To Race, or not to Race?

Posted: June 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

When I first tweaked my foot in February running, it was a minor annoyance. It hurt enough to concern me so I figured I would take a week off and everything would be gravy. When that didn’t work out, I took some more time off, then some more. A couple of months, physical therapy and various shoe inserts later, I realized I had a bigger problem on my hands and finally saw a doctor in May. When he diagnosed me with a stress fracture, my heart sank.

This year I had opted for “quality over quantity”,and had only registered for a handful of races, with the first one- the Philadelphia Triathlon- just 5 weeks away. With a prognosis of 4-6 weeks in a boot, followed by a gradual return to running/cycling, the tri was out of the question.

Having already registered and paid for the race however, I decided I would go anyway and at least do the swim portion, and withdraw from the rest of the event. While the value of gaining experience doing my first open water race swim of this length (.93 miles) was undeniable,  I seriously underestimated  how much it would suck to pull out of the race. After a disappointingly slow swim split, I made my way up the riverbank and into transition. Along the way I asked various volunteers where I could hand in my timing chip, who kept directing me to someone else, all the while either pityingly watching me walk (assuming I was too tired to get ready for the next leg), or overly compensating for my apparent lameness by cheerfully encouraging me on.

Before I could hand in my timing chip and slink away in shame I first had answer the brief, but embarrassing question twice:  “You’re dropping out?” Ouch, I didn’t predict how much those words would hurt, even if heading into the event I knew that this was going to happen. I tried to desperately explain to the first guy that no, I wasn’t going to finish the race, I had a stress fracture and blah blah blah- he didn’t care, I was just another dreaded DNF (did not finish) to be ushered off the race course and out of the way of the real athletes. So when I had to answer the question the second time, I just said “yes”, handed in my chip, and walked off.

It put me in a real funk, and even though I headed to the finish to try to cheer on the finishers, it didn’t make me feel much better. For a little while I held the illusion that maybe the onlookers would confuse me, still clad in my swim shorts, with one of the early finishers. Never mind that my arms clearly indicated otherwise- I was racer #1854- not quite so elite. So finally I  walked to the bag check, and claimed my gear from the volunteers manning the table confused that I showed up so early.

If any good came out of my participation, its that I learned a couple of valuable things:

-No one likes losing, but the satisfaction from competing in tri’s as an age-grouper is that you can feel good about laying it all on the line and pushing yourself to your limits. Showing up for, and competing in a race that I knew I couldn’t give my all in set me up for failure from the beginning. I don’t think I’ll do something like this again.

-Despite the hours I put in the pool, my swimming ability is still disappointingly limited. My 38 minute split would have squarely placed me in the bottom quartile of finishers in my division. I know that I need to work even harder to improve my swim, and move to something more closely resembling a training plan versus just workouts. Arm strength, turnover rate and sighting are the main areas I need work in.

-The aforementioned observation aside, I did find some good to take out of my swim. First and foremost, I finished it, and didn’t have to struggle to do so. Though I definitely got tired during the swim, I didn’t doubt that I would finish it, and I didn’t have to stop to rest. Also, my breathing was fine- I didn’t struggle for breaths and the movement felt natural- a definite competition improvement for me, and confidence builder.

-Finally, I completed the swim without a wetsuit. Heading into the race I really expected that I would be using the suit, and enjoy the benefit of added buoyancy and a faster swim. In discussing whether to use the suit or not with a fellow competitor, he gave me a good piece of advice: “do whatever will benefit you for the next race”. I knew that going the harder route, sans suit, would help me in the long run, and prepare me for future warm water, non wet-suit legal races, so I did it. Doing so was an exercise in being flexible and adaptable to unexpected race circumstances.

With two tris left on my race calender this year- a Sprint in August and an Olympic in September, I’m determined to recover, train harder and put in solid performances.



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