This week, I received the best piece of motivational advice I’ve ever been given. It didn’t come in the form of a pep talk or a hype-up (no HYPE MAN here…). In fact, it was anything but explicitly motivational. But it worked. I was due to race my first triathlon since that day of hell back in Vegas in September. Understandably, I was suffering some nerves. Mostly because:
1) Vegas 70.3 was hell and made me think that I couldn’t perform the act of triathlon
2) Myocarditis made a random and beautifully timed appearance which prevented me from training
3) Due to #2, I haven’t done much running
Basically, I was feeling a bit wimpy about the whole thing.
So I spoke to a colleague and friend at work who I train with occasionally, and he was also racing at the weekend in the Olympic race.
Me: “I’m nervous”
Him: “What are you nervous about?”
Me: “I can’t run fast anymore”
Him: “So just run slower”
Me: silent. look of fear and self loathing
Him: “It’s ok. We’re not judging you”
And with that, a release. We’re not judging you.
It’s so easy to weigh yourself down with your own expectations. Who cares if you run slower? It doesn’t matter. This is a hobby. An expensive hobby, but a hobby all the same. We’re not judging you. It felt so good to hear that! Because sometimes, in my own little brain, I like to imagine that there’s some kind of commentary box when I’m training, and Richie Benaud is discussing my current form, and noting that the slow motion replay doesn’t show how fast I was actually running. But in reality, there is no one commentating, assessing, judging. Only me. And that felt great to hear out loud.
So I took it with me to the race. No one’s judging me, it’s just a training exercise, a practice race to get me back into the swing of things. I had a goal for each element of the race:
Swim – test yourself. I’ve been consistent with my swimming for the first time ever. I have been at squad training once or twice a week, have done lots of open water swims, and have worked with both my own coach Laura and the Yarra Tri swim coach Michael to make sure I’m focusing on my technique. I wanted to see how this all played out in a race scenario. As historically, I have come last (or very close to last) in the swim leg.
Bike – see how hard you can go sustainably. I’ve been riding my road bike Blue Steel for months now, and have only taken my TT out twice since Vegas. This was a chance to ‘remember’ what it feels like to race again.
Run – stay comfortable. Don’t vomit. Run a bit slower. Be reasonable with yourself.
At the start of the race, almost all the women seemed to be in a single wave, and it felt like there were about 80-100 of us (3-4 age groups at once). I started in the front and middle for the first time ever. I’m not sure what prompted that move; it was brash (we all know that I’m no Stephanie Rice). The gun went off and I didn’t poop myself (small wins). I ran into the water and dived in amongst it like Tilikum in a psychotic rage (tip: watch Blackfish). It was CARNAGE.
Somehow, I managed to maintain bilateral breathing and I seemed to feel quite strong. There was none of the panic of the early days of open water mass swim starts (another tip: go to swim squad – I wish I did it from day 1). I got pounded on both sides of the body to about the second buoy, then again at the turnaround buoy, but I just swam as hard as I could. After the turnaround, I seemed to be in clear water, so I figured I had been dropped (classic Piper). Then a girl tried to swim up beside me and she pushed my head under and held it there! WHAT IN HOLY HELL?!?! Who are these people and what do they want from me??! I ONLY JUST LEARNT HOW TO SWIM AND NOW YOU’RE TRYING TO GET PAST ME FOR BRAGGING RIGHTS IN A LOCAL AMATEUR SPRINT TRIATHLON!! So that was interesting… Luckily, I have the voice of Dory on rotate in my mind when I’m in the bay: Just keep swimming…
Transition. Blurgh. It took forever to get my wetsuit off. I even sat down I think. I was shattered. I had never swum so hard in my life. I needed a mini-break to bali to recover from that swim, and I gave it a good impersonation in transition as I slumped on the grass and tried to get my feet out. I need to practice that… On the upside, there were bikes there – actual real-life bikes on MY RACK. For most of you, this will mean nothing. But for anyone who is used to coming last in the swim, this can mean only one thing: YOU DID NOT COME LAST. In fact, it looked like pretty much ALL the bikes were still there apart from one or two. But this didn’t really register…
Bike guy – my favourite of all the tri-bits – started and I realised I was totally exhausted by the sprint swim. I was completely out of breath, but pushed as hard as I could. It was two laps of a very overcrowded course (as the Olympic distance race was going on at the same time) so I decided that I would just stay slightly to the right and aim to overtake everyone. Again, brash. Fortunately, it seemed to work ok. I got passed by a few serious-looking guys. And I passed a few serious-looking guys (who then looked even more serious as after a girl with legs shorter than arms just chicked them). I had no idea where I was in terms of my age-group, so I just raced for myself, as hard as I could. I didn’t have a speedo or any time/HR monitoring (due to hitting the stop button instead of the lap button on Jarrod’s Garmin), so just kept pedalling. I had so much snot streaming out of my nose, it was awesome. Until my friend Tom who was racing the Olympic distance rode up alongside me and said “you’re looking great”, because it’s always awesome to run into your colleagues when there is Niagara Falls of liquid booger on your mouth and chin.
Transition – again, shattered. But at least I had completed the two things I wanted to: a solid swim and bike. Now I could relax into the run. But first I had to find my way out of transition… why do they make it so confusing??
Run – this is never fun, is it? I had a stitch in my right side from start to finish. But I just tried to breath and relax and concentrate on my form. Again, I had no idea of pace or heart rate, I just wanted to maintain a comfortable pace. It was an out-and-back loop, and I was cooked from sprinting on the bike. After about 2km, a really young girl, maybe 14 or 15, came FLYING past me at maybe 3:45s, 3:50s and she made me feel like I was standing still. Just before the turnaround point, I ran next to a girl who had stopped running and was walking, so I checked she was ok before passing, and she said she was nursing an injury. I always feel so bad when you run past someone who is walking and in pain, I want to give them some of my energy as I go past. Anyway, the second half was just as little fun as the first, but I kept it just on the borderline of acceptable suffering.
And then the finish. Historically I’ve been able to finish with a bit of a sprint. But not today. Just a jog to the line, in time to double over and beg for mercy from the triathlon gods.
It felt great to be back. I had a great swim by my own standards, a great bike and a just about comfortable run. This was a win.
After the race finished, I checked my results, and there was nothing there. Literally nothing. My entire age-group was listed, but my name wasn’t on there. I was gutted. I figured that my timing band was faulty or something. So I went around to the timing tent to ask if they could help. I told the guy my age group and my number, and he typed it in.
“You won” he said.
So there you have it. Turns out that not worrying about doing well, was the key to actually doing well.
“Worrying is like praying for the things you don’t want to happen.” ~ some guy, once.
Note: if you’re interested, the results are here