in Training

Practicing for the inevitable

Yesterday in the pool we practiced something I’ve been really nervous about: having people swimming all around me. I’ve only done an open water swim in a race once, and I had a panic attack and basically waited until everyone passed to resume swimming. So DJ swam all around me, crowding me, trying to push me out of the way. While it wasn’t much, it made me feel instantly better about the situation.

I’m also really nervous about swimming in water where I can’t see the bottom (so pretty much everywhere that’s not a pool). So to practice that, I swim with my eyes closed sometimes. I have a hard time breathing when I do this, to be honest. I find it terrifying. But when the water is dark, that’s pretty much what you’re doing.

Any triathlon guide worth its weight will tell you to practice transitions (first the socks, then the shoes), but there’s a lot more to practice then that. How will you react when shit goes wrong?

One time I drove the wheel car at a road race, and wowee. People don’t like getting flats (duh). I’ve taken advantage of the wheel car plenty back in my road racing days, and I was always so thankful that it was there (and I was in the pack so I could actually make use of it!). When I was the volunteer and stopped to hand out a wheel, the guy yelled and swore and threw his bike off into the brush.

My response: Do you want your fucking wheel or shall I just leave you here?

What could he have done? He could have quickly grabbed a wheel and caught back on, like racers do. Sure he would have blown himself up doing so, but at least he could have finished the race with his head held high. Instead he swore at a volunteer trying to help him and DNF’d.

How will you handle mechanicals, Garmins losing battery power, dropping water bottles, cramping? So many things can go wrong it’s pretty amazing to have a completely clean race. Which is one reason I really like bike racing, especially in Oregon: during the racing season, there are often more then 1 race a day (weekend or weekday!), and races are relatively cheap (under $50). Racers around here race a lot. We joke about racing into fitness, because you easily can.

This is what makes me nervous about triathlon: there are few races and they’re expensive, so I don’t have the opportunity to really practice. Thankfully, I know I can handle problems. My handy three step guide to shit going wrong in a race:

  1. Take a deep breath
  2. Fix the thing slowly
  3. Get your butt back in the race and forget about it

I say “fix the thing slowly” because regular, human-paced movements will seem slow. If you try to rush through changing your tire, you will take twice as long to change your tire. I think I flatted it just about every race I did last year. I just started laughing when it happened, I mean what else can you really do? (get new tires, that’s what)

The obvious things to practice: race day nutrition, transitions, your race pace, etc. Less obvious things to practice: anything that is unknown or makes you nervous in any way (if changing a flat makes you nervous, go put a tire on 20 times in a row). If you get easily frustrated and have a tendency to give up, try riding it out. Just be frustrated, but don’t let that stop you or slow you down. Slowly let go of it.

So I will continue to practice swimming with my eyes closed until it no longer leaves me short on breath, and I’ll probably want some practice running up on shore and stripping off my wet suit, which I’ve never worn. How many days until St George? …