the course
  9. Mentally prepare for the perfect race through visualization
  10. Have confidence

And, of course, it helps to have some race day syzygy on your side.

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