Racing Wisely: Managing Expectations

Here’s an excerpt from my latest book, Racing Wisely, that seems especially germane as we hit peak spring race season.

Be sure you pay attention to your travel companions' needs during race weekend, too!
Be sure you pay attention to your travel companions’ needs during race weekend, too!

As you plan your travel, you also need to consider who is coming with you, what their intentions are for the trip, and how you can preserve both your good relationship with your travel companions and your own energies so you can race at your best. Being dragged from tourist site to tourist site while you’d rather be watching a movie with your legs up will do damage both to your performance and to your standing with your travel companion. Think ahead about how each of you wants to spend time and energy during the trip. There may be periods where you’ll split up and your friends will enjoy an activity without you while you rest, pick up your packet, or assemble your bike. Maybe there is a way to combine both your need to rest and your friends’ desire to explore: a bus or duck boat tour of a major city, for example, is a fun way to look around—off your feet.

The closer your relationship with your travel companions, the more is on the line, and the more clear you need to be about how you plan to spend your time and what you need from them. Is your family’s role simply to boost your spirits? To distract you and to keep you calm in the days and hours before the race? To act as porters, carrying your items? To act as cheerleaders on the race course? Be specific about what you want; don’t make them guess. Spectating a sport is not everyone’s idea of a fun way to spend a day. (As my husband puts it, “Why would I want to watch people exercise?”) Early hours, cold or hot and sometimes wet conditions, a lack of food and toilets, crowds, confusing directions, complicated courses—these elements combine to make watching a race a major physical endeavor. Add to that your friends and family’s concern for your well-being on race day. They have questions like, Will she be having a good day, or a bad one? Will she see me? What if he’s ahead of schedule? Worse, what if he’s way behind? What can I say or do to make a difference? Talking through these issues ahead of time ensures a smoother race day.

The one glimpse I had of my family midrace, Ironman Coeur d'Alene, 2009
The one glimpse I had of my family mid race—by design—Ironman Coeur d’Alene, 2009

Similarly, if you are traveling with friends who are also doing the race, before you depart, have an honest conversation about your plans for before and during the event. Training together for the same race builds friendships; ensure the health of that friendship by talking about how you plan to address the race. Will you run the entire thing together? What if one of you is having a great day, and the other isn’t? Will you stay together no matter what, or are there situations where one of you might proceed without the other? Being very clear on your intention will help you answer these questions. If your intention is to cross the finish line together, you’ll take one approach. If your intention is to help each other to your fastest finish, you’ll take another. The right answers are the ones that best serve your relationship.

To get clear on your expectations, look at the Race Plan Worksheet available at