In over a decade of racing, I figure I have completed nearly 100 different multi-sport races. As both a coach and an athlete, I feel that I have experienced just about everything you can experience in a race — adverse weather, wrecks, poorly marked course, blatant cheating, etc. But at this years Music City Triathlon, I saw first hand how even with proper planning, mother nature always wins. And sometimes, it doesn’t even make sense.
Here is what transpired on Sunday morning:
1. Water temperatures of 72 degrees making a race in July wetsuit legal. This has happened once before but it was after an abnormal cold front and rain came through. This race was after several days of 95+ degrees. Still odd. The most logical explanation is that the dam releases water from the bottom of the lake which is much colder. But why this year and not those in the past? I can’t say that I would have worn a wetsuit on such a hot day, but those that did, particularly in the Olympic race, had an advantage.
Lesson #1: Always come prepared.
2. Two races, Olympic and Sprint that both had a strong current but played out totally different. The Olympic distance race went first and we all watched as the current played a role pushing around athletes. All in all, the swim times were very comparable to last year and previous times. That being said, there were a number of athletes that needed to be rescued.
The sprint race, however, was complete carnage. Despite the Olympic going off relatively incident free, the sprint swim was later cancelled as bodies were splattered all over the river and demand for rescue was outpacing supply of boats. The race directors, I am certain, were dumbfounded. They made the right call.
Lesson #2: Sometimes things just don’t make sense in a race.
3. How bad was it? Well my unofficial swim time (because they threw out the swim times) was just over 12 minutes for a 400 meter swim. I don’t claim to be a fish, but in a local race, I am pretty certain my swim will be in the top 15-20%. This race took me twice as long as I expected. I KNEW I was swept down stream at two points. It almost seemed as if I would never make the second turn buoy.
Having completed this swim totally altered the way I raced the bike and swim. I certainly spent much more energy in the water than expected. And I was a bit demoralized when I saw my swim time. I knew others may struggle but I thought I was starting the bike down 4-5 minutes to my typical competitors. I also knew that gap would be too much to overcome. When I got back to T2, I only saw a couple bikes. It didn’t really occur to me that maybe EVERYONE’s swim sucked.
Lesson #3: Things happen and you have to adjust.
Now this isn’t the first time I have had a mental lapse in a race. But it is a good reminder to stick to your plan and focus on things that you can control. That mantra has always stuck with me. It keeps me from over thinking in these situations. Thinking too much can lead to over biking as you try to make up time without realizing that it will adversely affect your run.
So exactly how bad was my swim?
It is clear there was a giant current cutting through the river at a certain point. I knew what to do. I came off the first turn buoy with a HARD right turn. I sighted well to the right of the next buoy only to end up way left. Even coming back, I aimed for the back of the pier to only end up in front of it. I made two mistakes in that swim and I can’t say that I wouldn’t make them again. I could feel the current pushing me off course so twice I stopped to gather my bearings better. I can’t recall the last time I stopped in a race. I think that is the point where I was swept down. And that makes sense to me. But if I had to do it again, I can’t say I wouldn’t stop when I know I was that off course.
I guess the final lesson here is mother nature always wins. Don’t try to fight her.