At my first 70.3 race this year, I made a major blunder and it became a wakeup call. I was racing Florida 70.3 and was 27 miles into the bike, riding at a good clip. Beside me all of the sudden was a Honda Goldwing and an official. As I looked over, I realized I was getting my first penalty in my triathlon career. It was really windy that day, and about that same time, my front tire caught the edge of the road and I went sliding down the pavement at 21 mph. Upon reflection, I realized I was caught in a pack and was about 4 bike lengths back. But this really messed up my day. Blood, bruises and some scraped up bike parts…
It would have been easy to quit that day. I could have made a million excuses why I quit. But I realized I could make a choice: the mistake could define me, or I could move on. I decided that finishing and struggling through a painful run would mean more to me than getting hung up on a slow-for-me 70.3, my second slowest to date.
While this mistake was major, there will be some degree of a mistake in every race. These are the things that define us, good or bad, and mentally can become our mantra or nemesis. The key is moving on not dwelling on it.
The perfectly executed race in long-course triathlon is primarily a myth, but if you do execute perfection that is great. Some athletes can let a little thing ruin their day, but the greatest races are those where you recover from something that didn’t go your way. It is much like Daniela Ryf’s experience at Kona last year. She was stung by a jellyfish, and many predicted that was the end of her race. But through mental toughness, she just kept charging and pushed a bike that may have been on the edge for her, but she had a plan and it worked that day. This all comes from experience, support and mental toughness. She also knew that she had nothing to lose.
At Evolve we prepare our athletes to perform at their best ability, but we also help them get past the things that inevitably can go wrong at your race. At the end of the day, many of the situations are out of our control. All we can do is prepare to minimize the problems, and when they do happen we move on. We don’t want the issue to define our race. Otherwise the energy those legs will need on the run are lost on unnecessary stress that drains your glycogen levels.
We could write a book on all of the things that could go wrong at a long-course triathlon. The thing we can’t stress enough is that whatever is happening in that moment can often be overcome. In triathlon, your body and mind can go from defeat to triumph in as quickly as 10 minutes. Visualization is a critical practice that can get you out of a defeated mindset. This is a simple technique where you envision a positive outcome and then start breaking the courses into pieces. For the swim it can be each buoy, which is essentially 4 laps in the typical pool. On the bike it could be breaking it into 5-mile increments. On the run it can be ignoring your data for a while and just eyeing landmarks ahead. If I am having a tough training run, I have found this is a great way to get another few miles knocked out. I will tune out my data for a while and suddenly I am back on track.
While we discuss the mental aspect, you also need to be ready for the equipment failures. Goggles break and get kicked off, so tuck an extra pair in your wetsuit or around your leg. Flats and thrown chains are always a possibility at a race. Make sure you have the equipment to fix a flat and practice changing your tire if that is new to you. We have witnessed some crafty engineering by Evolve athletes at Ironman races, and the athletes have preserved a great race with a quick fix. On the run, shoe laces and zippers can break. Just think through how you might address this. It can be dealt with. An extra minute in transition beats walking halfway through your run due to an issue.
Invariably, the best thing you can do is smile, get mentally tough, and be prepared for things to pop up. At Evolve, we are always impressed with the way athletes bounce back from adversity. Often times when athletes think it is over, they realize the race has just begun. Block it from your mind and share the story at the finish.
As much as I think I have mastered triathlon and visualizing the day, things will still go wrong. But aside from your first long-course race or your PR race, the most memorable race is the one where you keep charging forward after a mishap or hardship. Because as I have learned, when things are easy, everyone can be successful. The real challenge is to grind it out when things get hard. Florida 70.3 was a tough day for me and I wouldn’t change a thing- well, other than the scars…