Best Race Ever!!! That’s how I hoped to start this post, but alas, Sunday’s race was not the best ever. It wasn’t even really a race for me. Before I get into the happenings of the day, let me start by sharing a little back story. If you know me at all, you know I have been training and looking forward to this race for some time. Yes, the distance was a little more than I had done before, but I knew that with the right training, that part wouldn’t matter. This race was twice as long as the others I have successfully completed and was to be my fifth triathlon. I signed up for this one for one reason, the run. The run took place at Zoo Miami. I had run there before for a 5k and the experience came second to only a run through Disney. I could not wait for this one!
The challenge, of course, would be the swim. At a little over half a mile, it was not the longest one I had done. I allowed myself a little confidence this time. After all, I swam that same distance in the middle of a monsoon before. Sure, it took way longer than it should have, and sure this was in a lake, but hey every year it was wetsuit legal and again, I had done the distance before. We went out to the race site a couple of weeks before the race to ride the bike course. One of the reps from the race was there and showed us the swim course. As I stood on the shoreline, the past flushed over me like a wave. It was a classic tunnel scene from a movie when you see the end of the tunnel and it stretches right before your eyes. All the sudden, what I was actually a little confident of became an insurmountable feat. I wanted to just throw in the towel right then and there. We rode the bike course and it was awesome. Very windy, but totally manageable. I texted my coach that I was scared I would panic and end up on my back again during the swim. We texted back and forth a bit and decided that I should try to not make it an option. I decided on a strategy I read about. If I was feeling panic and wanted to flip over, I would make myself stay in position for ten more strokes. If I still felt the need, then I would flip over for five strokes and then back again. After about a week of battle in my own head, I was starting to feel better again. The week before the race, I had a swim that was about the same distance of the race swim. Yes, it’s in a pool but I wanted to swim it as continuously as possible. I figured an extra confidence boost was good. I was right. I swam it non stop and felt amazing. I even broke one of my rules and predicted a time for my swim in the race, I was feeling so good.
Thursday before the race, I had a terrible sore throat. I worked from home Friday, trying to nap in between meetings to rest up. I felt like crap. Saturday was Expo day, something I had looked forward to since signing up for the race. That morning, I couldn’t have cared less. I tried to be peppy and think about all the tri goodies that would be there for purchase. I tried thinking about how cool it would be to get all the swag I had heard about. How different this one was because I was dropping my bike off the day before the event, something I had never done before. I got there and was very matter of fact. I didn’t have much interest in purchasing anything. I had wanted a hat I saw online but couldn’t find it, so I didn’t bother asking. Encouraged by Darin, I picked up a bike jersey. I can always use one, so why not, was my attitude. Not the excited, hold myself back from spending too much attitude I had expected to have. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was scheduled for a prep workout that day too, and totally blew it off. I told myself rest was better, but I just didn’t feel like doing it.
Race morning came and I generally am jittery and concerned about the goofiest things. Would I go to the bathroom before I get there or suffer the port o potty and long lines? Would my stomach hold up or feel like I was going to yarp? Would I be able to eat? Will I be nervous? Not this morning. I woke up and again couldn’t care less. I tried to be open with Darin and tell him that, hoping that saying it out loud would help me snap out of it, but no such luck. I made some toast, grabbed my gear and headed out. This race was much different than any other morning experience. Not just because of how I felt, but because of the schedule. I’m usually up and racing within about three hours or so. This time, we had to drive to Miami, be there and set up before transition closed at 6:20, and my wave didn’t start until 8:20. My newly found disinterest the days before the race, lead to poor preparation on my part.
I made many mistakes leading up to this race, mistakes I am trying to learn from. The first, and biggest mistake was breaking my own rule. I told myself I would not go to a bigger distance until I felt awesome doing the small distance stuff. I totally blew off the fact that I struggled in September and just assumed I got past all that for this one because the appeal of running through the zoo would motivate me. The other mistakes were things like eating and drinking. I ate and drank nearly five hours before the race start. I should have taken in nutrition at least three hours before start. That isn’t what cost me the race, I will get to that soon, but it could have further down the line. Another mistake was my wetsuit. For the first time in the history of this race, the water temps made it not wetsuit legal. What does that mean? Well, a wetsuit legal race means the water is cool and most people will be in a wetsuit because it helps you move through the water faster and makes you way more buoyant. The wetsuit was to be my super-suit. How could I fail with it on? The water temp was not cool enough for wetsuits this time, but the race directors would allow you to wear it if you went last and agreed that you were not eligible for awards. Ha! Awards? I got no chance of that anyway, so why not? Now, my wave was at 8:45.
It was a very hot and windy morning. It was just about time for my wave, so I headed down to get my wetsuit on. I had worn the wetsuit several times earlier in the year. Sure, I should have practiced with it on more closely to the race, but what could go wrong? Generally, I take great care putting on my wetsuit. Believe it or not, they tear very easily. I was proud that I had worn it a good few times and never had an issue. Let me tell you that trying to squash two pounds of jelly in a one pound bag is hard enough, trying to do it while sweating is a whole different struggle. The struggle is real! I had no patience whatsoever and again, didn’t care. I jammed myself into the thing and pulled and tugged. Darin did his best to help me, poor thing. I ended up with three nice little fingernail tears. They devastate me now, but then, nah didn’t care. Just wanted to get the swim over with so I could run with the lions.
The start horn rang out and I usually click into race mode. It usually doesn’t matter if I am scared, nervous, feeling sick, whatever. That horn goes off and something inside just goes. Not this time. I was miserable. I was sweating so profusely, that I was already dripping inside the wetsuit. I hoped once I hit the water I would cool down and yet it was like I wasn’t in a hurry at all. I just kinda sauntered into the water, like a day at the beach. In the past, I usually jam my face in and at least try. Not this time, I swam to the first buoy with my head clean above the water. My face never even got wet. What was wrong with me? I thought. Ok, Cris, you need to snap out of this funk. You have been working hard for this. Yeah, I will make the turn and put my head in the water and just go. I always finish. This was no longer than the swim I did the other day. Yeah. …… No. I put my head in and I can’t even say I had control over my body and I can’t say that I feel looking back, like I really tried. I felt like my wetsuit was trying to murder me. It was strangling and smothering me. I had never felt this before. I know they feel less constricting when in the proper swim position, but I just wasn’t getting there. My heart rate was sky-high and I had no conscious thought of trying to get it back down. This was nothing new for me, I have experienced this in every race so far, and in every one of those races I kept moving forward. I always reminding myself that I needed to persevere. Today was different. In that moment, I was done. A lifeguard had come over to me, seeing that I was struggling and I said I was done. I could barely breathe and didn’t have a single ounce of energy in me to convince myself to even bother continuing. He pulled me to the side and said that I was way overheated and opened the back of my wetsuit to allow more water to rush in. I can’t describe how awesome it felt when that cool water rushed in and I no longer had that constriction around my neck. Don’t get me wrong, it was not the wetsuit to blame. Had I not worn it, the outcome would have probably been the same.
So, what happened? Well, hindsight is always clearer and I love playing the part of my own psychologist so here goes. I think what happened was I was just tired. Not in the sense that I didn’t get enough sleep. I was just tired of having this issue with the swim. This was the fifth time! It’s mentally draining to fail at something over and over and keep trying. We want to say that the fact that you don’t quit is awesome, and it is really great when people fail and don’t quit, but it’s freaking hard! I didn’t have it in my logical side of the brain to fight the instinctual side that day. I just didn’t. I regretted saying I was done the moment the words came out of my mouth. I knew that I actually could have finished, because I had before, but that didn’t matter in that moment. While I regretted it, my body and part of my mind was so relieved. It was sweltering hot and to think that after exerting all that energy to simply finish the swim I still had over two hours of cycling and running left on a fairly empty tank was probably not going to work out for the best anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I had a sufficiently long pity part for myself. I didn’t want to think about having to tell people that I totally failed. I wasn’t sure how I would even bother with this sport again. I went through all the emotions. I was mad at myself for not finishing. I was sad, of course. I felt guilty that I dragged Darin all the way out there for this. I felt frustrated and like a total loser that after all this time in the pool and training, I couldn’t do it. I felt like I should just find a new sport. That whole duathlon thing was looking pretty appealing in that moment. I quit the race, how much harder would it be to just quit the sport?
Once my pity part ended and all the “guest” feelings in my head had gone home, it was time to clean up. I went over the long list of things that I know deep down I could have done better. I failed at this one, but the best thing I can do as an example is to learn from that failure. So, that’s what I am doing. I’m going to stop breaking my own rules, and not add distance until I am absolutely crushing it. I’m going to figure out how to train more in different types of open water. I am going to let my coach help me way more than I have in the past. I’m not one to rely on other people. I usually rely on me, and me alone, but I need help here and that’s his expertise. I just have to put my trust in the training, more so than I have in the past. I love training for this sport, I’m just crappy when it comes to races!… And that’s ok. I train hundreds of days in the year. I only race a couple of days a year. I can’t quit something I love the majority of the time for something that is really a small part of it when you think about it. Speaking of that small part, I’m already signed up for the next one in March. That’s enough time, right?