It’s about time for me to examine the asterisk. You know, that little aside I always like to add when reflecting on a race. The “well, I only beat her because of…” or the “well, I would’ve gone faster if not for…” I am the queen of finding reasons I should have done better, reasons congratulations are not in order, reasons someone else would or should have beaten me … Race results, the list of competitors, their order of finish… they never paint the whole picture. In my world, there’s always an asterisk. Truth be told, I make excuses for other people as much as I do for myself.
As a professional triathlete, training and racing is my primary occupation, just like my competitors. Our prize money and the (sponsorships our performances may generate) pay our bills. OK, my situation is a bit more complex with a couple of other occupations vying for the primary spot and a joint-income household, of course… But like my competition, I race often, not always peaked and ready for the best performance of my career. Except under certain circumstances (like major championships or races with extraordinary circumstances that call for treating them like championships), I think most pros approach each race with one main expectation: that we’ll do our best (and get a good training effect from it both physically and mentally); we never know exactly what will happen. That means that race results rarely pan out the way the onlooker might predict. We always see surprises.
Looking at the start list for San Juan packed with names much bigger in the tri media than my own, I could’ve been intimidated. But at this point in my career, I toe the line gunning for the win. No matter who is there, no matter how I feel. It’s not “I want to beat everyone except this person or that person because they’re better than me.” No, sometimes races are separated by mere seconds! Especially in longer distance racing, anything can happen. So I don’t base my goals on other people; I want to go for the win and do my best. No asterisks attached.
San Juan was one of my very first 70.3 races two years ago. At the time, I was ill-prepared to execute the distance properly, and I tried to race it like the Olympic distance racing I was used to. It was a beautiful race until it got ugly, and at that point it became horrific. My sizeable lead off the bike turned into a desperate near-crawl to the finish line 13.1 miles later after cramping and bonking like never before (and losing several places in the process). This year, I wanted to replace that memory with a much happier one. My broad goal was to win or finish as high as possible (always the goal), and moreover to swim harder, to ride smarter, and to run tougher than I ever have.
I started out on the right path with a very good warm up, especially in the water. I was ready to start fast, and I did, in the wake of the leaders for longer than usual. Though I lost contact with the leaders for the last ¾ of the race, I exited the water closer than usual and passed 3 people in the run-out to transition. Once on the bike, I continued to make up ground on some of those who outswam me, but I allowed myself to get distracted by some saddle discomfort (still dialing in my fit on the new ride) and a rubbing rear brake that must have gotten jostled as I ran over some bumps out of transition. The last thing you want when on a brand new bike is to deal with a mechanical issue, and I had checked everything very carefully pre-race to avoid it… but sometimes things are out of your control. My frustration on the bike deserved minimal attention compared with the sufferings of some of my competitors with worse mechanical issues and even a crash.
Once out onto the run, in fourth position, the demonic memories tempered my willingness to attack the hills of the spectacular course, so I took it out extremely controlled. I had fueled and hydrated fairly well, had taken my salt tabs, had opted for a more hefty shoe than I’d worn in Panama (which had resulted in some calf cramping), and I was several more weeks along in a good training progression. So there was no reason to lack confidence on the run. But I did. Somehow I didn’t have the edge I needed to push the limit and get the most from myself. By the halfway point the leaders had extended their lead, and the eventual 4th place finisher had covered substantial ground. Instead of pushing myself as hard as I could to change my position, I became complacent. For this attitude, I will punish myself with plenty of hard training sessions going forward! By the time I crossed the line, in 5th place, I was happy to be done but already began the process of asterisk-izing my race.
Place and time mean little to me when I can’t say I’m certain I gave my all. But looking back on the block between Panama and San Juan, I can also see a variety of setbacks (illness, injury, unusual life stress, etc.) that could have contributed to my lack of “edge.” In a field like this, I can see how I should be happy with my finish, but everyone has their own asterisks. You never know who’s dealing with an injury, who’s been under the weather, who is under extremely heavy training load and not at all race fresh, who’s going to have an unexpected mechanical problem, or what newbie is going to show up and dominate the race from start to finish. So while it’s ok to be frustrated with myself to some extent, I need to manage the asterisks – to learn from each race and move forward ready to execute better and better. As I prepare for St. Anthony’s and St. George 70.3 (my next two races), I’ll address the mental, physical, and mechanical issues that need to be fixed. And I’ll toe the line of those races, and all the rest this year, knowing I’m prepared to give my all, no asterisks needed.