If you know what it is, chances are you’ve done it – or come close. As an athlete, it’s going to happen at some point – either on a mechanical, a missed turn, a bad nutrition day, an injury, you name it.
Or sometimes, it *just happens*.
I’d been patting myself on the back for several weeks leading up to the Cracker Creek Time Trials in Port Orange, FL. I’d taken a few easy weeks in late fall and around the holidays, sure, but had been pretty focused for several months with nutrition, cross training, and even what I considered to be a pretty impressive amount of time on the water given the crappy winter. I’d done intervals in 38 degree weather and 40 degree water, for Pete’s sake! We’d done long paddles in maybe 45 degrees, with wind. We’d been living with the bikes on trainers in the middle of our den-slash-dining room. I’d even given up nachos for race season already. I was ready.
Come race morning, it was just south of 60 degrees, and we were all stoked. Hal, Fennel, and I had arrived the night before and stayed with a dear family friend less than a mile away. No fuss, no stress, and arrived in time for me to adhere (with great pride) my new Hammer Nutrition sponsorship decal on my yet-to-be-raced BARK board. I had matching toenails, I was well-fed, and loaded with just the right onboard nutrition of Fizz and Perpetuem. Again I say to you: I was ready.
The time trial on water start was new to me – though I’d done it in cycling years ago. I went off at position 24 – I heard that the short course racers started at number 50, so assumed that I was midpack. Great, I thought, I will be passed and do some passing, no problem. With a start of a minute apart, I wasn’t surprised when I was passed by a few folks, and not that surprised that I didn’t catch anyone. I knew that despite winter training, my expectations were that I wouldn’t podium, but wouldn’t come in last either.
I knew the course well, having paddled it a few months before and also having checked the mile markers online. I ate at the right times, just around the 1 mile mark, and the two mile mark. Inbetween the two, my paddle shoved in hard and hit something that felt – the best word I can conjure here is – “fleshy”. Gator. Put the paddle in. Torque it. Pull it out. Repeat. Do not panic. I started seeing folks on the return trip and gave the standard 1-2 word cheer “go git em” “you got it” “get up there”. I was feeling tired before the three mile turnaround, and just without a real rhythm, but kept at it. It will be fun, I thought, to reach the turnaround buoy and see folks coming behind me that I can say hi to. I made the buoy, and turned around, and started to greet…
Not a soul.
I saw a few glimpses of the woman in front of me (who had passed me earlier, so this meant she’s anywhere from 1 to n number of minutes PLUS visual distance away) as I gained at times and fell back at times. I came back across some stretches of headwind and hunkered down and choked down on the paddle. I turned into the mixed marsh and forest into a nasty stretch that had everything screaming and my heart rate totally jacked, but I pressed on. Finally into the (really breathtakingly gorgeous) palm-lined blackwater creek with its twists and turns I ran into Hal and Fennel, coming back to cheer me in. I kept digging, and came across the line.
Dead. Fracking. Last.
It’s ok, I thought. It’s not so bad. It’s probably just a few minutes off the last finisher and hey – it’s my first race of the season. I had a beer with friends, we all compared notes about the course.
Turns out, I was a whopping TEN minutes OFF THE BACK. So much so that the (kickass, awesome) race director was apparently concerned about my whereabouts.
For some reason, this image of me – someone that folks had to “worry about” – sat exceptionally poorly with me. I always try to push myself but within what’s attainable. Suddenly I felt like a joke – like the one they all wonder if they should have done the long course. Like the one who can’t run with the big dogs.
Like the one who’s always tagging along from behind.
I’ll be honest here. I spent several weeks in a real funk, pretending it didn’t bother me when it really, truly did. Sometimes you just have to be honest with yourself and not always play tough, and this was one of those times.
I’ve now come to realize that I have to change how I think about training. That it’s not just about getting miles in, and then interval work, but that it’s about suffering (conditions, effort, everything) in advance, to perform better on race day.
I’ll let you know how it goes.