Monday, October 28, 2013

Austin 70.3 Race Report 2013 (Or, How My Brain Ruined My Day)

Because it's happened to me in running and is inevitable after many attempts at a particular distance, I knew that it was only a matter of time before I had a disappointing triathlon race. You can't set a new PR every time. I wasn't prepared for how it would feel, though, so this post will be an attempt to talk about my feelings and help myself. (At this point you can stop reading if you don't want to get sucked down into a spiral of self pity. You have been warned.)

At this moment, I can't think of anything worse than running across a finish line and having your friends ask "what happened" with a look of concern on their face. That's the ones who could actually look at me and talk to me without being awkward and uncomfortable. Unless perhaps it's seeing your coach as you're running angrily toward the finish line, and instead of the greeting I've gotten used to ("I'm so proud of you"), you get the quiet comment, "Just finish it. Get it done." The disappointment that I'm feeling in myself for not meeting my goals at this race is amplified by the disappointment I feel from my friends, coach, fellow triathletes. We all expected better from me, and it didn't happen. Yes, I'm aware that I'm beating myself up.

Now, based on the previous paragraph, you might think that I walked it in at some miserable, horrifying time. This is not the case, which makes it even more confusing and, because when things don't feel good I start to get angry instead of sad, this is where I get mad. I was slower than I expected to be yesterday. However, my time of 5:50:12 (yes, the seconds are important there - here's why...) is only one second slower than my previous all-time best time at this distance, a PR that I set last year in Kerrville. Just one year ago, I was doing mental backflips about how amazing a 5:50 is, and now I'm crying rivers about meeting the same time.

Here's the synopsis of what happened. I had a great swim. I mean it felt fantastic. My (much improved) stroke felt smooth and fresh and strong, and when I ran out of the water and saw my time (35:xx), I was overjoyed that today was going to be MY DAY! Ran up to the transition and had a swift T1, during which I ran a long way in my bike shoes through mud. Got to the bike mount line and couldn't clip in because my cleats were full of mud. Stopped, dug (some of) the mud out, tried again. Repeated 4 times, and wasted 6 minutes. I know this because I looked at my watch. This is where my brain took over. "Well you just lost the minutes you gained with that fast swim. That sucks, and you're not going to get it back." 

This is where my day went downhill. I felt panicky as I started the bike. Fighting with myself about "I need to make up that time" - "No you don't, you need to focus on the task at hand." Same old bullshit. I was glad to have driven the course the day before because the roads on this course are not in the best shape, and I have a fear of the unknown. I knew where the dangerous places were and this allowed me to stay in my aerobars for much more of the ride than if I hadn't been aware. What I was unable to do was to follow the plan that Coachie set out for me. I felt like my legs had nothing. I kept thinking, I need to get past this section because then it gets flat and fast and I can go - but that flat and fast feeling never came to me.

Note - this course is CROWDED. It doesn't ever stop being crowded. I think there are 2000 participants in this race, as opposed to the 700 I raced with at Buffalo Springs. So yesterday I also learned that I'm not over my fear of other cyclists. People do stupid, dangerous stuff. I watched it happen all day. Particularly towards the end of the bike, after mile 40, when there's a narrow lane for bikes because the road is open to traffic and they cone off only the shoulder for bikes to ride on, and cyclists are still trying to pass...I saw a woman bounce off a cone in her attempt to pass a slower rider, and she bounced into traffic and very narrowly missed bouncing off a Suburban that had to hit the brakes. I screamed at her "it's not worth it!" and then I shut it down, stopped trying to pass people, sunk into misery and self defeat. Fear won.

A little fighting voice in me spoke up when I started the run. "Come on, you can salvage this. Just run fast." So I did. I mean, for me, I really did. I achieved the fastest run I've ever done at this distance (2:07). This is huge for me. It's the first time I've averaged faster than 10 minute miles at the end of a half-Ironman. My running has improved! The problem is I just felt miserable the entire time I was doing it. Completely unhappy.  "I hate this, I hate this, I hate this" is what was going through my head for 2+ hours, and it sucked. 

Then I started calculating. My goal times were long gone. But I realized that I was in danger of not even meeting my previous PR. Not acceptable. I picked up the pace for the last 2 miles and ended up coming within one second of my PR. Which feels terrible but probably feels better than missing it by a minute.

Why I'm so disappointed:
1. Unrealistic expectations. Planning for this race with Dawn, we set some very high expectations that I'm too embarrassed to even put in writing here. Actually no - I'll put it out there - I was shooting for a finish time that would put me in striking distance of a rolldown spot to the World Championships race in Canada. I think my mental meltdown had quite a bit to do with not being able to stand up to the pressure of those expectations. 
2. All the time I spent training...and for what? I could have been spending time with my family and friends. I could have been letting my hamstring/adductor heal without spending lots of time and many dollars at physical therapy for the last 6 weeks. I could have been spending some more time at work instead of feeling like a slacker putting in my basic 40 hours to train and go to PT when all my coworkers are working overtime on this massive project that we're launching in just a few short weeks.
3. I hated all but 35 minutes of this race (the swim). I mean, hated it. I've never felt any kind of animosity towards triathlon before. I know that those feelings contributed to my disappointing performance. The contrast of how I felt during this race to how I felt earlier this summer at Buffalo Springs - it's unbelievable.

Things I learned:
1. Once my brain shuts down, I'm done. My brain got the better of me (again). When has there ever been a race where something unexpected doesn't happen? I need to learn to roll with it better.
2. I am not one of those athletes who "brings it" on race day. I know plenty of people who do, but I am not one of them. I race exactly as fast as I train and nothing more. So if I am going to achieve in racing, I need to achieve in training. Otherwise, I'm being unrealistic.

Things I need to learn:
1. How to "dig deep" when not in panic mode. As soon as I knew I was in danger of embarrassing myself with a finish time slower than my previous PR, I dug in and raced to the finish. I've done this over and over again, usually while running marathons. How do I dig deep before I have to?
2. How to handle myself better on the bike. It's been almost a year since I crashed at IMAZ. I need to stop riding like a scared little baby. To do this, I need to get over my fear of other cyclists, and to do that, I need to learn to handle myself better on the bike. I need to be able to ride around benign corners in my aerobars. Hell, I need to learn how to ride around benign corners without feeling like I'm out of control of my own bike, because that's how I felt yesterday. Any suggestions for how to do this would be much appreciated, except please don't tell me to go ride my tri bike in a pack because I'm too scared. :(

In conclusion! For now, without having consulted Coachie, so we'll see if it holds...I am hanging up my tri bike for a while. When I feel like it, I am going to go get the love of cycling back by riding my road bike with my hubby. I'm going to try to find the joy in this again, because if I lose that, what's the point? My next race is in June at Buffalo Springs, my favorite race, and I cannot have a day there that feels like yesterday felt. 

If you've made it all the way through this pity party post, thank you for reading. Please don't feel like you have to comment that you're still proud of me, etc. But if you have any tips for staying mentally in the game when stuff doesn't go your way, or digging deep earlier, or bike skills 101... please send them my way. :)