You have to risk losing in order to win. So goes the old adage, and in my case that’s exactly what I had to do to earn my spot in 2018 at Ironman Santa Rosa 70.3 for this year’s 70.3 World Championships in Nice, France. I’d prepared for months for that race, driven by the desire to stand on that podium and earn a spot for Nice. I mean seriously, World Championships….Nice, France!
I wasn’t going to be denied, but I was a mere 2 miles or so into the bike as I flew down the long, fast and bumpy descent from Lake Santa Rosa. My head down, I rammed into a pot hole at maybe 40 mph. I stayed upright, but the jolt ejected my Fuel Cell (the Bento box type thing on my Specialized Shiv) and with it went my food, spare tube, pump and CO2s. NOOOOO!!!!! I quickly had to decide – go on with only the one gel in my jersey pocket and no way to repair a flat or turn around and regroup. If I went on I’d have no safety net and would risk losing time from running out of calories or puncturing. Turning around would have been less risky in some ways, but then again the amount of time it would have taken to do so would have sunk my chance at a podium for sure.
About now would be a reasonable time to freak out – I’d worked so long and hard for this day but things weren’t going to plan. We all have an image in our head beforehand about how we see our races going. That usually involves feeling great and throwing down aces, but more often than not a race never really goes exactly to plan. You get kicked in the face on the swim, it’s hot. It opens the door for the negative self-talk to creep in. But the best racers train for and expect adversity so on race day they can concentrate on the task at hand instead of being overcome by emotion and giving up.
Once I saw a pro swim Wildflower intentionally without googles for the point of learning what it would be like to race with his googles knocked off (he won by the way). So for me contemplating my options I quickly thought well maybe I could manage by foraging for food along the course and somehow avoiding a flat. It was a calculated risk worth taking and so I decided to roll the dice and push on.
One gel doesn’t last long; I needed food. Unfortunately the only food I found was a single packet of Shot Blocks in the first aid station. I grabbed for that like my life depended on it! That saved my race. Coming into the second and third aid stations, I screamed for food like a mad man but was greeted by blank stares. Nothing, not even a banana.
At the third and final station I grabbed for a Gatorade thinking well at least there’s sugar in that. But as I squeezed nothing came out – the safety lid was still sealed under the nipple!!! How do you open the seal while trying to race your bike in aero bars?!? And oh, hey, the fast guys I’ve been going back and forth with all day are trying to drop me as I’m screwing around with the bottle. At that point I took my second calculated risk of the day in prioritizing getting the damn Gatorade open rather than trying to go with the competition. I gambled that if I could get some of that Gatorade down and stay somewhat close by the end of the bike I could refuel in T2 and catch them on the run. After much frustration and spilling about half the bottle I finally got it open just I time as I began to ride on fumes.
And it worked! No flats – fortunate because many people suffered punctures from malicious nails. In T2 I shoveled food down my throat and set out making up lost time, slowly, methodically, using the entire 13.1 miles to finally move up into 3rd with about 2 miles to go.
It could have easily gone the other way, but at least by taking the risk I set myself up to earn that spot to France!