Olympic Tri Incomplete: But I Did Not Fail!

This weekend I attempted my first ever Olympic Distance Triathlon. This was the race that would assure me that I CAN DO THIS! I can finish the race I have been training for, the 70.3 Muskoka coming up next month.  So, I conquered the 1500m open water swim slow and steady, zipped through the 40km bike ride and finished strong with a 10km run. Or, at least that is what I thought was going to happen.

What actually happened is, I didn’t finish the swim. I’ve been working too hard at work with next to no days off for a month. I got terribly sick with a sinus cold just days before the race and barely slept for days. I decided to give the race a try anyway since I felt less awful that morning than the day before. I got in the water.  I was feeling calm, confident, and at ease. About 150m in as I was thinking, hmm, I’m not doing too bad, I’m still with the pack, maybe I will just follow them for a bit so I don’t have to site as often. Then, the inevitable, I started to feel people touching me, which I expected and was cool with. In fact, I had just brushed the leg of the person ahead of me, so all was well. Until someone kicked my hand and piercing pain stops me in my tracks. I let everyone else pass by me as I worked through what I was going to do next. The only option was to just keep moving forward, this pain is familiar and it does go away, so I will forget about it and keep going. At least, that was the plan.

Looking back on this moment, I realize how powerful self-talk can be and how integral having a plan for these moments, actually visualizing them before they ever happen, can be so beneficial. Fatigue and pain in the body can be overcome by the mind, but if you do not have a plan for your moments of mental weakness, then that is when you can fail. At some point, the pain went away, but I could not get my mental game back on track. Every stroke felt like I wasn’t moving forward, each buoy seemed impossibly far away. At 350m I had already given up. There was no way I was going to do another two loops of that course. I was barely able to finish this one. In fact, I was still struggling to finish this one. I finally got to the beach, loop one complete, but I looked exhausted and defeated. Tears were welling up in my eyes. Coach Geordie asked if this wasn’t working today, I nodded yes. Sarah, oh that amazing Sarah exclaims on my behalf that I had been sick and barely slept. That was it, I wasn’t going to finish the swim.

Except, Geordie gave me a choice. He said either I could take off my timing chip and go ahead to the bike ride and run, or I could get back in there and complete at least one more loop because I would learn more from the swim than I would from the rest of the race. I took a few minutes on the beach, in tears because I did not want to give up, I did not want to fail, I wanted to be able to do this. If I couldn’t do this how can I even think about the 70.3 in less than a month?

I don’t know when I made the choice, but the goggles went back on, and I walked towards the water and started swimming again. This loop went a bit better. I was able to stay calm and focussed for 50-75m at a time. It was all going well until I started to swim around the first buoy thinking ok, I can do this, only to hear shouting from the boat, “wrong way”, I had to keep going until the next one. I was derailed yet again, but I thought, ok, just keep going, only to get continuously peeved that I’m horrible at sighting and I kept swimming off course. All this to say, I had no zen that day.

I finished the second loop in half the time of the first nonetheless. I arrived at the beach, gave away my timing chip and went off to complete the bike and run portion of the race. I felt strong during both, finished the 10km run feeling like I could have kept going, but it was a bittersweet finish. I didn’t really complete the entire race, I failed.

Or did I?

Geordie was right! I learned a heck of a lot about myself during that second loop and just how integral managing your mental state of mind is during a swim and that my swimming ability has less to do with my physical ability than I realize. So, learning from an experience is never a fail. But also, that first loop alone was the furthest I had ever swum in open water until I swam another loop and 1000m became the furthest I have ever swum in open water. This in itself is a victory!

So no, I did not complete an Olympic Distance Triathlon, but I swam 1KM in open water for the first time in my life. I’ll take it!

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