So here is something a bit different for you. An elite professional athlete – a triathlete in fact who also happens to be an unbeaten ultra-runner – and one who wants to tell you all about the big event at the weekend when she was representing the GBR team. And it is a story of absolute unforeseen failure.
There you go, I hold my hands up and confess it. And I can do that now because by the halfway point of the Weymouth ETU Long Distance Championships I probably couldn’t raise my arms at all.
This might be slightly perverse but I don’t mind bucking the accepted form of gushing about successes and scuttling behind the ramparts when things have gone awry. And when the TV cameras are recording every last moment of your misery…well, “in for a penny, in for a pound” as they say here in the UK!RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
I was really looking forward to this event, training had gone really well, my team behind me is just the best and I couldn’t have been happier. Everything about this event was exciting me. When I competed in it previously I picked up bronze. Without question I am now a better, happier and more complete athlete and was planning on setting or nearing PB’s in all three elements, particularly the marathon for which I absolutely knew I was in shape to blow apart my 3hr10 mark.
And nothing deterred me from these thoughts as we prepared and lined up. It was wonderful to be amongst the other athletes, the spirit was tremendous and truly elevating. Mind and body were good, positive visualisation intact and everything that lay ahead of me was positively exciting.
My swim performance immediately bore out all my optimism and positivity. My open water training over the last few months has gone really well and I have moved from strength to strength and here was the evidence. I left the water right up in the leading pack and among the top girls who I might have been expected to concede around two minutes to over this leg. “This is going well” thought I as I bounded towards the bike transition with a 10 minute lead over some rivals.
The unexpected happened
That was very much the last time I was able to bound anywhere. I set off on the bike stage and and knew straight away that things were amiss. My quads were dead, there was nothing there. It was immediately apparent that there are biomechanic issues to address as well as bike set-up. The mind remained willing, at least for now, but the body was starting to resist and falter.
A 27 minute 10 mile Time Trial a week before had not been a good sign and was well over three minutes worse than where I’d been earlier in the year. But I didn’t let it ring alarm bells too loudly at the time because I was so looking forward to Weymouth. In hindsight it is now apparent that the wheels were loosening in that Time Trial and now, at the crucial time, they finally flew off.
Energy is generally one of my great strengths in these races, but after 4hrs30 (and not even half way) I was absolutely spent. The tank seemed to have been leaking and there was nothing left. The thought of riding another 40 miles followed by a marathon just made my head spin. A double dose of Snickers did nothing to help at all which was a sure sign that I was in trouble.
I battled on for a while, propelling my bike with what seemed to be my Grandmother’s legs. But then you get to the point where there’s no use being a damn fool about it all. I picked my spot and wobbled off the course into the arms of some suitably manly support.
And there too was the film crew, documenting this demise in all its graphic failure. Bugger!
I was too enthusiastic to do well
For two weeks in August/September I enjoyed to most gruelling and elevating road sessions of my life. Hard session was followed by hard session and I was up for more. It felt like immense steps were being made and the deposits into my Bank of Conditioning & Performance were huge. However all of that might have been in too close a proximity to the Ironman. When I went to make a withdrawal I couldn’t get anything out!
I was actually too keen, too needy, too enthusiastic to do well, to get better, to do more, to get even better. This was misguided and driven by a desperation to improve and succeed. And in sport as in life – desperation is never a good driving force. So it’s time to take stock, take control, harness all the good stuff that is undeniably and powerfully there, whilst finding the formula to make everything work in harmony.
Whilst it is very true in sporting and general performance terms that you can be ‘in the zone’ and seemingly function at a higher level, that zone is not necessarily all encompassing and protecting. It is also a transient state. It may propel someone down the 100m track in a mind bendingly quick sub-10 sec time. Or it could allow a boxer to deliver a flurry of knockout blows in the first round of about.
But expecting it to envelope you for the entire duration of an Ironman is asking a bit much. One of the wonderful things about these triathlons is their sheer scale and – much like in a cricket Test Match – there is going to be ebb and flow, glorious moments of sublime performance and some struggle, a dash of drama and comedy.
You just have to suck it all up and get stuck in. And on the occasion that it spits you out again leaving you in an undignified heap at the roadside, you just have to accept that you’ve worked too hard and, for that, there is absolutely no reward at all. Where else in life does that happen?
A few years ago I confess this might have broken me mentally. But I am a different person and a different athlete today and I can see it for what it is. A big disappointment for sure, but also a moment of clarity and a powerful lesson well learned. And this lesson is one that will serve me fantastically well from now on. So why mope and moan and threaten to quit? That way lies dissatisfaction, despair and a gloomy refusal to dust down and crack on…
And that just ain’t me!
Read more from our Expert Alice Hector