Moving Forward After Race-Day Disappointment
I recently had a very disappointing day at a key-race that I had built the first half of my season around. While it is obviously a completely different situation when this happens to a professional, it sucks for amateurs too. The following is a non-histrionic account of what transpired on race-day, and how I've been responding to it. I wrote this first for myself, but then a friend of mine suggested I share it; saying that while the Kona Qualifier race-reports are far more epic [and inspirational] to read, this kind of crap happens to everyone too. Please note that all the paces and objectives are relative; one athlete's 8 min/mile is often another's 6 min/mile.
I couldn't sleep much the night after my most recent race [Ironman Racine 70.3] thanks to a churning mind, the usual post-race hangover, and some not so usual pain. The good thing is, all will subside over time. Laying in bed, I kept on thinking about the question that I had received literally over 45 times from friends, family, and supporters; "What happened out there on the run?" The short answer is that I ran really slowly, pretty sure north of an 8 min/mile pace. But the more complete answers starts at mile 15 of the bike...
After a shockingly good swim (for me anyways, to all the fish out there, remember this is all relative), I hit the bike feeling great and started hammering hard with one thing on my mind; an division podium and a Vegas slot for the 70.3 World Championships. I settled right into my goal power and was feeling very strong. I couldn't help but start to think "maybe today is the one where I can put it all together." The first aid-station came at about mile 15. Per the usual, I made eye contact with a volunteer, pointed to him, and proceeded to take a water bottle from him. For some reason, the volunteer ran with me (versus the usual stiff arm hand-off) which was fine, but this certainly made things a bit more complex. In addition to the running volunteer, I absolutely took this too fast, and won't do so again. Lesson learned the hard way.
Anyways, as I am reaching to put the bottle in my frame, next thing I know is that I hit a divot in the road; my back wheel fish-tails hard, and I am on the ground, across the road from my bike. At this moment, adrenaline is as high as ever. I do a quick inventory of myself; good amount of blood, but everything pretty superficial. I then grab my nutrition which had splayed all over the road (always take much more than you think you need for a number of reasons, in this case, having extra nutrition made it easier to quickly round up and not worry about leaving some behind), and make my way back to the bike. As I go to get on the bike, I see that the shifter that controls the front rings looks pretty jacked up. I hop on my bike, but the pedals won't turn. I yell out asking for a mechanic, and a volunteer tells me to go up the road to a yellow tent, so I walk up there with my bike. No mechanic, but I am offered a tool-kit. At this point, I murmur aloud "well, my day is over." Thankfully, a volunteer overhears me and says, "Don't quit. Try harder to fix your bike." I listen, and once I get myself a bit more together, I realize that my chain is off and rear brake jammed; two very solvable problems. Given that I know the course is rolling and my front shifter seems pretty busted, I manually wrap the chain around the big ring. Then, I unlock the back break, pull it apart with my hands, say a little prayer, and get back on the bike again. It's moving forward, and at least 5 of the rear gears are working. Alright!
I admit my thoughts are negative at first "I can't believe I just lost 3 minutes," but I put these thoughts at bay by riding like a bat out of hell for a good 10-mile stretch in hopes of working myself back into the race. Over the course of the next 40 miles, I notice that my left stomach/hip/groin area is getting increasingly sore, particularly the few times I had to sit back in the saddle or come out of it to get up over some of the rolling hills. That said, it didn't seem to effect the way I was riding too much, so I continued to push my way to a 2:25 bike split, which was actually a 2:22 "moving" bike split if you subtract my down-time...For whatever reason, when I hit T2 the dominating thought reverted to "I can't believe I lost three minutes out there." In hindsight, I really shouldn't have been negative at all, because I was back in the race. Lesson learned here is after the crap happens, completely put the negativity away, because it doesn't do you any good, and can only harm you.
Coming off the bike, within a 10 minutes of the run, I knew I was in trouble. I say "within 10 minutes" because even though the first few steps hurt a lot, these always do, so I just told myself to be patient. But when things got worse, not better, I knew my "race" was over. I don't want to exaggerate here; it *was not* an excruciating or stabbing pain by any means, but simply a very uncomfortable "don't extend any further or this will be very bad" kind of pain that followed a very touchy [to begin with] region of my lower abdomen down into inner groin. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't run faster than a 7:45 pace. I gave thought to DNFing a few times, but within 10 seconds of having those thoughts, the answer was always "screw that, if I can finish this race, I will." So, that's what I did. I grooved in (well, in reality, hardly a groove, more like an awkward settling in) to around an 8 minute pace and finished the race, running a 1:44 half marathon, in which I couldn't really get my heart-rate up at all. Looking back, I'd like to think that my body went into protect itself mode and wouldn't let me open my stride. But maybe it was those negative thoughts at T2 that doomed my ability to race the half marathon just as much as my hip. It's these unanswered questions that I'm still struggling with.
On the one hand, I am absolutely disappointed, and as much as I hate to play the "shoulda, coulda, would have" game, if I just would have run a 1:30 to 1:35 off the bike (what I did on a Syracuse course that was 10x more challenging just 3 weeks prior), I would have qualified for Vegas, even with the time lost due to the crash. But that really is a dumb game to play, so I am trying not to. On the other hand, I am really happy that I finished the race. So many wonderful people in my "little-life circle" sacrifice so much for me to participate in this sport, and finishing a race when I can is a commitment I not only make to myself, but to them as well. And then, so many people in the much greater "big-life circle" overcome so much more than a bike crash to finish their respective races, so at the end of the day, it's kind of like c'mon, just do it, get it done, learn from it, and move on...
So, I am trying my best to do just that. The first half is taken care of (e.g., just getting through the race) and I know I will continue to learn from it too. In terms of moving on, I've already found a few options for late season races and will sign up for one soon; this is probably the best kind of therapy, making it much easier to look ahead instead of back. Speaking of therapy, In the more near future, I need to get this hip flexor/groin issue worked out as fast as I can. It is still hard to evaluate because I am in the very acute stage, but I am hoping this is something that is a 7-10 day type of thing if I am smart about it. I'll know more a few days down the road. In any event, I need to remind myself that as much as I want to get back on my bike and work out all that frustration in the big ring (remember, I am still stuck there), I need to be patient and let this thing heal. It's much easier to do that after a stellar day than a disappointing one.
For those of you that may have had similar situations, I hope reading this was comforting, even if in an odd way. For those of you that are rolling strong, I hope this remains nothing but an anecdote about a dude that crashed in a race. Race on!!
Brad is a graduate student studying public health at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, a competitive amateur, and extremely passionate about all things multisport. You can reach him at email@example.com.