Out in the Open

It is difficult to write about a bad race – I don’t want to give excuses, but race reports for subpar performances often sound like a list of excuses. A string of good workouts capped by a strong performance at Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k (for my current fitness) gave me the push I needed to write about Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico and the Cooper River Bridge Run.

Puerto Rico

I went into Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico with a good winter of bike fitness and promising swim fitness. My hamstring was finally healthy and I was confident I could do well. On the bike, though, I had severe cramping in my glute and piriformis and decided to drop out half-way through the bike. While this was not the outcome I expected or wanted, I know it was the right decision. Soon after the race, I had the following conversation with another guest at my Air BnB:

Her: How’d you do?
Me: Not good.
Her: Oh, everyone says that, I’m sure you did great.
Me: No, I didn’t.
Her: Oh, well, you finished, didn’t you?
Me: No.
Her: Oh, well, there’s always next time.
Me: Bye.

Sorry for my rudeness, you caught me at a bad time. A note to people interacting with racers: if they don’t seem happy, keep a wide berth; or else you might have a similar conversation.

Upon returning to Richmond, my poor performance made me hesitant about my ability to make it in professional triathlon. The first week back I had a string of bad workouts and was shying away from the bike more and more. I found excuses in my schedule to not get in all of my workout or to not ride outside. After another episode of cramping on a long ride, I had a bike fit with Dave Luscan. We changed a few things about my fit that placed less stress on my glute, and I felt good. It took another week of making myself ride to finally have a good session. I put it off for a day because I was dreading the hard intervals. If I was still struggling to hit decent watts, was the bike fit successful? Is there something else going on? I placed too much importance on the workout (in retrospect) and stressed myself out about something I looked forward to three weeks ago. The first interval was mediocre, and I decided to just go for it on the last three. By the end, my all-in approach paid off with top power numbers for the winter. Although I hadn’t gained all my confidence back, I was moving in the right direction.

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Three weeks after Puerto Rico I went to Charleston, SC for the Cooper River Bridge Run with USMES teammates. A week before the race I did my first hard run workout consisting of 20 minutes of tempo. The tempo showed me that I had maintained most of my run fitness through the winter with easy runs and bike and swim workouts. The race, though, did not go well. I had forgotten how hard a 10k is and I let my pace slow too much in the middle. The two positives from the race were that I had no pain in my hamstring and I got to meet some more teammates.

After Cooper River, all I wanted to do was train. The excitement of my last week of medical school and having an article I collaborated with Julie Patterson, my training partner and PharmD/PhD candidate, published helped push me through some awesome workouts across all three disciplines. My confidence was coming back.

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Photo Credit: Jesse Peters / Sports Backers

I then raced Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k, and it was a very different experience from the Cooper River Bridge Run. I felt strong the whole way round, negative split the course (helped by the headwind on the way out), and competed with the people around me. I think the photo above sums up the race.

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One thing that I have learned from this string of races is that when I transitioned to racing in the professional field, suddenly my results were much more visible. Everybody looks at the professional results, and it is easy to see a DNF or a poor time when there are only sixteen racers. As an amateur, my poor results got buried in the 2000 competitors, but now my results are out in the open. I’ve had bad races before, but suddenly a bad race means I’m last in the field, and there is a level of humiliation I have yet to overcome with finishing last. When you are racing in the amateur field, it is harder for spectators to tell you are having a bad race, but in the elite field, you are on your own and everyone can see you moving backwards. I equate the feeling to transitioning to medical school. In undergrad and the amateur field, I was a big fish in a small pond – I was always one of the best. In medical school and the elite field, though, I am a very small fish in a big pond. I overcame the transition by ignoring what everyone else in my class did and continuing to do what got me into medical school – hard work, perseverance, and consistency. I am working on implementing the same plan to successfully transition to the professional field of triathlon.

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