Spring Racing: How to clean up from Winter 2014

Not this year. #Screwyoupolarvortex

Not this year. #Screwyoupolarvortex

The spring thaw is here (even if it DID snow on Monday) and with it comes the realization that our winter training maybe didn’t go as well as we would have liked. What with the polar vortex and near record-setting snow, the winter of 2013-2014 threw even the most-determined athletes into training spirals. Now with spring races right around the corner, many of us – myself included – are coming to terms with being not quite as race ready as we’d hoped.

So what’s a frustrated and still-sort-of-frozen athlete to do? Don’t throw in the towel. Here’s my top tips for recovering from the winter beating. Because even though winter sucked, your spring season doesn’t have to.

1) If you’re signed up for any early season race, consider thinking of those events as training, not racing. If you’ve been treadmill- or couch-bound, going balls-to-the-wall on the course may not be your wisest choice. Kicking it into high gear with out the base you need means you could wind up getting hurt in your first race. (Or even the first nice-day run of the year.)

2) Completely wipe the slate clean and start over. Try hitting the reset button and thinking of the training as starting now, even if you thought your training was starting in January or February. (Unless you’re one of the rare people who did everything you thought you were supposed to through this horrible winter. Do you weirdoes even exist?) Reframe your season as one that’s slightly compressed with different (or maybe even slightly less lofty) goals.

3) Don’t let your psychology overrule your physiology. It’s very tempting when going through a rough time – holidays, work stress, bad weather or whatever has held you back – we can start a stress spiral that makes any situation worse. Studies have shown that the psychological stresses we put on ourselves are more detrimental than physical inactivity that we feel is so harsh to begin with. Psyching yourself out is not only bad for your mental outlook, but it also affects your physiology. If you think: “I’m fat, I’m horrible, I missed too many workouts, this is miserable” then that impacts your hormones, your sleep cycle, your moods and your interactions with other people.

4) Give yourself a break. And not just because you there’s nothing you can do once a workout has been missed. You can’t go back in time. Dwelling will only make you feel worse. Enjoy the race or the training run. Soak in the fact that it was an achievement to simply get out there during less-than-ideal training. Try not to worry about your results. (I know. I know.) Take a deep breath and realize you’re still better off than a vast majority of the population.

5) Reframe your goals. Try to look for other ways you can still show improvement. Instead of worrying about your 5K or 10K time, try to have the quickest recovery you’ve ever had or try to run while maintaining the lowest heart rate you’ve ever had. Aim for the most consistent pace you’ve ever had, by not letting yourself stray more than five seconds in either direction from a pace. Remember: It’s still a goal you can work toward and then you give yourself the chance to achieve something other than a PR or a BQ.

As for me, I’m heading to the Big Sur Marathon on April 27, far more undertrained than I’d like to be. Instead of hoping to PR, my plan is to soak up some sunshine and see some friends and eat some good foods. I have no expectations of speed, time or anything else. My goal is simply to cross the finish line safely. Here’s to you crossing yours.

 

Tis the season to fight the holiday collapse

Holiday SurvivalHere’s the simple truth: Holidays are hard. And when it comes to fitness and health, the holidays are REALLY, REALLY hard. It’s harder to eat right. It’s harder to exercise. It’s harder to manage stress. It’s harder to stay sane. There’s Thanksgiving. Christmas parties. New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Day. Family meals. And holiday shopping. And it’s cold and dark. (Like, SUPER cold and dark.)

Which is why, despite even the best of intentions, it sometimes feels all-but-inevitable that our pants will be a little tighter by the time January rolls around. When that happens, it’s hard not to feel downright demoralized about yourself, your progress, your goals and even your life.

But don’t admit defeat! Don’t even try to just hang on for survival to get through the holiday chaos.

Here are five of my best tried-and-true tips to make it through the holiday binge without a major derailment. And maybe even with your sanity in tact.

1) Set a goal and broadcast the hell out of it.

Whether it’s posting a proclamation on Facebook, sticking signs up around the house or just asking your friends to keep you honest, don’t keep quiet about your holiday goal. If your plan is to only have two drinks at the company Christmas party, tell your office BFF and have them hold you accountable. If you’re trying to move more, tell your family. Or better yet, get them involved. Ask them to go on a walk with you. Or even come to the gym. (I’m so proud of a client who’s made this commitment. She even brought her whole family with her for a training session. We had everyone from a 6-year-old to a 60-year-old who came along. And it was a totally awesome workout.)

2) Find the physical in whatever you’re doing.

Holiday schedules can be nuts, so sometimes it feels overwhelming to try to fit in a full workout. (But as I’ve said here: there’s always a way around hose “but I’m too busy” excuses.) So find ways to get creative. Heading to the mall for holiday shopping? Park as far away from the entrance as possible. Maybe even park OUTSIDE the parking lot. Take the stairs once a day. Take the dog on an extra-long walk.

I try to skip the Costco trips around the holidays, where I know I’m likely to load up on big boxes of less-than-healthy items. Instead, I’ll walk or bike to the grocery store several times a week to get a few things at a time. It will mean multiple trips _ after all, there’s only so much you can carry home when you’re on foot _ but it means I’m more likely to be moving, which can help compensate for some of the workouts that I’m not doing.

3) Recruit an accomplice.

Just like tip No. 1., this tip is aimed at keeping you accountable.

This year, I’m doing a challenge to workout every day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. I don’t have to do a lot _ even just run a mile _ but I have to do something. Some days it’s a hell of a lot easier to do than others. So I’ve got to get the power of pride on my side.

How did I do it? I asked my neighbor, an old guy I see I walk the dogs, to ask me whenever he sees me if I’ve done my workout for the day. And you know what? At first he thought it was weird. But now he does.

Every time he sees me, I have to say “yep!” Or “nope, but I’m heading in to do it now.” He’s my accomplice and he helps me stick to the plan.

4) Knock it off with the perfectionism.

If ever there was a time to stop seeing yourself in black and white, it’s the holidays. Sometimes it seems like a single slip-up (I’m looking at you, holiday party dessert table) makes you feel like you may was well give up entirely. Or you’ll put yourself on the most-restrictive regime and feel defeated if you have a single misstep.

But here’s the deal: that’s just crap.

Consistently doing something good is better than inconsistently doing something great.

Read that sentence again and let it sink in.

Let’s say your office is flooded with cookies and candy. Let’s say you have a sweet tooth. (A big one.) You know what? It’s ok to have a cookie. It’s OK to have a DAILY cookie. It’s NOT ok to say “I won’t have a cookie ever!” And then binge and eat one-third of the entire office stash in one sitting and spend the rest of the week feeling like a big, giant, fat failure.

Alternately, if you know you’re crunched for time, it’s better to have a shorter workout each day that one balls-to-the-wall, one-and-done run each week.

Go into the holidays giving yourself permission not to be perfect. The acknowledgement is both freeing and powerful.

5) Shut the panic spiral down before it starts.

End-of-the-year reflection is inevitable. But don’t fall into the trap where you look back on all your goals from the year and catalog every one where you fell short. Maybe you didn’t lose all the weight. Maybe you didn’t hit that PR. Maybe you didn’t do all the exercise you wanted to. Maybe your job still sucks.

Don’t end the year feeling like a failure. Chalk everything from the past 12 months _ the good, the bad, the in-between _ as a learning experience. And use that to plan 2014.

Maybe even use the next few weeks as a trial run to see what you’re really capable of. (Say your goal is to drop 2 pounds during the holidays. Or even just maintain your weight. Then do it. When you step on the scale Jan. 1, think about what you could do without all the parties and the family recipes and the stress.)

Whether you’re trying to get a running start on 2014, or just closing out 2013, remember to take a breath and stop beating yourself up so you’re starting the new year fresh, instead of in a hole.

Happy holidays.

Laying the groundwork for next year

strong springIt is getting darker earlier and the temperatures are colder.  We all know what that means…. No, not time to decide on your Thanksgiving menu. It’s time to evaluate this year and start planning for next.  Registration is open for many races next year and the remainder will open before the year is out, so it is time to formulate a plan.  In order to best do this, you need to analyze this season’s results and choose new/amended goals.

So looking at everything that occurred this year, did you meet your goals?  If so, great! Pat yourself on the back. Now let’s find some new challenges. If you didn’t, that’s OK. But let’s take some time to evaluate why you fell short. (Which happens to the best of us.) Did you do enough training? Or too much? Did you do the right KIND of training?  Were you struggling with an illness or injury? Or maybe the goals you set turned out to be a bit too lofty.

No matter the reason _ and even if you had a great season _ there’s always room for improvement. After all, we can all be a little stronger, faster and/or more flexible.  As a result, it would behoove us all to take a close look at our training and racing from this past year and try to pinpoint things that we can work on.  This “to do” list will help tremendously when trying to plan out winter workouts as well as choosing your goals/races for next year.

Winter is a great time to experiment. You can try new workouts, nutrition plans, or even entirely new sports. (I’m looking at you, snowshoeing!) So take advantage of the opportunity to research alternative means of attaining your optimum fitness level.  All too often, we as athletes fall in to a “comfort zone” with our training where we stop challenging ourselves with variety rather than just volume and/or intensity.  Even with racing, I find people doing the same races (type, distance and location) each season.  Although there is something to knowing an event well and really enjoying it, there are great mental AND physical benefits to trying different events from year to year.

Once you have evaluated this year and chosen new goals for next year, it is time to lay out a plan.  Although there is no need to account for every hour of every day, having a general plan for improving fitness and technique, fine tuning nutrition/hydration and sport-specific training that progresses you towards your goal is immensely beneficial. I like to lay out menus of options for different categories.  I will have an exercise menu (types of cardio and strength exerciser or classes), a nutritional menu (drinks, gels, chews during training and new foods for every day), and one for options for rest/recovery.  From these, I will choose thing to build each week’s schedule being sure to include at least one totally new/challenging thing each week or month.

Now you can lay out your calendar for the next six months or so with your short and long term goals and the intermediary steps you hope will help you attain them. Obviously, a lot of things can and do happen in any given year, but having a plan helps to keep you focused on your goals and allows you to see everything in front of you should changes need to be made.

So no matter what you are looking to achieve, a new marathon PR or the loss of 10 pounds, look at what has or has not worked for you in the past and build your new plan with an eye for even greater success next year.

The Ashley Project: The Ass-Kicking Edition

theashleyprojectcroppedEditor’s Note: Ashley, a Second City Fitness client, began training with Jeff in late February and is blogging about her experiences along the way. After a rocking spring, she ran into a series of summer setbacks. But she managed to pull off a triathlon season anyway that included a PR and a new distance. You can read her previous posts here.

I kick ass.

Ok, that might be overstating it a smidge. Or a more-than-smidge. But I’m writing this _ hours after finishing my final tri of the season _ with a huge smile on my face and a feeling of satisfaction because I finally felt … STRONG. Despite a season of setbacks, I rocked my race and along the way I felt so, so solid. Which makes me so, so happy. (And, apparently, prone to overuse of adverbs.)

There’s so much to say about the final weeks of the summer season. I finished my first Olympic distance and DIDN’T wind up in the hospital. (DOUBLE VICTORY, considering what happened at June’s triathlon.) I PR’d the pants off a sprint. I did my first open-water swim competition at Big Shoulders, finishing a 2.5K swim in Lake Michigan while thinking that I wished it was a longer course. And I got to cheer on Jeff and my Chicago Endurance Sports crew doing Ironman Wisconsin, which only made me a) want to NEVER do an Ironman and b) desperately want to do a half Ironman. Apparently, I am not always rational.

With two of my tri girls after a 2.5K open-water swim race in Lake Michigan.

With two of my tri girls after a 2.5K open-water swim race in Lake Michigan.

Most of all, I felt like I finally found my groove with a sport after struggling so much with The Ashley Project. (Although my friends who had to deal with The Ashley Pre-Race Freakouts Of Epic Proportions might disagree. )

Why this feeling of post-race Zen?

At the risk of totally oversimplifying it, triathlon gives you permission to have strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has a strong leg. (Mine is swimming.) Everyone has a weak leg. (Mine is running.) And everyone has a just-OK leg. In running, if that’s your “weak” sport, you’re stuck until you get to the finish line. In triathlon, you just need to get to the next thing. When I run a race, I can’t help but still feel like I’m just trying to gut it out, making a not-awesome situation as palatable as I can. (When was the last time you heard someone say: “Man, I had a GREAT Mile 7!!! But Mile 4 and 8 were just meh.”) It took me a while to finally feel like a “runner,” but sometimes when I’m running alone and in the back of the pack, I can’t help but feel … frustrated. It’s so hard to focus on the positive parts when you’re doing a sport where you’re inherently weak. But in triathlon, there’s (almost) always something positive to seize on. A faster T1 or a better-than-expected bike split. And if something is going poorly, you just have to get to the next leg. And I LOVE that.

Chicago Triathlon: International Distance

With the Team Ashley supporters, who were so totally awesome and surprised me with shirts!!

With the Team Ashley crew, who were so totally awesome and surprised me with shirts and traipsed around the course to cheer me on!! Thanks, guys!! Beer’s on me.

For my first international-distance race, my goal was to simply to finish. I made a plan. Back up plans. Back up, back up plans. I even busted out a mantra and went into the race with a message written on my hands to remind myself to calm down and believe.

I had my sights set on a 4:00 finish, but with a 90-degree day and a spasming back on the bike, I knew as soon as I hit the run course that my goal wasn’t going to happen. So instead, I soaked up the experience. I stopped and chatted with friends at aid stations. I high-fived my teammates and friends who I spotted along the way. I shouted and cheered. And swore. A lot. (What? It was freaking HOT on that run course.) I thought about how incredible it was to have so much support at the race and how lucky I was to be so loved and encouraged. My parents flew in to cheer me on and my Second City Fitness friends surprised me by making Team Ashley shirts and racing around the course to cheer me on. The CES crew even cheered when I got to the finish line tent.

The swim at the Chicago Triathlon.

The swim at the Chicago Triathlon.

I’ve never been so humbled or supported.

And while I knew I could have pushed myself harder on each leg, I’m still so proud of the fact that I didn’t let the post-hospital panic stop me from getting back out there.

Plus, I know that next year, I’ll TOTALLY PR the pants off this distance.

North Shore Triathlon: Sprint Distance

Staggering out of the swim at the North Shore Tri.

Staggering out of the swim at the North Shore Tri. Squint and you’ll see my smile. I swear!

It was cold. It rained. The. Whole. Time. And I don’t think I’ve ever smiled more in a race. This was my last race of the season and I planned to soak up every minute of it. Smashing my goal helped too.

This race had a short swim, only 400 meters. I initially thought I’d shoot for something under 2:00. (My sprint PR is 2:02.) Jeff suggested I shoot for 1:50, since the swim course was shorter than most sprint-distance races. The day before the race, I thought to myself: “Hum, I wonder if I can do 1:45.” I refused to repeat that time to ANYONE. In the end, I finished in 1:42. I was so happy, especially with my bike split (about 16 mph, on a course in driving rain with a lot of turns.) I couldn’t ask for a better way to end a rocky season.

So now what?

It’s bitter-sweet knowing tri season is over, especially since it ended just when I felt like I figuring things out. The fall race schedule has me gunning for another PR in the Monster Dash half marathon in October and Jeff and I are arguing bickering negotiating about a 2014 race calendar. I’m trying not to be too bummed about shifting my focus. But all my swim-bike-run euphoria goes *poof* when I look at my training plan for long runs over the next few weeks. But, bless his heart, Jeff is trying his best to get me psyched up.

Jeff. The consummate cheerleader.

Jeff: The consummate cheerleader. And a whip-cracker during track workouts.

Some of my frustration is that I feel like a new season means that I’m starting all over again, instead of taking my momentum with me. While tri training made me a stronger, better, faster triathlete it didn’t necessarily make me a stronger, better, faster runner. (And, er, about those track workouts….) I’m struggling to keep the pace I had when I was training for the Kenosha half marathon in May. Jeff and I had hoped that this would be the race where I cracked 2:45. But these days I’m not so sure that’s in the cards. I’d be really happy if I can finish in a similar time as my 2:57 Kenosha finish without the benefit of having him pace me. (He, however, disagrees with my assessment and thinks I can get a better time than Kenosha. We’ll see.)

Still, I have just shy of five weeks left to see what I can do with this gradually-stronger body of mine. And I have a training plan loaded with speed work and tempo runs and personal training and cross training.

Fingers crossed, y’all. Stay tuned.

Want to know more? Follow Ashley on Twitter or DailyMile.

Finding perspective

learnblog3It’s a regular occurrence as a trainer: reminding clients that health and fitness are all about perspective. If you’re feeling stronger and your clothes are looser, does the reading on the scale really matter? If you feel so good after a 5K that you spend all day playing volleyball at the beach with friends, so if your time was virtually the same as last year? There are many ways to gauge success – and some are less obvious than others. But choosing one version of the story over another doesn’t make anything less impressive. (He says in his Coach Voice.) When it comes to my clients, I tell them: Be sure to look at your accomplishments from every angle before passing judgment. When it comes to me? Well, I don’t always remember my own advice.

Maintaining perspective is easy to say, but oh-so-difficult to do. (Truth time: I struggle with it. A lot.) As a trainer, I feel like I need to hold myself to a higher standard, and so I’m often hyper-critical of myself and my performance. I find myself thinking that my physical condition – as well as my performance at races – reflects directly on my ability as a trainer and coach. And if left unchecked, this Perspectiveless Spiral can lead to issues in both my personal and professional life.

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To try to stop it, I have to force myself to take time to think about the big picture. Instead of internalizing every client’s (and, er, my own) setbacks or every less-than-perfect race, I look at the positives. Is the client learning from their challenges? Am I? Are they still motivated to improve? Are there good things about my race that I can take into the next one? All too often, we let ourselves be defined  by our successes, when we should be looking at how we react to our defeats.

This year has been less than perfect for me. Crazy weather, freak illness, a nagging injury and just all-around bad luck have made this season fall far below my expectations. As a matter of fact, as I was nearing the finish line of my last race, I thought perhaps I should just retire from competition entirely. I was at mile 9 of the run in a half Ironman and struggling – REALLY struggling – to just keep moving. Every part of me hurt and I felt like crap. I was so angry that I was having such a miserable day after all the work that I’d put in that I snapped at a friend when she tried to cheer me on as we passed each other on the course. After I finished, I had time to think as I waited for my wife and my friend to cross the finish line.

Yes, I was sore. Yes, I was tired. And man, was I not feeling well. But I still finished, getting myself through 70.3 miles. In spite of less-than-perfect conditions, I persevered. I pushed myself. And I did it. So, as I watched and cheered on those who finished after me, I

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started putting things into perspective. If you consider what I was up against, I really HAD a pretty good showing. If I hadn’t invested all that time and energy in training, I would’ve been much slower, or I might not have even finished at all. I got a chance to see my friend doing her first long race of the season and was spending a weekend on a road trip with my wife. What was I so angry about? And with that, my thoughts of retirement changed to thoughts of how to best prepare for my next challenge.

Pros and age groupers. Newbies and veterans. Trainers and clients. We’re all tough on ourselves. And we shouldn’t be. So the next time you feel like success has eluded you, take a moment to put things in perspective. And I bet you realize it is a whole lot better than you thought.

The Ashley Project: Setback Edition

Editor’s Note: Ashley, a Second City Fitness client, began training with Jeff in late February and is blogging about her experiences along the way. After a rocking spring, she’s run into some hurdles. You can read her previous posts here.

When we left The Ashley Project, I was riding high off a huge half marathon PR and stoked to start my triathlon season with a super-strong base. Apparently, the universe had other plans. Now I’m less than five weeks away from my big goal race knowing that I’m not as prepared as I want to be. But I will, at least, be rested. (And on the bright side: I’m not actually dead.)

Can't tell I'm sick, can you? Running a 10K with a BFF. Apparently, bad things happen when you don't listen to your body.

Can’t tell I’m sick, can you? Here I am, running a 10K with a BFF (his first!) in mid-May. He was cool enough to slow down because I was so wheeze-y. Apparently, bad things happen when you don’t listen to your body. Noted, universe.

About a week after the Kenosha half marathon, I paced a 9-mile run with my training group and really struggled. I figured my body was still tired and recovering and I probably should have only done about half the distance. By that afternoon, my throat hurt. The next morning, I had a fever. What I thought was a cold wound up sticking around for almost a full month. Two visits to two nurse practitioners and two prescriptions later, I was diagnosed with a chest and then sinus infection. Not the sharpest Crayon in the box, I kept training and even did a 10K with a friend. Although I scaled things back considerably, since I was barely able to breathe without coughing, much less run.  My training felt like it was grinding to a near standstill and I pulled out running the Soldier Field 10 miler.

By early June, the antibiotics seemed to have done their trick. I did my season’s first triathlon. It was slower than I expected, but I attributed it to coming off an illness. I picked up the training intensity, hoping for a solid PR at the Pleasant Prairie sprint triathlon in late June.

Before Pleasant Prairie, I thought i was good to go. The universe had other plans. (Stupid universe.)

Before Pleasant Prairie, I thought I was good to go. The universe had other plans. (Stupid universe. Geez.)

Instead of a PR, I wound up with a DNF, an ambulance ride and 2.5-day hospital stay after being diagnosed with a flash pulmonary edema, which developed during the swim.

Nearly drowning (or realizing that you’re in the water, unable to breathe, and unable to get yourself to shore while coughing up blood) does a number on your brain. I still had the massive IV bruises when I reluctantly waded back in the water a week later with Jeff by my side, but was seriously lacking the confidence about what should have been my strongest event. I eventually decided to ditch the wetsuit entirely (the feeling of it pulling on my neck made me panic; it also kept me from doing breaststroke, my “emergency” stroke that I use if I get tired or nervous in open water.) and focused on regaining my lost open-water confidence.

These days, I’m back to full-speed training, but I’m trying to listen to my body in ways I wasn’t before. If I’m exhausted after a stressful day at work, I’ll reconfigure a workout or give myself permission to take a nap. And after a combined total of almost 5-6 weeks of little-or-no training, I’m stuck re-evaluating my season and my goals. My speedwork is slower. My long runs take longer. My inhaler is getting more use. (Although, knocking almost 5 minutes off my 10K PR this weekend at the BTN 10K did go a long way to making me feel like everything I’ve worked for isn’t totally lost.) Still, my inner perfectionist is struggling with the fact that I’m disappointed in myself as I tackle the remainder of my season, which includes my first Olympic-distance triathlon, a sprint and a 2.5K open-water swim.

My first open-water swim after the hospital had two-foot waves, a surf advisory and white caps galore. And Jeff, who made sure I actually swam.

My first open-water swim after the hospital had two-foot waves, a surf advisory and white caps galore. And Jeff, who made sure I actually swam and didn’t wuss out. (This may be the least-flattering photo known to man.) 

I’m trying to remember what Jeff says: That it’s better to go into a race undertrained and healthy than overtrained and a wreck. Still, I can’t help but feel like I’m letting everyone down. Jeff’s invested so much time and energy into The Ashley Project. My friends have had to endure months of training talk. And I let myself built up such great expectations about what was to come – from weight loss to PRs – that it’s hard to let that go. I never thought I’d be talking about “salvaging” what’s left of a triathlon season.

I guess that’s life.

So with another PR under my belt, I’m marking the days off the calendar until the Chicago Triathlon. I’m doubling down on my training and trying to make every workout count. I’m refocusing my brain on how far I’ve come, not how much further I have to go. And I’m thinking about the gains I’ve made: I’m a lot more confident on my road bike, knocking out a 22-mile ride with an average pace of about 17 mph – way faster than I thought possible. My bike handling has gotten better. I’m regularly logging mile-long open-water swims at Ohio Street Beach, where I’m stopping less and using fewer breaststroke breaks in each successful swim.  Most importantly, I’m spending a lot of time reminding myself that I may not be where I want to be, but I’m still healthier, fitter, faster and stronger than I ever was when I started.

Look! A muscle!!

Look closely! That’s not dirt or a shadow. That’s a muscle! Where there was none before. 

So here’s to the rest of the season, the next chapter in The Ashley Project and making lemons out of lemonade.

Want to know more? Follow Ashley on Twitter or DailyMile.

Race Day Checklists: How To Make Them And Why They’re Important

ImageWith the incredible increase in health and fitness awareness in recent years, there’s ben a big increase in the variety and number of athletic events for people like us, The Average Joe. Here in Chicago, you can find some sort of physical challenge virtually every weekend.  (To be fair, it’s somewhat harder in February, but still.)

For many of these, all you need to do is throw on some workout clothes (Dri-Fit, baby!) and sneakers and show up when you’re told to.  For others, things get a little more complicated. Whatever the case, I’ve found that making checklists before events helps reduce last-minute stress of trying to remember if you did, in fact, pack your headphones, while also increasing the likelihood of having a great event.

But before we start with the details of what to bring, I like to make sure I’m covered on the actual particulars of the day.

It sounds pretty basic: Whether you’re doing a 5K or a dodgeball tournament that you signed up for months ago, make sure you actually know when and where your race is. (No. Seriously. You don’t want to drive to the wrong site on the wrong day. Because that would be all sorts of bad.) Before – and I’m talking days before – the race, make sure you have a plan about how you’re getting there (CTA? Bike? Car?) and how long it’ll take so you have an idea of when you’ll be leaving your house. Whenever I choose a race, the first thing I do is make a logistics checklist that covers all of this and more. (My checklist for Ironman Cozumel was out of this world. Just ask my wife.) It sounds intense, but if you list out all of the preparation steps when you select your event and systematically check them off as you go, you’re much less likely to stress in the days right before when you’re already keyed up, nervous and suffering from taper madness.  Trust me: Looking for directions on your computer minutes before you leave the house is NOT ideal!Image

The next thing I do is make a packing checklist, which includes any and all things that I might/possibly/maybe need.  Do I need spare clothes? Extra shoes? Laces? Compression socks? Special nutrition? Sunscreen? Money? ID? A confirmation email with my bib number?  Spare contact lenses?  Phone, iPod, or GPS chargers?  I try to list everything I could ever need for the event (before, during & after) so I know that I’m prepared.  Over the years, I’ve made checklists for triathlons (with subsections for swimming, biking, running and post-race) as well as lists for shorter races and even for bike rides.  I keep them saved on my computer and can update or tweak things as I go. This way, when I’m getting ready for a race, I print out a copy and run down each item to make sure I have it – and it’s packed – so I’m ready for whatever Mother Nature (or the Race Gods) decide to throw my way.

I realize this might sound like some major OCD-type overkill. But I’d much rather have something (looking at you, Band-Aids) and not need it, than need it and not have it when I get to the start corral. Checklists aren’t perfect, but they go a long way to save you from having a major meltdown at a race and can help keep you sane when you’re stressed out before a competition. The more organized and prepared you are, the more likely it is that the event will be a success.

Want some checklist examples to use as guide you as you make your own? Check out these examples.

Runner’s Race Checklist

Triathlon Checklist.

Cycling Checklist.

Open-Water Swim Checklist.

Fleet Feet Chicago.