Phew. Ooh. Agh. Christ. My legs. I forgot how much it hurts, this race business. In the legs, and right in the pride, sometimes. Yesterday I earned my first triathlon DNF – and I mean, earned it. Despite it being a prearranged solution, I did not go quiet into that good night, and as such a little physical discomfort is not entirely unexpected. Still, DNFs truly suck, intended or not, hence the psychological hangup.
I hate DNFs. I hate the concept of DNFs, the futility of it; even more so when it was completely pre-planned than when it takes you by surprise, I think. Last year I had my first big crash in the middle of Deva middle distance, and hated the idea of a DNF so much that I still got up and completed another hour on the bike, and a half marathon to boot. I hate DNFs even moreso now because I have become hideously competitive. It’s one of the bigger changes in my mindset that I have noticed over the last year or so. When I was training for Sweden, I would go into every race hard, but only in the search of new PBs. I did not expect to be taking any podium spots (especially at anything that involved any amount of swimming). Oh, how that’s changed.
Case in point: the SEAA Road Relays I talked about last month, which in the above video features a couple of cameos from me in the first 2 minutes (featuring desperately trying to hang on to the pack after 10 seconds, and hiding from the wind behind a big tall guy like an absolute coward – RACE TACTICS). I actually realised I’d run a 5k PB while I was having a post-race loo break, because that was the first time that I’d bothered to check my watch (it’s not like there was a newspaper lying around to read). And I was excited, for sure. But not overly excited, or at least not as excited as I should have been, or as excited as I was when I first ran a sub-20 5k, or a sub-18 5k. Sub-17 was an incredible milestone, one that cemented my place among the proper fast men. It didn’t really matter much, because my incredible run placed me 35th out of 46 for my relay leg. 35th.
The fact that the field is far stronger than my level didn’t matter. 35th isn’t a result to me: somewhere in my head, a switch seems to have been flipped. Competitive to the point of arrogance. If I can run a 3:14:48 Ironman marathon at my first time of calling with two loo breaks, every high-five that was demanded, trying to belt out the power ballads every time I passed them and stopping to dance at least once – why can I not blow that out of the water next time, if I take this proper seriously? And if I have the fitness to run like that, what is stopping me from upping my swimming to an acceptable level and sharpening my bike fitness? Why should I not be aiming square at Kona? Is it more a matter of if, or when? Assuming that I don’t completely trash all my bodily parts beforehand, anyway? Why should I not be taking all the other things, like eating the right foods and getting the right sleep and breathing the right air and microdosing the right Tramadol or whatever it is the pros are doing these days?
See, that’s some rank arrogance there (obviously barring the doping thing, that’s just sarcasm). But it kind of feels right at this point, and while there’s the potential for a massive egg-on-face moment in the next couple of years if it never happens, I don’t feel like this new competitive edge does me any harm. Me a year ago would never have gone that far. I was very performance-focused in Sweden, and I wanted to do well. Now I want to do the exceptional. Exceptional-er. Good is no longer good enough. Past me would have hated that; a constant need for things to be continually better than that which they were was exactly what plagued past me.
It’s not just that. In my personal/working life, as Head of Triathlon at the Chasers, training as a triathlon coach and leading sessions, I have been put into situations that demand me to be more assertive than previously; and unlike previously, I am growing to be more comfortable in this role. Slowly, still; the anxiety is still there, still very much an introvert, I still make mistakes from time to time, I’m still not always good under people pressure. Slow, but inexorable, like the bleary-eyed hungover quest towards realising where you’ve left your phone this time. Moreover, I’m kind of enjoying it. The confidence has remained residual. Maybe it was finally that achievement that I craved all my life, something to fill the hole left by my academic meltdown in my teens, or the very social one of my early twenties. I feel like I did something positive, like I stopped waiting for things to happen and forced them into creation, and showed that I have the power to change things, or be changed, or something optimistic that should be printed and hung over the TV in a cliched young person’s flat.
Oh my, the coaching! Finding the time to actually write things this year has been so hard I only just realised I haven’t written about that in any depth yet; a crying shame really, as it probably requires a post of it’s own. Christ, that’s been an absolute highlight this year. With all of the introversion and other stuff mentioned above, I thought I was going to find it a lot, lot tougher mentally than I do. But no, I have thoroughly enjoyed it. That’s not to say it hasn’t been a struggle in parts; while I’ve been learning all about how I can be a shouty drill sergeant when required, I’ve also learnt about how hard it is for me to make any kind of meaningful critique or comment to good swimmers, or competent swimmers, or anyone who’s just trying not to drown, or frankly anyone who has already drowned and I’m so blinded by my ‘mild’ insecurities in this area that I still haven’t noticed and think they’re just taking an extended rest.
A large part of my efforts over the last few months have focused on the Chaser’s novice triathlon program, which holds a special place of significance to me, being how and where I took my own first little steps into triathlon. I have educated my little coterie of novice athletes on the importance of running off the bike, and giggled like a schoolgirl every time one has whinged about endless hill reps on the bike, or run off from ‘transition’ still wearing their bike helmets (there’s always one). Despite the previous exaggeration, I did my best to help out some of the less experienced swimmers among them with the not-drowning aspect that so greatly troubled me at first.
On the day – the Thames Turbo sprint triathlon, my first ever tri and my yearly benchmark race, none of them drowned. If they whinged about the bike course, it was well out of earshot so that don’t count. And not one of them completed the run course still wearing their helmet (noun, object) like a helmet (noun, insult). In fact, they all did bloody good. Although I’d had to pull out of racing with them due to the ongoing achilles crisis, I was too busy being a shit nervous parent, all chewing nails and shouting shit useless advice at the most inopportune of moments, to even be that sad about not racing on the day. There’s a definite joy to me in being able to help others progress, which is something that’s also come up recently in a couple of terrible away day faux-psychoanalytic away day exercises recently at work. Gosh, I’m just so proud of them all. Sniffle.
But to go back to my own racing, unfortunately the achilles problem of doom still exists; I’m in the light jogging stage of rehab, so hopefully it won’t be long before I’m back up to speed and smashing up my hometown race the Shoreline Triathlon in 3 weeks. It’s been a very frustrating few weeks, and has taken longer than expected to heal, but I’m getting there. Patience, young one. It was a very hard decision to not race the Monster Mojo in full; maybe I’d have managed it at a comfortable pace, maybe not… but seriously, when have I ever run at a comfortable pace in a race. The eyes had to remain on the prize, and that meant resigning myself to a pre-arranged DNF. Worse than that, I had to travel to Peterborough to earn it.
The day did not start as planned; there’s the same pic again, but I’ve highlighted my start position this time. I was actually right at the front and in a prime position until about 30 seconds prior to the start klaxon going, but lost my nerve as the big moment – the long overdue start of my multisporting season – approached. And then someone jumped right in on my little bit of space I’d found which royally pissed me off BUT HEY HO that is racing for you.
It wouldn’t have mattered much, to be honest; I had a bit of a shocking swim regardless. Having not worn a wetsuit at all since last September, I’d kind of forgotten how restrictive it can be around the shoulders. Or maybe I never noticed before, because my stroke was shit, but having spent a few months trying to be elongated and having a bigger, more dynamic, and more powerful stroke, I found this a lot of work when inhibited by 5mm of neoprene. Also it was cold, and the lake tasted like ditch, and in some places the weeds were so thick you were more crawling than swimming. Whatever I got was a PB for the distance, but not as fast as I wanted it to be; somewhere in the region of 37-38 minutes, as opposed to the 35 or less that I’d envisaged (and still think I should be capable of, because I’m confident these days didn’t ya know).
Transition was a garbled effort (or not really an effort at all, when you know you’re not finishing it’s hard to take these things seriously), and then it was out onto a bike course that I never really got fired up on. Sure, I won the battle of the shit swimmers with disc wheels, but that isn’t a real competition. For some reason the legs weren’t firing, the whole thing was just a bit of a grind, there was no flow to it; no lycra-flaunting, aero-helmeted zen. It was a long while of wondering why I’d bothered, and then a beautiful flying dismount, a taking the helmet off before I’d racked my bike, and a subsequent discussion with a British Triathlon official about the frustration of achilles injuries when she rightly called me out on said premature helmet removal.
Overall, the time wasn’t bad. If you put together my rough (the provisional results thus far don’t include splits for the DNFs), I’d have had to have finished the day with about a 1:22 half marathon in order to nab my first triathlon age group podium – considering how my running had been going this year, fully fit, I have no doubt could have managed that, which makes it all the more frustrating. However, the real turnout from yesterday is the bike split; maybe it’s not as fast as I hoped for a 82km course, but it put me well up in the top third of bike splits for the day. This is a massive leap on last year’s mid-pack ride times; maybe the last few weeks of intense bike focus have been paying off. Bike fitness sharpened… now I just have to learn to swim. Still.
Even though it sucked to be forced into a rather arduous aquabike, I did at least get that post-race buzz/crash thing going on, which is nice/sodding awful. I missed that – both bits. That is at least 50% utterly mad, but even the crash is part of a greater whole; it’s just another little thing making me feel like the season has finally kicked off in earnest and I’m pack in the game, having got the wetsuit damp and sworn at my impotent (but very beautifully shaven) legs for a few hours. Oh god, shaved legs. I missed them too.