This past weekend at the Marble Falls Triathlon outside of Austin, I had a brush with what I like to call a race day catastrophe. I use that term to refer to things going wrong on race day that have nothing to do with your physical ability or your training. Things that just flat out go wrong at a race. Its a part of racing that we all deal with, but don’t really like to talk about because it often rehashes bad memories of what could have been.
For me this past weekend, I was leading the race (or at least those in Wave 1) out on the bike by about a minute on the next athlete. When I got to a particular corner on the course, I took the volunteer by surprise and missed the turn. I spent about 45 seconds riding farther up the road, realizing I had missed it, turning around, and figuring out where I was supposed to go. By the time I had regained my speed and made it back to T2 around the next block, my minute lead had shrunk to 3 seconds and I had gotten myself into a position where I was gutting it out almost side by side with another athlete for at least an age group win rather than being able to deal with a minute buffer. I ended up loosing to him by just shy of a minute, whether or not that was due to going off course. Stuff happens!
These issues can be any number of things. Going off course, pre-clipping your shoes into the wrong pedals, forgetting nutrition, running out of water, crashing, poor weather. Regardless of whether these things are someone else’s fault or yours, they happen. Things always happen. When we show up for a race, we hardly every get it completely right between outside factors and race management. When things go wrong, everything depends on how we handle the situation. There are really two options. You can obviously give up, write the race off to bad luck, and move on, or you can assess the situation, fix the problem, readjust your race plan accordingly, and race your butt off getting back to where you need to be.
It takes some tough determination to get back into a race after things start going wrong, and its easy to panic. At a USAT Collegiate National Championship race, I wasted almost a minute with a teammate trying to find our spots in T2 after we ran to a rack with our numbers, only to find out that they were numbers from a previous race and our actual spots were several lanes over. Situations like this are where mental clarity comes up huge. In the middle of the race, your heart is racing, you’re wound up, and when things don’t go exactly according to plan, it can be very hard to focus on what exactly needs to be done.
Next time things start to go wrong and seem out of control at a race, remember to keep your head straight. In most cases, you can work out whatever is going wrong and make your way back into the race. Just don’t panic, its the worst thing you can do in these situations! Just keep calm and race on!