You guys, I may have done something foolish and impulsive.
My Friday began with a routine six mile run.
I rode my bike to work, and started some cultures of Bacillus growing so that I can build a few new strains for my next project.
Suddenly, I received and URGENT bananaphonecall from my training coach.
Apparently I am registered for a sprint triathlon…tomorrow.
I’m feeling apprehensive about this event.
OK- in all honesty I’m scared shitless.
I shouldn’t be so worried. This is not my first triathlon, I’ve done these before, and it’s only a sprint.
I’m not worried about finishing: my races this year indicate that I’ve certainly got enough endurance to see me through a quarter mile swim, 14 miles on the bike, and a quicky little 5K run. Regardless, I have been feeling a major case of pre-race jitters. I feel woe-fully and titanically under-prepared for a triathlon: this afternoon I VERY seriously considered simply swallowing my pride, eating the cost of the entry fee, and not showing up to the starting line tomorrow morning.
I guess now that I’ve blogged about it, I have to go through with it, right? Thanks a LOT gentle readers, for keeping me accountable.
I’m worried about how tomorrow will go. I have not been training for a multi-sport event AT ALL this season. I have done a grand total of zero brick workouts. I’ve gotten out on a few long weekend bike rides, but I haven’t put in any serious hours in the saddle.
I could keep easily spinning around on the same series of negative stories all day long:
“What were you THINKING, Sam?”
“Nice job tapering, lame-brain…how are your legs going to feel tomorrow?”
“Oh my god what if a plane from Africa crashes into the T1 area and you get infected with EBOLA VIRUS!?”
There are rational fears, and irrational fears. The best way to overcome what frightens you is to acknowledge the worries that you feel, analyze the source of the anxiety, and then either face the challenge head-on or LET THE THOUGHTS GO. Keeping negative emotions endlessly bottled up inside gives them way too much power over your brain.
The race is broken up into three parts. I’m already lying to you: technically triathlons have five parts if you count the two transitions. Elite athletes transition from one sport to the next in less than a minute; my transition times are laughably, pathetically slow, so let’s pretend that they don’t matter nearly as much as they actually do.
The classic joke is that triathlons are arranged in order of lethality: you can drown while you’re swimming, a bike crash is serious business, and you can…fall over really hard and scrape you knee during the run. Each portion of the race has its own opportunity for triumph and tribulations. If you’ll bear with me, I’ll go through each section, and try to convince myself that I am capable of overcoming the challenge.
The race starts with the SWIM. The swim scares the living daylights out of me. I love swimming laps in the pool. My regular weekly swimming workout is six times further than the measly quarter mile aquatic adventure that kicks off a sprint triathlon. What’s there to be afraid of?
Open water swimming terrifies me. There. I’ve said it out loud. The pool is brightly lit, pleasantly warm, it’s REALLY easy to swim in a straight line in a lap lane, and you get to kick off the wall every 25 yards. Swimming in a lake surrounded by a school of endurance athletes, amidst a seething scrum of arms and legs is a whole different ball game: the water is dark, it’s hard to see, the water is cold, and orienting yourself to swim in the proper direction is no trivial task. In my first triathlon I swam half again as far as I needed to because I just couldn’t keep myself from going crooked.
Now that I’ve acknowledged what worries me about the swim: how can I conquer the fear and start my race strong? Or failing that, how can I avoid drowning? I have three strategies that have helped me in the past:
1) I will hang back from the pack at the start of the race. Even though it’s highly tempting to ride the crazy adrenaline rush and swim hard at the beginning, I know that I need to conserve my resources. I also know that sticking to the back of the pack will give me more room to swim, and avoid the inevitable elbow to the nose.
2) If I get freaked out because the water is dark I will blow out through my nose and focus on the friendly bubbles in front of my face. The scariest part of the swim for me is he disorienting darkness under the water. Not being able to see the bottom freaks me out, when I’m freaked out I start breathing shallowly, shallow breathing messes with the rhythm of my swimming, which freaks me out even more. Having bubbles in front of my face gives me something to look at, instead of focusing on the inky blackness. If I can swim calm I can swim well.
3) I will sight OFTEN. Taking a short break from freestyle to spot the buoy will prevent me from veering off course, and can give me another chance at a mental re-set if the swim gets scary.
The BIKE worries me much less than the swim. I bike commute every single day. I can crank up a category 2 climb like Thomas the Tank engine on EPO. However, I must admit that I start to feel trepidatious on long, steep downhills.
After I crest the summit, I typically get passed by a giant posse of peddlers in full aggressive aero-position, while I ride my brakes and daintily descend. Going fast downhill makes me feel out of control. I worry that an errant tree root, passing cyclist, or sasquatch in heat will come out of nowhere to knock me out of the saddle and into a body cast.
My fears in this case aren’t entirely irrational. At the last multi-sport event I participated in (The 20th and final Beaver Lake Triathlon), a biker went off course and suffered a skull fracture. Jesse, one of the WAY-MORE-bad-ass-than-me IronMan triathletes behind single-tracked mind recently posted about a close call he had on his cycle in Lake Tahoe.
However, I also know that I hold myself back, and that I could safely reach a faster speed. I think the strategy I need to get over my downhill dread is to minimize the unpredictability factor so that I feel more in control. I plan to arrive sufficiently early to drive the bike course before the race. I will also pay VERY close attention at the pre-race briefing so that I have a clear mental-map of the route. If the race director is worth his salt he will warn us about challenging turns. I can scope out the most likely sasquatch habitats during my own tour, and plan accordingly. If I know what’s coming next, I’ll be able to surrender to speed and bike more aggressively.
After the SWIM and the BIKE it is time for THE RUN.
I like the running part. Everyone always complains about how weird and tired their legs feel during the first few steps coming off the bike. I’m usually just so happy to have survived the previous two events that those first weird-wobbly-jelly-legged footfalls feel strangely comforting. The run for a sprint is only 5K…on long run days that’s called a “warm up.” The run is my personal reward for surviving the bike and the swim.
Thanks for reading (and serving as pseudo-psychologists for my multisport-induced neuroses). I’m going to spend the rest of the day topping off my glycogen reserves, drinking my electrolytes, and attempting to locate and pack up all of the tons and tons of ultra-light crap required to do three sports in one day.
Do YOU get pre-race anxiety? How do you cope?
Swim, bike, run? Pick your poison: which is your favorite?
Does anyone have any tips on how to speed up my pathetic transition times?