Last weekend was full of triathloning, including my favorite event of the season, The Rockford Kids Triathlon, which incidentally gained a whole new level of goodness taking place for the 11th time in history on 7/11/15! Biggest and middlest were looking forward to their third time at the event, as noted by biggest in his contribution to my blog months ago, in which he shared a hopeful prediction that he would improve his swim to come in third or better overall in his age group.
After a late departure, detour and reroute to the new race site, we made it just in time to get biggest into the pool. Unfortunately, our plans for increased practice in the pool did not come to fruition this year and biggest was one of the last out of the water. He approached the first transition (complete with shoe horn for easy on!) hopeful that his strength on the bike would atone for a slower-than-hoped swim. Though he made up some ground on a bike course full of hairpin turns that would have kept my mph in the single digits, initial separation from the leaders proved too great to overcome. He was strong on the run, demonstrating endurance gained from multiple Friday 5Ks and pushed to the finish but did not place in his age group.
While extremely impressed by his entire effort, I was most proud of his attitude and ability to cope with a result that did not match his expectation. Biggest has inherited my competitiveness, which can at times be expressed as an angry burst of frustration. Though I can attest that this is largely rooted in personal disappointment, I also recognize that socially this presents as an inappropriate response to a non-victory…more commonly known as being a sore loser.
Biggest and I both struggle with this – how to navigate quickly through a disappointing personal performance so as not to undermine the result of fellow competitors, frustrate those who took time to support the effort or totally ruin the experience for ourselves. For myself, the best solution is to reflect and evaluate to identify opportunities for improvement. Discovering holes in training and/or execution on race day is less than ideal, but to ignore them altogether would be much worse. The swim was a revelation for biggest on the day and its impact on his race will certainly be a most potent motivator.
My opportunity to practice appropriate post-race-reaction-management presented itself less than 24 hours later. With optimal proximity and a beautiful course, Grand Haven Triathlon is a staple of my racing season. My performance in each of the three disciplines fluctuates, but has trended, as one always hopes, downward in total time for the event. This year began with an insanely cold swim that literally felt like swimming through chards of glass. I was slightly concerned in transition to recognize signs of first-degree frostbite expressed as redness and swelling of my feet and ankles from being consistently submerged but not wetsuit-clad in the frigid water.
T1 was sluggish thanks to numb hands and it took nearly half the bike course to reconnect with my toes, at which point I counted five women ahead of me in the Olympic race, including a good friend who was returning to the course after her international distance debut six years prior. I pushed toward T2 and actually turned in a better split than last year, but for whatever reason the bike never felt smooth. Excited as always to hit the run course, I found two of the lead women relatively quickly, enjoyed a quick first mile and was on track for a personal course PR.
As I neared completion of the second mile, however, it all began to fall apart and no amount of self-talk, rationalization of previous experience or motivation that only three women remained between me and an overall victory could regain my usual pace. The halfway point revealed a manageable time gap and I mustered enough to maintain which earned me one more place and a spot on the overall podium. My usual sprint to the finish line was replaced by a pained, side-stitch-filled trot and as I stopped my watch, I saw an overall time four minutes slower than my PR, all lost on the run.
It has been rare, if ever, that the run has let me down in a triathlon and the disappointment heightened when I noted the winning times were less than three minutes faster than mine, which meant a usual run time would have seen me first across the line. Now, I know full well that previous times are irrelevant and that performance on the day is all that counts, but it is still hard to accept that a better result was within my physical capacity and I simply could not deliver. Thankfully, having my friend present at the race made it easier to bounce back and appreciate a podium finish, exalt her for a personal PR on the course and focus on room for improvement. Reflecting on recent longer, slower events it became clear that speed work has been missing from my training and hopefully reincorporation will get me back to goal pace.
Though anticipated achievements were not attained, the success of the weekend was sustained by replacing dashed hopes and unmet expectations with patched holes and revelations. May the pain of disappointment be soothed by the promise of development, ensuring a personal best response even without a personal best result.