Don’t Try Anything New on Race Day

As the end of winter gives way to a balmy spring, we are reminded that the world around us is in a constant state of flux. The change of the seasons means different things, but most of us experience a parallel dynamism in our lives. The time has arrived to tend a wilted garden, to clean a cluttered house or to resume a favorite outdoor hobby. For me, spring means I will accomplish a goal I set for myself each and every year – to finish one of the most challenging endurance events in the world.

On April 17th, I, along with thousands of others, will traverse 70.3 miles around the city of New Orleans using nothing but the engine of our own bodies and minds. The day before, my wife, Kris, will ask me what time she can expect me at the finish line, and by then I will be able to provide her an answer within a margin of error of only 20 minutes. How will I be able to run, swim and bike for over 6 hours and still let her know with such precision when I will arrive at a specific destination?

The answer is simply preparation. Triathletes are not superhuman. While it takes some athletic ability to compete in a strenuous endurance activity, what every triathlete is most gifted at is the ability to plan and to manage time.

Once race day arrives, I will have invested almost 480 hours into training. By then I will know how my swim time varies based on the direction of the wind and just how temperature affects my running speed.

After completing the course over 30 times throughout my training, I will have eliminated nearly all of the uncertainty out of the actual race. I will have prepared for anything that can go wrong to go wrong. By race day, I will know many things: how to fix a flat tire in a few short minutes, which pair of bike shorts to choose for a 60-mile ride, and what I can eat over the course of 6 hours (pickles and bananas, in case you are wondering). I will know these things because I will have practiced, prepared, planned, and managed time like few people attempt to do.

There are so many correlations that can be drawn between financial planning and triathlon racing. For one thing, I would never have thought to attempt such a feat without a good coach to provide guidance and hold me accountable to my goals. Yet so many people attempt to plan for retirement alone and wonder why the results they seek do not materialize.

Throughout the training process, my coach has assisted me in innumerable ways, but one of the best pieces of advice he gave me was to never try anything new on race day.

I took that advice to heart and immediately recognized another parallel to financial planning. So many people come to me months and even weeks before they are set to retire looking for an advisor to help them through the next 30 years of their lives, and I find it terribly frustrating that I could not begin guiding them earlier.

When I set out to complete my first Ironman distance race, I did not just hire any personal trainer. I scoured the internet to find a credentialed, local expert that I could trust because I wanted to be trained by the best. If I would have called my coach on April 10th, one week before the race, and asked him to coach me to the finish line, what do you think his response would have been?

So my final word of advice is that perhaps we should approach retirement with as much fervor as an athlete does a race. With long-term planning, preparation and dedication, I can promise you will not need to try anything new on race day.