Friday, September 11, 2015

Long preparation for a short race

When our family sits down to Thanksgiving dinner, we often laugh about the meal that takes days and hours to plan and prepare that is then is wolfed down in half an hour. But we never question that it’s worth it for the chance to come together and enjoy a delicious feast!

Getting ready to race the ITU Grand Final in Chicago is similar, with preparations starting well over a year in advance for races that will take just over an hour (sprint) or two (Olympic) to complete.

What goes into the ITU swim-bike-run racing “feast”? Here’s a sampling of my preparations.

Of course it all starts with the training! Over the past 12 months, I’ve logged about 430 hours that includes about 900 miles run, 300,000 yards swum, 2900 miles biked, and about 42 hours in the gym. For every training session, there’s been at least another hour spent getting dressed, readying equipment, programming technology, downloading/uploading workouts, posting my workout on Facebook (just kidding, only sometimes), communicating with my coach, showering, and refueling.

Registration spans the year as it is not the single-step process of a regular race. We secure our commitment to Team USA immediately after Nationals, then when ITU opens registration, we register with USAT who formally registers the team with ITU.

Throughout the year we receive regular correspondence from USAT, Lauren Rios the Team USA Coordinator, and the team coaches.

Logistics work starts about a year ahead when I make reservations at the hotel that is as close as possible to the race venue. There is a LOT of walking back and forth race week, multiple times per day. I am at the team hotel, which is right across from Buckingham Fountain and the finish line!

Transportation takes some thought and I explored the financial and time tradeoffs of all train, plane, and automobile options for the trek from Virginia to Chicago before settling on “plane.” The bike is a separate issue. It can be up to $200 each way to check the bike on the plane, so I opted to fly the bike there (quicker), then ship it back from the hotel via BikeFlights (cheaper). Disassembling the bike, packing it, then reassembling it is all part of the fun. That’s when bike parts you have looked at for years suddenly appear strangely unfamiliar! (At Nationals I was convinced I had lost part of my rear wheel.)

Around mid-summer we order team uniforms. Sizing can be tricky and my advice is always to order a few sizes and send back what does not fit. To add sponsor logos, the uniform has to go to a local custom tshirt shop, and the logos must follow ITU’s strict guidelines on size and placement. They do check!

The bike gets some pre-Worlds love with new tubes and tires and a thorough check-over by the local bike shop. They know I have a big race coming when I start obsessing about things like tire selection, and I say things such as “how do we know the cables aren’t fraying somewhere that we can’t see them?”

As race week approaches, the body seems to draw extra attention to sore and tight spots. Part of my race prep has involved bodywork - visits to the chiropractor and to my favorite (ouch) sports massage therapist to loosen up a tight and knotted upper back, probably from too much computer work. I also become reacquainted with my roller.

I start packing about a week before, staging everything on our dining room table, because what triathlete has time to entertain and actually use their dining room table for its intended purpose? In addition to race gear, there’s training clothes, regular clothes, rain gear, food I must have from home, some basic in-room meal prep type supplies, and everything stars-and-stripes that I own. If the flight is not direct I consider very carefully what goes in the checked bag and what is in the carry on, planning for the worst case scenario!

A certain amount of second-guessing of equipment is inevitable with a Grand Final race. I may be wearing a new helmet in Chicago. Enough said.

Then it’s time to put together the race week schedule – packet pickup (by country), expo, swim familiarization, bike shake-out, team meeting, bike check-in, transition area open/close, swim wave, bike and gear pick-up, then repeat for the second race.

On the “real life” side of things, preparation for the Chicago races means getting work done ahead of time to clear the decks for the busy days to come. It also means getting the family situated to weather six days without the chief chauffer, cook, scheduler, and manager. Thank goodness for my mother-in-law who steps in and keeps things going smoothly, and for a large freezer that holds plenty of frozen pizzas, the manna of teenage boys.

By the time I get on the plane, and the full year of preparation is behind me, I let out a giant sigh, and flip the switch to race mode. The race really is the reward. It’s the Thanksgiving feast that I hope to gulp down in personal record time!