In descending order of importance, except for #6 Extra Bonus – you could just skip to that part right now if you wanted.
1. Endurance sport is all about mental toughness, and mental toughness is a skill borne of habit and routine.
All last year, and the year before that as a runner, and the year before that as a marathoner, back to 2009 and my first ever marathon, I have a week-long (or more) pre-race routine: each morning I wake up to “Love Like a Sunset” Parts 1 and 2 and visualize race day. I close my eyes and imagine the start, the middle, the end: the hurdles I’ll face; how I’ll overcome them because of my experience and training; how it will be tough, but I’ll come through it; how I’ll want to quit, but I won’t because the finish line is so sweet. And I visualize crossing the finish line triumphant.
I didn’t do that this time. I think I was in denial. My unconscious thoughts were: I’m injured and have been slow to recover; I can’t do this whole race anyway; I can’t run (in fact I’ll probably need surgery before I can run again); I’ve gained weight; I’m slower even than usual; I’m shouldn’t take this too seriously because really, what am I doing out there in the first place?
My conscious thoughts were: I’ve been swimming like a dolphin; I don’t need to think about this; this is ‘only’ 500 metres; I don’t get to cross a finish line; it’s just a little swim in the lake; I’m an “old hand” at this; I don’t need to really think about it.
I didn’t even pack my gear until the morning I left for Shawnigan, though I had meant to pack the night before, then go for a little “shake out” bike ride Saturday morning before leaving.
As usual, race morning jitters hit me after breakfast race day, but this time worse than ever. Confession: I was almost in panic mode standing on the shore an hour and a half before my wave started, trying not to let it show as my relay team-mate Darcie and I watched the Trestle Challenge and Olympic distance racers embark on their swim. I posted a photo saying how nervous I was, but other than that I didn’t know how to calm myself down.
In hindsight a better course of action may have been to find a quiet place, dial up Phoenix on my phone, breathe deeply, and visualize myself swimming confidently through the cold water to a 10-minute swim split. Then do it again and again until it was time to get in the water.
2. Swimming is harder than it seems like it should be
I worked hard at swimming this winter, because it was pretty much the only thing I could do after I got off the crutches. Yet, my time for this 500 metre open water swim was, at 12 minutes, only 26 seconds faster than last year’s performance. I was confident I would make it in 10 minutes or less this year.
I had a good warmup, which calmed my nerves. Then we stood on shore for 15 minutes waiting for my wave (the final wave) to start. I joked around with my teammates, and mugged for the camera a couple times, but I was shivering when we finally got in the water. Then the horn sounded, and I swam. I went out fast, trying to follow a speedy swimmer’s bubbles (the lovely Donna Morrisey actually), trying to see what it is like not to hang back, not to swim wide trying to avoid other swimmers.
I had no trouble being with the other swimmers, but I froze up 50m out from shore. I had gone out too fast; I wasn’t relaxed.
Full blown get me the f**k out of here panic.
Gasping for air, disoriented and thinking “I can’t do this, I can’t do this,” I stopped completely, floated in place and watched other swimmers pull away from me. Breathe. Breathe again. Sighted the first buoy. Told myself “I CAN do this. I’ve done it before, many times, in water colder than this. Get a grip, calm down and just swim. No-one cares if you win or not. No one even cares if you finish. No pressure. Just. Swim.”
So I did. At my own pace. To my surprise I aimed straight for the buoy and actually almost hit it. I rounded it, went straight for the next buoy and almost hit it too – no zig-zagging (my biggest problem last year.) I relaxed and tried to let go of expectations. I swam to within 3 steps of shore and exited the water, and then had trouble getting my wet suit off. Erg.
3. Leave the arm warmers off, or wear them under the wetsuit.
It was a chilly, rainy day and I wondered how to get an extra layer on in transition for the bike. I rolled arm warmers like I roll my socks – all ready to unroll up my arms (or feet). But it took too long. I spent nearly 5 whole freaking minutes in T1, most of it trying to get arm warmers on wet arms. Gah.
Iron distance finisher and teammate, Coach Lindsey, told me later she just puts them on under her wetsuit – they dry as fast as a trisuit anyway. Double Gah.
4. It doesn’t f**king matter if it’s a bit chilly
I didn’t even need the arm warmers. I didn’t wear socks. I didn’t wear gloves. I didn’t even need sunscreen because it was cloudy. Transition could have been 2 and a half minutes, not 5, and it would not have mattered one little bit to my bike time. Racing is different from just being out for a ride. I’m working harder, I’m more focused.
5. Bonus: I love cycling
My bike split was 57:29, an average pace of 23.1 km/h on a rolling hills course; nearly 8 minutes slower than last year. I got passed by a hybrid AND a mountain bike at first! (I overtook them on the hills later…) And yet, I was happy with this performance. I only started cycling “for real” again about two or three weeks ago, getting off the tame, flat Galloping Goose trail to do the slightly more challenging waterfront-mid-peninsula routes I was doing regularly at this time last year. Heck, I had done a metric century ride in March last year leading up to triathlon season!
My physiotherapist still wants me to take it easy on the hills, and in truth I have no choice – I’m outta shape! But not as out of shape as I thought I was. I only had to ice my knee a little bit after I got home …
6. Extra bonus: Darcie is my hero
My team was called TriStars Limp, Grunt and Gasp. I was the Limp because of my knee injury, and Connie was the Gasp, because when she signed on to do the run portion of this relay team she was sick with a bad flu AND recovering from wrist surgery. Unfortunately, she had a coughing relapse a couple of weeks before the triathlon and couldn’t compete, so I ended up doing the swim and bike while Darcie – the Grunt – did the run.
But get this: Darcie was Grunt because six weeks before Shawnigan Triathlon she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. SIX WEEKS POST-PARTUM PEOPLE. If that’s not determination I don’t know what is. Baby Abby has one helluva superhero mom, don’cha think?
See you at the Victoria Subaru Sprint, Olympic and Half Ironman in June! I’ll be swimming the Olympic relay distance as with Peter and Connie as part of TriStars Team Scrambled Legs.
Note to racer #799 with the Aussie accent:
… did you get a timely ride back to the finish? Bad luck with that flat and no spare, sorry I couldn’t help you out more. ’Til next time!