Race Day – When Things Go Wrong

By Alun Woodward – ironguides.net coach – UK



We would all like to have everything go perfectly leading into a race but there are times when this simply does not happen and we need to have coping strategies in place.


Not all problems that arise mean you have to give up your race. I saw a great example of this from former World Champion Spencer Smith when racing an ITU points race and qualifying event in Funchal, Madeira. During the bike section Spencer had a major mechanical issue with the rear brake coming clean out of his bike frame, rather than give up the race Spencer jumped off his bike and quickly found a way to secure the brake to the frame to stop is jumping around and causing a major hazard and then got on with the race just taking a little more care on descents and corners due to having only one working brake. Not only did Spencer finish the race but he had one hell of a story to tell after and just further enhanced his reputation of never stopping the fighting!!


There are 3 main issues that can come up before or during a race and these can be pain due to injury, mechanical issue or nutritional issues.


While some injuries simply mean we cannot race, some smaller issues can be overcome using over the counter pain killers. An example of this can be a strained back which is very common for all of us and usually results from something unrelated to our sport. Simply moving wrong getting out of bed or picking something off the floor can lead to a sore back due to muscle spasms. I would always recommend you see your doctor to determine whether any permanent damage could be done by racing on pain killers before following this advice.


With pain killers we have 2 main over the counter pain killers paracetamol and ibuprofen. When we are looking at these two drugs we need to know when to take them and what they do.


Paracetamol kills the pain response BUT only if it is taken before the pain starts, so if we are racing and wait until the pain comes on it is too late and nothing is going to help. Once the brain starts signaling pain, the process has started to try to get you to stop moving and it can’t really be switched off. So if you have a pain that you know is not going to cause permanent damage by ignoring, you need to be looking to take paracetamol before the pain starts.

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During a day you can take 3 times 1g of Paracetamol so if you are racing ironman you might want to take one dose with your breakfast, another starting the bike ride and then one more before just before the end of the bike.


A lot of pain is caused by inflammation and ibuprofen is designed to take away this inflammation and can be very effective. I would tend to limit the use of iboprofen though when racing as it is very hard on the stomach and that is the last thing we need on race day. If ibuprofen is needed, I would take with breakfast and then leave until after the race.


Other stronger pain killers are available from your doctor but please make sure you explain to your doctor what you are doing as the demands of ironman will effect what you should take, for example Voltaren, a commonly used pain killer is processed by the kidneys and this could be very damaging during an ironmen race when the kidneys are already under a lot of stress. A safer choice for endurance sport would be Codeine which is processed by the liver.


Remember always get your doctor’s advice before taking any pain medication.


Nutritional issue on race day can be numerous but one big one is losing your own special nutrition. I am sure you have been racing and seen nutritional products all over the road, when we hit a bump in the road it is easy for our products to fall off the bike or also we can simply drop them when trying to eat and drink. While we should have our own products that work well for us we need to be aware of what is on the course and how much we need to take in to satisfy the energy demands of the race. Most races have aid stations with various products to give us a choice so we can take solid bars if we don’t tolerate gels and vica versa. Always have a backup plan in place so you can simply move to it if the worst happens and then you don’t panic and can still have a great race.


A lot of races also have a special needs area where you can place a bag containing spare nutrition or emergency foods.  I would always recommend you utilize these on race day as you never know what might happen and after all your hard work preparing for your event it is better to be safe than sorry.

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Mechanical issues are a huge factor for many people on race day and one of the leading causes of athletes not finishing their races. Make sure you have basic supplies with you on the race course so you can fix minor issues yourself. A basic allen key set is essential as you don’t want your race ending due to a loose bolt that would only take a few seconds to tighten. Also carrying a spare tube and pump to fix a flat are essential, I would always prefer a manual pump over a CO2 canister as these do notoriously fail on race day. On the bike I like to have the following and secure them to your bike using a strong tape such as duct tape.


  • allen key set
  • manual pump / dual Co2 pump
  • spare inner tube
  • tire lever


So a little forward planning and preparing for possible problems on race day can make any issue that comes up a lot less stressful to cope with and still lead to a successful completion of your race. Plus when things do go wrong and you overcome them it leads to a much more entertaining post race story to share with your fellow athletes and friends!!


Enjoy your training

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