My triumphant return to triathlon – making the best of a not so perfect race day!

Kim WebsterEver had a perfect race, where everything unfolded exactly the way you envisioned it would? Some athletes can bring to mind one or two races over the course of their careers, where the stars seem to align and everything goes exactly according to plan. However, more often than naught, something unexpected happens on race day. These unpredictable obstacles present a test of mental fortitude, which often proves to be significantly more challenging than any physical test you face on race day. How you respond is ultimately up to you! With a certain mindset and mental preparedness, you can overcome any race day mishap and finish the day feeling successful.

I was eagerly anticipating my return to the sport I love after not racing for four years. Of course, I had the race all laid out in my mind. I would have the perfect swim, the perfect bike, and finish with the perfect run. The day would be perfect. Well, as is often the case, things didn’t quite go according to plan… I came out of the swim in good position – third woman overall. “Perfect only two women to catch. I’ve got this race in the bag,” I thought to myself. After riding strong for 10 miles or so, I passed a woman on the bike. “Oh yeah,” I thought to myself, “one more to go, and then it’s smooth sailing all the way to the podium.” The race was unfolding exactly the way I had envisioned it…
I was cruising along with two other guys, when I saw an orange arrow in the road indicating a turn. I looked to the right and saw a roughly paved, unappealing side road. “That can’t be the road we are supposed to take – it looks terrible,” I thought to myself. I also brought to mind the pre-race announcements when the race director indicated that there would be volunteers at every turn on the bike directing traffic. No volunteers, an ugly side road, no one directing traffic… we continued straight ahead. After riding a few miles, I began to wonder – what happened to mile marker 15? Where are the signs indicating ‘race in progress?’ Where are the volunteers? Where is that woman I’m trying to catch? My options were stop and analyze the situation or continue on. Not wanting to give up my solid position in the race, I continued on. For 8.5 miles. In the wrong direction. It finally hit me. I was not on the bike course. My perfect day was not so perfect anymore.

Disgruntled, I decided to turn around and ride back until I could see the other racers. I finally came to the turn, which was now amply staffed with volunteers directing the way (who were not there previously!). I turned down the bumpy road and immediately came upon mile marker 15 painted on the road. I glanced at my bike computer. It read 32 miles. First came the swear words. I don’t usually swear, but I let a few bombs. I was angry with the race organizers. They ruined my perfect day. My race was effectively over. I should be entering the home stretch on the bike and effectively I’m just getting started. This really sucked

I contemplated my next move. I could call it a day – ride back to transition, pack up my bike and head home. But I couldn’t do that. Quitting would disappoint not only myself, but also my family and teammates who were there to support me. I had trained hard for this day. This was set up to be my triumphant return to triathlon after not racing for 4 years due to starting my family. I couldn’t quit. I needed to teach my kids the value of perseverance and never giving up. Ok, so I wasn’t going to quit. Then what? How can I make the best of this race? Well, my overall time and place was meaningless to me at that point. What was left? The run! The fastest women’s run split won $125 at this race. I was going after it. That run prime was mine. I’ll cruise through the rest of the bike, and then focus on the run. I’ve got this. In the words of Pete the Cat, “it’s all good.”

I cruised along for a while, trying my best to enjoy the ride… I was anxiously anticipating seeing my family in transition after I finally came through after the first (extended) loop. I needed some encouragement. Something to keep me going and remind my why I was pushing on. I glazed over the crowd – searching, searching. I came to the top of the hill where the spectator numbers started to dwindle. No family. They weren’t there. It turns out they were out driving around the course looking for me, wondering where the heck I could be. I continued on. One more loop.

I glanced down at my bike computer when I had ridden 56 miles. I should be finishing now – I should be starting the run. But instead, I had 17 miles left to ride. I hit the wall. Ran out of food, ran out of energy, ran out of motivation. Can I really win that run prime? I’m out of gas. I’m done. After biking 17 more miles than everyone else, how could I possibly run faster? Maybe I won’t win that run prime. Maybe I’ll just finish the run. Focus on the present. Just finish the bike and get to the run. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

I finally rolled into transition and got off my bike. I was in no hurry, as my overall time was meaningless to me at that point. I refueled, did a bit of stretching, and gathered myself. Can I really win that run prime? I don’t really know, but I can certainly try.
I started off the run and settled into my goal pace after a couple of miles. The run had three loops. The first loop, I would settle in and evaluate where I’m at. The 2nd loop, I would try to hold steady. And on the 3rd loop, I would give it all that I had left. I finished the first loop – right on target. I finished the 2nd loop – still on target. After making the turn to start the 3rd loop, I heard one of my teammates yell to me “get that run prime!” I picked up the pace and pushed. 4 miles to go, I was going to give it all that I had left. I didn’t know how fast the other women had run. I didn’t know what pace I needed to hold to win that prime. All I knew that I had to give it everything I had. If I did that, the day would be a success.

I pushed through the final loop. I ran up the hill into the arena toward the finish line. I crossed the finish line and heard my name called over the loud speaker. I glanced up at the time on the clock — 6:05:10. I glanced back down at my feet. I had given it all that I had. I ran as hard as I could. I captured that run prime. The day was a success. In fact it was one of the greatest successes I have had in my triathlon career.

SO, when your perfect race falls apart at the seams, consider taking the following steps:

  • Be angry! Blame whomever you want. It doesn’t matter. Let it all out! Let your pity party last for a few minutes and then put it to rest. Time to move on! What is done is done. Don’t dwell on your misfortunes. It does you no good.
  • Re-evaluate your goals for the day. Time to look to the pr
    sent and the future and decide how to make the best of the situation. Focus on the here and now. What do you have control over at this point in the race? It could be a specific goal for an upcoming leg or maybe it’s simply to finish the race.
  • Search for a reason to push on. If you truly search, you will be sure to find one. Success is always within your reach. It’s all a matter of how you define it at the end of the day.

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