Top 5 Things I’ve Learned About Racing
OK, I’m using the word ‘racing’ in its simplest sense. Mostly, I participate, I don’t race. But ‘race’
is a universal word, so I’ll stick to that.
Some of you have heard about my 2013 Penticton Bare Bones Duathlon ‘hairbrush’ race. We’d
been in Oliver for the Half Iron training camp. It had been a blisteringly hot week of training and although I didn’t realize it, I was exhausted. I don’t do well in heat, and this was hot, baby. 35 – 37 Celsius is no joke.
Commence the race. For a number of reasons, things didn’t go well, and I didn’t follow my plan. I didn’t drink. I didn’t eat. I didn’t take my magic salt pills.
I did begin to hate everything about that race. I hated, in no particular order, the wind, the sun,
the old guy who was truly awesome for being out there, and the motorists who crowded us. I
hated my bra, my Garmin, my trisuit, and a random cow in a field.
And I did listen to my negative self-talk. You said you’d do this as long as it was fun. Well, this is not fun. You hate this. You don’t need to do this. What made you think you could do another Half Iron, anyway? This sucks! What the hell are you doing out here? It’s bloody hot, and you could go down at any moment. This road isn’t even well paved, it’s dangerous. Why aren’t there any flipping water stations out here? Well, you’re certainly not going out on that last run. You don’t need to finish this race.
I believed that voice all the way in to T2. I told my coach, “I’m not going on. I’m calling this.” He said, “You have to finish this.” I ignored him. “Tell you what,” he said, “Just walk it. Just do that. You are strong enough to finish.” I glared at him, debating. Finally, I threw down my helmet, ignored the bag of ice placed on my transition towel for me, and stomped off like a petulant two- year-old headed to a time out. Coach stayed right with me. Another teammate—who had done the whole race already—joined us.
I furiously pounded that course. After a while, I started to run because I just wanted to get it over with. I was completely overheated and entirely overwrought. I was so very mad. After I crossed the finish line, I sobbed uncontrollably.
“Put her in the car, get some water in her, get some air conditioning on her, and get some electrolytes in her.” My friends bustled me to a waiting car, air conditioning going full blast. I was still sobbing. “What can I get you?” Lindsey asked. She’d never seen me like this. “What can I do? What do you want?”
“I want my hairbrush,” I wailed. “Your … uh … hairbrush?” “Yessssssss, my hair is a mess.” She
got me my hairbrush. I tugged it ineffectually through my hair, as tears streamed down my face. Irrational. Emotional. Angry, so angry.
And entirely mortified. But I learned things that day. Like …
Your mind is your biggest ally – and your worst enemy.
Unless you’re swimming with Tanya and she has a panic attack. Then Tanya is your worst
enemy; just ask Nicole.
That voice I heard wasn’t real.
Of all the people on the planet, you talk to yourself more than anyone else does. Your mind is
as much as part of your success as an athlete as your physical conditioning. It’s certainly often
the loudest voice you’ll hear (unless I’m beside you). It can work against you, spouting negativity and doubt at the time you most need encouragement and belief. Or it can work for you, whispering “keep going” and “you’ve got this” and “it’s nothing you can’t handle.”
The first race I did after my hairbrush race was the Oliver Half Iron. It was horribly windy: the
lake was choppy beyond belief, the bike was like riding into a wall for 45 of the 90 km, and the
run was blisteringly hot. But it was the best race I ever had. Because my mind was working for
me instead of against me.
Isn’t this great? Look at all these wonderful athletes.” “It’s a little windy, but boy, going with the
wind is fun isn’t it? Into the wind, just dig in and get it done.” “Oh look, there’s Linz! Wave at
Linz!” “You’ve got this … yes, it’s hot, it’s nothing you can’t handle.” “There’s your take-a- drink
alarm. Listen to it. Drink something.
Best. Race. Ever.
Your mind is your biggest ally, and your worst enemy. Practice using the powerful friend rather
than the niggling foe. Choose the voice that is real. Be intentional about it. And if your voice isn’t loud enough yet—believe someone who knows and believes in you 100%.
Which brings me to …
Trust the process, and listen to your coach.
When you start something new, you don’t know what you don’t know. You have no idea about
your own potential and abilities relative to the new activity or skill, and perhaps you doubt that
you’ll ever be able to accomplish it, whatever it is.
This is where the process comes in. A yearly cycle of athletic activity is best accomplished in an intentional way. That’s why there’s structure to seasons, and to months, and to weeks, and to workouts. There is method in what seems like a random string of instructions, and it’s all
designed to get you where you want to be.
Your coaches, and more experienced teammates, have been where you are. Everyone started
somewhere. They can see what you can’t: your potential.
I’ve had beginner swimmers who have been terrified to put their faces in the water. Terrified of
being in the water. These are people whom I greatly admire. They show up. They’ve decided,
for whatever reason, to take this on. And they put their trust in the coach. They (grudgingly) do what they are asked to do, even while whining (helpful hint for coaches; they can’t whine as
effectively when their face is in the water), and after a few weeks, they’re amazed at what
This is tied in with the mind: when it is screaming doubt at you, trust the process, and listen to
This also works during a bad workout, a tough race, or any time when you don’t think you can
go on. When things aren’t going smoothly, well, that’s one thing crappy workouts are great for: a chance to strengthen your mental game. Trust the process, and listen to your coach.
Speaking of which …
When things don’t work out, that’s not the end of everything.
The great thing about being injured as often as I have is that there are so many wonderful
comebacks! For workouts, races, or seasons when things don’t go well … that’s not the last
chapter. There’s always more; this or that is not where your story ends
When I tore all the hamstrings off my left leg, two weeks before what was to be my first Half Iron distance race, I really thought that was it. The hamstrings were reattached, but I was told it
would be six months before I’d do anything.
Three months later, I ran a half marathon, and two years later I did my first Half Iron. It took me
another full year to get back to where I’d been … but it was a year of investment in my complete recovery.
Anyway, there’s always something else you can do. Can’t run? Cycle! Can’t cycle? Swim! Can’t
do any of those? There will be something for you. Yes, there are times when life turns drastically on a dime. Yes, there are hard truths and changes we have to deal with. Yes, as we get older, there are greater challenges and adaptations to make. Some of that involves how we think about what we’re doing. But … the most important thing is to do what you can. Just keep on keeping on, and never give up hope, because possibility lives in hope, and your future is entirely full of possibility.
Speaking of injuries …
Give your body time and it will get you where you want to be.
This is kind of important for a few reasons, not the least of which is that we sometimes want to
rush into our training plan. I think this is true for beginners, and for seasoned athletes who are
returning from an injury, and for those who have returned to a sport after a prolonged absence.
And for every single flipping Type A personality. We want to read ahead, to speed up the
process, to do things more quickly so we can succeed now. We are so keen for this new
experience, we want to do it all now. Or we were away, or injured, and want to get back to
where we were now.
Whatever the reason, sometimes our brain makes appointments for our body that we shouldn’t
keep. Our bodies are amazing organisms, but they need time to adjust. Jumping ahead, or
trying to cram in workouts you missed, is not productive, and can be detrimental.
Be patient. Start slowly. Build well. And then … suddenly … you realize you’re doing something
you didn’t think you could, at the beginning. Give your body time, and it will get you where you
want to be.
Just. Show. The. (Expletive Deleted). Up.
Written for TriStars Training by Connie Dunwoody