In college, on the swim team, we used to talk often about sudden change. By being ready for sudden change you do not feel as if you are reacting, but rather in charge and calm with whatever is thrown your way. I think this concept is exceptionally applicable to triathlon racing. When you look at results from a triathlon race, you only see one dimension. Sometimes there are race recaps which the ITU creates. And these certainly help give the mom, sister, cousin, fan, <insert other person here>, a better idea of the climate, light, number of triathletes, conditions of water, road etc. These recaps give a great visual feel and tell the story of the best, but they can only do so much in 3-4 minutes of summary. In fact, as I’m coming to realize, even the 1-2 hour live stream races, as in depth and clearly detailed they are, only tell a certain dimension of the race.
In my opinion, the race begins much sooner than race day. The race starts when your plane is delayed and the airline says you won’t be able to fly into Cozumel until the day after the actual competition. Or, when you arrive, and your bike bag has wheeled itself onto the wrong aircraft, and you find yourself wheel-less. Or when the water is unsafe to drink. Or when you do receive your bike bag, but find your derailleur hanger bent and have to use hotel pliers to hopefully bend it back. Or when TSA decides your allen wrenches, are actually Edward Scissorhand knives.
And similar examples can go on, and on. The point is, you may read that paragraph and, especially if you are a bike fanatic, get really bummed. But, that wasn’t my intention! The point is to say that the beauty and challenge of triathlon is the complexity. Each course, trip, travel arrangement, support crew, water condition, air, wind, sun, heat condition is different, and if you aren’t ready to roll with the punches, and make sudden changes – it does not matter how fast you swim, bike, run – you don’t stand a chance.
What the race recaps and live streams don’t show are the stories of the athletes leading into race day. Did they pack canned vegetables and fruits in order to ensure they had safe food? Is this world cup their first ITU race ever? Did this athlete crash in several ITU races on the bike and is working on gaining her confidence back?
In both races in Mexico and Puerto Rico I felt my pre-race, and race-day preparation was perfect. I hydrated and fueled so well, I may have needed to go to the bathroom during the race. I didn’t stop to do so, I promise! The races themselves were… hard. I swam well in both, though I felt the lack of experience in ocean and beach starts was obvious. But, I proved to myself that my swim can keep me up with the best of them. 3 weeks of bike and run training was not enough to handle a World Cup level, although it was enough to keep me in the race, and prevent me from getting lapped out. And in the end I improved from my starting position. 68th to 57th place in Mexico, and 17th to 10th place in Puerto Rico.
You can look at these races and say – the water was choppy, the bike was windy, and the run was steamy. That’s great! But.. like.. so what? Each race has its own story, maybe the swim is long, short, up, down, sharks, ice. The bike may be hilly, flat, or technical. And the run may be hot, cold, long, and bumpy. These are great descriptors for painting a picture to your mom, sister, cousin, and fan. But they are not excuses for performances. There will always be conditions. It’s your job as the triathlete to prepare for whatever sudden change they demand.
*disclaimer: not all of the examples of sudden changes are mine, most are, some are from my inspiring fellow competitors, and some I made up for dramatic flair. i’ll let you decide which is which. 🙂