Panic and Pacing

There is a scene in Blackfish, a documentary about the effects of captivity on killer whales, that will stay with you long after the credits have stopped rolling. In it Kenneth Peters, a trainer at Sea World San Diego jumps into one of the marine park’s huge tanks to perform the finale of one of the day’s Shamu shows with Kasatka, a twenty-something female killer whale. As soon as Peters jumps into the water, the killer whale grabs the trainer by the foot and drags him down to the bottom of the deep tank. Luckily, the narrator of Blackfish notes, not only does Peters have experience with animals, he is also an accomplished diver. When the killer whale brings the trainer back to the surface, Peters doesn’t scream or panic or flail about. He simply pats the killer whale as if to say, “It’s okay” and he starts breathing very methodically in an effort to pack his lungs with more air in the likely event that he would be dragged down again. Sure enough, a few moments later Kasatka takes him back down to the bottom of the tank and holds him there for what seems like an eternity. The whale finally pulls Peters back up and the trainer shows the same forethought that he did before, even though the situation is becoming more dire. Over the course of the next few minutes the killer whale continues her routine of burying and resurfacing. She eventually lets the trainer go only to grab his other foot and continue the dangerous cycle. Toward the end of the clip, the trainer’s expression becomes more and more desperate; the audience can tell simply by looking at his face that Peters knows he is going to die. Thankfully after almost fifteen minutes, Peters was able to escape with the help of a momentary lapse of focus on the whale’s part, a large net, and his incredibly fast swimming (given the little air and two broken feet he was working with). The most incredible part of this story, aside from the fact that Peters survived, is the forethought and sense of calm the trainer had throughout the entire incident. That of course got me thinking about triathlon… (Thankfully training and racing are nowhere near as dangerous as Peters’ ordeal.)

During a race we all have those little moments of panic when we wonder if we paced ourselves correctly. Did I go too hard on the first part of the bike? Did I burn too many matches on that hill? What if I get off the bike and I can’t run? I hope my legs can carry me through the back half of this marathon. In triathlon the opportunities for over-pacing, impatience, and self-doubt are endless. With a background in endurance sports I think I’ve always known this, but my last two triathlons made this fact abundantly clear. This year SavageMan 70.0, undoubtedly one of the most difficult triathlons around, was held on September 15th, one week after the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas. I decided to do both. The uncertainty leading up to my second long distance triathlon in eight days was unlike anything I had experienced before. Several days after Worlds, my body was still feeling the effects of the race. Luckily toward the end of the week my bike and run legs had returned just in time to drive to Deep Creek Lake, Maryland for SavageMan. I knew that if I wanted to do well, I had to follow my pace and nutrition plans to the letter. During a race when things are moving so fast I find it easy to get wrapped up in what’s going on around me. My swim was so slow, maybe I’ll push it a little harder on the bike. I can’t let her pass me… I hate these road conditions. Getting caught in the moment like that could cause me to sacrifice the latter stages of the race because I’ve let panic, lack of focus and self-doubt seduce me away from my plan. “Bike for show; run for dough.” “Bike how you should, not how you could.” These sayings are everywhere but the truth in them is undeniable. Without forethought and proper pacing early on, an entire race could be sacrificed. During SavageMan I had a lot (and I mean a lot) of time to think about this on the bike. Cyclists who were having faster, better, more powerful days than me rode past, one after another (after another). I wanted to follow, but pursuing them at their pace wasn’t an option. I had to hold back, race within myself and trust in my training. Like Peters who relied on his experience with diving and animals to stay composed, endurance athletes must rely on their pace and nutrition plans to execute their races correctly. A little focus and forethought go a long (long) way.

There’s only one finish line and it’s at the finish. Happy training!

Finishing the run at SavageMan.  First pro and fastest run of the day.

Finishing the run at SavageMan 70.0.  First female pro and fastest run split of the day.

People Who Need People

One of my favorite things to do besides training and racing is watching others train and race.  I can spend hours in front of the TV watching Jonathan Brownlee dominate a race.  (Okay less than two hours in that particular case.)  Or spend the better part of a Sunday refreshing Ironmanlive.com for the latest updates and blog posts about that weekend’s races.  Last weekend was no different.  Between my own bike and run workouts of the day I snuck in a fair amount of time on the internet stalking the competitors of Timberman 70.3 and Ironman Mont-Tremblant.  It was on the website featuring the latter, that a little less than ten hours after the start, a picture was posted on the live blog.  The picture was taken in the finishline area and as such there are a lot of people milling around, but the main subjects are clearly Jesse Kropelnicki, the head coach of QT2, and Jennie Hansen, a QT2 athlete who had just come in sixth, with the second fastest marathon split of the day (only three short weeks after her win in Lake Placid).  The picture itself is breathtaking.  Aside from pure joy, you can feel Jennie’s exhaustion and Jesse’s utter elation.  I’ve never seen anything like it and I think it captures something truly amazing about our sport.
.
Every pre-race athlete meeting you go to features a head official reviewing the rules regarding clothing requirements, warning people about the consequences of littering, and going into great detail about what constitutes drafting and the penalties for doing so.  “Triathlon is an individual sport,” they always say.  Only on race day…  Only on race day.  Behind every triathlete is a significant other, a coach, a training partner, family, friends, and teammates who make triathlon possible for that athlete.  Without these people devotion wouldn’t be feasible, excellence wouldn’t be achievable, and training wouldn’t be enjoyable.  The picture of Jesse and Jennie inspired me to think about all of the people without whom I couldn’t do this wonderful thing that I love to do.
.
At the end of last season, when I decided to get my elite card I came up with a crazy goal of making it back to the Ironman 70.3 World Championship as a pro.  Qualifying as an age-grouper is hard.  What I didn’t fully comprehend was how difficult it would be to get back to Vegas as a professional.  But, here I am months and months later and I have qualified for the World Championship as a first year pro.  I am over the moon, but more importantly thankful.  I wouldn’t be going to Vegas without the amazing people in my life.  Thank you for everything…
.
Thanks for supporting me when I took a leave of absence from teaching.
Thanks for flying to my races in San Juan and Vegas even though you HATE to fly.
Thanks for tracking me from afar and analyzing my results.
Thanks for wiping away my tears.
Thanks for always picking the best triathlon houses.
Thanks for coming to the hospital.
Thanks for listening to me complain.
Thanks for making me smile.
Thanks for helping me make tough decisions.
Thanks for letting me stay at your mom’s house for my first homestay.
Thanks for eating what I want to eat the night before the race.
Thanks for driving the course with me.
Thanks for extending your workout even though you didn’t have to.
Thanks for making amazing playlists.
Thanks for getting up really really early.
Thanks for pretending my pre-race OCD is normal.
Thanks for getting really bad bad songs stuck in my head.
Thanks for racing me to see who can get the lowest heart rate.
Thanks for looking over my transition area.
Thanks for taking really bad pictures.  (The subject is flawed not the cameraman.)
Thanks for drafting my nutrition plan.
Thanks for listening to my really bad jokes and super long stories.
Thanks for telling me to go to bed early.
Thanks for reminding me about life outside of triathlon.
Thanks for giving me a FB shout out.
Thanks for writing letters on my behalf.
Thanks for being my sounding board.
.
Thanks for the hugs, the kisses, the well-wishes, the high-fives, the spanks, the advice, the workouts, the sympathy, the empathy, the songs, the texts, the calls, the pancakes, the bike, the company, the drills, the critiques, the encouragement, the time, the prayers, the support, and the love.

image