Guest Author: Sarah True

When visualizing how my race at Ironman Cairns would unfold, I ran through a list of scenarios: different placements, different strategies, different physical responses. As a seasoned athlete, I know to be mentally prepared for the unforeseen mechanical or mistake. In all of my forecasting, however, it didn’t occur to me to visualize how my race would ultimately end: facedown on a bike path after blacking out 10 miles into the marathon.

Over my career, I’ve struggled when racing the heat and have learned how to respect my body’s response to higher temperatures and humidity. After cool, overcast days in the lead up, race day in Cairns was hotter and more humid than I expected. As the race unfolded, I raced with a respect for the conditions and my body: I stayed on top of my hydration and fueling and I moderated my effort. I did what I could to race intelligently. And yet I still ended up with heat stroke and a DNF next to my name.

It almost felt like a betrayal, a best friend ruthlessly letting me down in a time of need. After cultivating such a close relationship with my body, listening to subtle signs and needs, my brain suddenly and abruptly decided it was too hot to continue. A race that goes poorly due to inadequate fitness or preparation is disappointing, yet easier to understand. If I haven’t done the work needed to perform to my standards, I can simply blame myself. But my body stopping me from racing? That requires a level of acceptance about my own limitations.

As athletes, we operate under the assumption that we can control our bodies. We become lulled into a belief that if we eat the right foods, if we do the right training, if we rest enough, then our bodies will do what we ask of them. When you get an unexpected response, however, it’s a reminder that the power we exert over our bodies is ultimately limited. No matter how mentally tough we are or how strong we become, our bodies possess a fragility that we can’t always ignore.

Moving forward, am I worried that I will have heat stroke again? Absolutely. I’m heading to Ironman Frankfurt and a record-breaking heat wave is predicted for race day. Concern about the heat is a logical and rational response given my history. As my coach reminds me, however, my goal is to perform well again at the Ironman World Championship in Kona- a race known for taking place in extreme conditions. I can’t allow my concerns to give way to fear. I have to trust in my preparation and believe that I will perform without any issues. We can’t keep the unexpected from happening, but we can always control how we react when it does.

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