This past weekend, I raced in a local Olympic triathlon on the banks of the St. Lawrence river. While my A race is still three weeks away, I wanted to do well here. In the local race scene, this race is pretty big and brings out the big racers from Ottawa, Montreal and even northern New York to race. Despite the competitive field though, my race plan remained firm: I was going to cruise the whole 1500 m swim, focusing on form and maintaining my rhythm. (If you read my blog post a few weeks ago, prioritizing form over effort–since effort does not always equals speed–is the way to go at least for developing swimmers.)
The gun went off and the race was on! The swim course consisted of two, 750 m rectangular laps. We swam out made the turn and started to swim back. I was swimming in the lead pack and was feeling really good and smooth. All those meters on the Vasa SwimErg were paying off. I could feel myself accelerating through my pulls and relaxing during the recovery with little fatigue.
After I made the turn for the second lap I found myself alone. I was in the lead! This was great! I could actually come out of the water without having to play catch up on the bike or run. I was thinking it was time to turn on the second burner when a kayak paddle came down on my leg.
“STOP!” a voice yelled. I stopped and looked up at one of the course marshalls. “You missed a buoy and turned too early. You have to go back.”
My heart sank, and I wanted to cry! There goes my PR swim time, my race, my shot at the podium. The day was over. I wanted to hand in my chip right then and there. Despite these feelings, I put my head down and took off to where I had made the wrong turn. I continued to swim and swim. I knew I had to do one thing right now: I had to refocus. Even though I was frustrated and disappointed, I had to keep going. I could still have a great bike and run. This was just extra open water practice. I was getting my money’s worth.
I finished the swim and stripped off my wetsuit (aside: races that have wetsuit strippers are the best!) and with it, put the swim behind me and focused solely on biking hard and running even harder, which is exactly what I did.
In the end, the race was a big success not because it went perfectly but because it was a rougher day than anticipated. It’s the “bad” races that are actually the best because you learn more from those than you do if everything goes swimmingly (sorry, bad pun).
I learned three very important lessons this past weekend that I think everyone can benefit from:
- Know the swim course and count the buoys. Before the swim starts, be sure you know the course and how many buoys there are especially if the turn buoys are not a different color, which is rare but happens. Taking the extra few seconds to sight properly will save you minutes (not to mention energy) over the course of the race.
- Never give up! Even if the unexpected happens like taking a wrong turn, having leaky goggles, a flat tire, etc. refocus and deal with it. Yes, you may not be able to hit your original goals but that is out of your control. What is in your control is your attitude. Don’t waste any more time fretting; spend that energy on fixing what you can.
- Leave it in transition: Triathlon has 3 legs. If your swim does not go to plan, leave it in transition and work on having the best bike you can. Maybe your bike is not great, Leave it in T2 and focus on having a great run. If your run does not go to plan, leave it behind you at the finish line, figure out why, then focus on not repeating that on the next race. Each transition is an opportunity to refocus and leave everything from the previous leg in the past.
Overall, triathlons are long events with many opportunities for things to go wrong, but as each of these arise, an opportunity to overcome them.