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Race Tips

7 Race Moves That’ll Slow You Down (But Are Totally Worth It)

Sometimes it's not about going as fast as possible.

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When I think back on my first Ironman, the memory that stands out is not running down the finisher’s chute. Don’t get me wrong – the bright lights and roar of the crowd was something spectacular, and to this day, I still get goosebumps thinking of it. But the most special moment of my race happened on a quiet, dark corner about three miles before the finish line. It was there that I spotted Neil, a local triathlete I had been dating casually, stepping out of the shadows. He knew I had been panicking big-time about finishing the race and offered to come out as my support crew.

I had 137 miles under my belt and another three to go. My legs were tired, and so was my brain. But as soon as I saw Neil, I leapt — right into his arms, crawling up his 6-foot-5 frame like a tree.

“Holy shit!” I said. “I’m actually going to finish this thing!”

Neil laughed and gave me a kiss, never flinching at the crusty sweat residue on my cheeks. “You sure are.”

I knew in that moment we were no longer casually dating. As I watched Neil jog off to meet me at the finish line, I was helmet-over-cleats in love. (Four years later, I married him. Eleven years later, I’m still leaping into his arms.)

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A lot of people think race day is about racing—going all-out in an attempt to beat your competition or set a personal best. I’ve done plenty of that kind of racing over the years, and can attest it’s a satisfying pursuit. But there are times when it’s worthwhile to pump the brakes, too. Even in the midst of chasing down a PR, there are times when we can—and should—spare a second or two. If you encounter these situations on the race course, slow down. I promise it will be worth it.

Thank the volunteers

At every race, there are people who woke up at the crack of dawn, drove out to some remote part of the course, and waited for hours—all to give you a kayak to hold onto when you panic in the swim, hand you a cup of water at an aid station, or place a finisher’s medal around your neck. Race day doesn’t happen without volunteers, and saying “thank you” doesn’t really slow you down that much anyway.

Don’t be trashy

I’m not saying you have to make the sanitation volunteer’s job easier, but you really shouldn’t make it harder, either. Wait until you’re in a designated spot to empty your jersey pockets, and take the extra three footsteps to toss your trash in the bag. If you miss the bag, double back to pick it up. It’s good race karma. (It’s also in the rules—littering could end up costing you as much as 5 minutes in race penalties.) And, please, for everyone’s sake, take the time to not pee inside the changing tent.

Wear something fun

On a dare, my wild and wacky friend Dan once did an entire Ironman in a bright blue bodysuit. I’m talking full-body—the spandex even covered his face, which made taking in nutrition an interesting prospect. Was it stupid? Of course it was. But do we still talk about it a decade later? Of course we do. People cheered the loudest for him all day long.

I’m not saying you need to go Full Dan at your next race, but if your favorite sports team is playing on the same day of your race, go ahead and wear those colors with pride. Put on that hat that says you beat cancer, or those bike shoes with the donut motif. Who says your racing kit has to be so serious?

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High-five kids on the course

It will make their day and yours. Doubly so if they’re holding a glittery, magic-markered sign that says “Hit this to power up.” Those really do have magic turbo-boosting properties; you’ll probably end up feeling happier and happy people run faster. Fact.

Be encouraging

When you pass someone, tell them they’re doing a good job. If you slow down to walk, do it with a fellow racer and commiserate over the insane weather or that the hills seem to get steeper with every loop of the course. These moments can mean a lot—especially to new athletes doing their first race.

Help an athlete in need

It takes just a few seconds to toss a fellow athlete a CO2 cartridge, hand off an extra gel, or ask “Hey, you OK?” These small gestures make it possible for someone to experience the thrill of crossing the finish line, too—and you made it happen.

There are also times when a racer on the course requires more, and that’s when it becomes even more important to give more. If you see an athlete go down in a bike crash, collapse from heat exhaustion, or experience cardiac arrest, stop and assist. A finish line is not a good reason to ignore the suffering of another human being.

RELATED: When Her Friend Crashed at Worlds, She Gave Up Her Own Race to Help

Hug your loved ones

Here’s the thing about race day: You may be the one crossing the finish line, but you likely didn’t get there alone. Your spouse watched the kids while you went on long training rides, your kids were excellent movie-watching partners during recovery days, and your friends stood on the side of the road for hours, holding cowbells and waiting for a glimpse of you as you biked by. On your way to the finish line, slow down for sweaty hugs and high-fives. The boost you get from that moment may even carry you all the way to a PR.

RELATED: What’s The Nicest Thing Someone Has Done for You During a Race?