There is such a big learning curve in triathlon that many, many things will go wrong in races over the years. Even the pros often make mistakes. As you learn more and race more, there are so many elements to the sport that, rarely, do things go perfectly as planned. I am looking back at all the things that have gone wrong for me, because you learn from mistakes! I have saved the worst for last.
(Please bear in mind as you read that there have also been lots of great races too, lots of podiums and races that have gone to plan without mishaps!)
Siblyback Triathlon – Flunking out of my first race
My first triathlon was booked spontaneously and with very little time to train. It was only a sprint so although I could cycle and swim, I hadn’t run in years. However, I didn’t even understand the concept of couch to 5km and I injured my knee running so badly on an overly ambitious training run that I was out of the race before it had even started. I had convinced my running friend that she would like to do this triathlon with me. So, on race day we went together but I was only able to spectate. When we arrived with Jess’s mountain bike rammed in the boot of her car, we were greeted by expensive bikes, strong looking athletes, equipment I didn’t even recognise and just lots of people that seemed to know what they were doing. The two of us found it pretty funny because we just didn’t have a clue what we had signed up for. We didn’t know what a tri suit was or a tri belt or what on earth to do in transition. Jess did an amazing job and was congratulated afterwards by lots of competitors as “that girl on the mountain bike.” I had learnt a lot already just from watching and straightaway went online to purchase a few necessities for my first actual race.
St Ives Tri – Premature celebrations, the wrong bike and the need for bricks
My first sprint triathlon was in St Ives in Cornwall. I didn’t own a road bike so had borrowed one from a friend that was miles too big for me and made me look like a preying mantis – I had to reach so far forward to reach the handlebars. I was so excited after the pool swim that I ran outside with my arms in the air cheering at the crowd. It was definitely a premature celebration as one spectator reminded me “You’ve still got the bike and the run yet, love!” It was the first but not the last time I was laughed at (but all in good humour). As I dismounted my bike, desperately trying to remember whether you had to get off before or after the line, I realised that my legs wouldn’t work. My legs had completely seized up and I had to stagger, pushing my bike with my legs bent for a good 20 metres before they came back to life. A marshall laughed and questioned whether I had done much preparation for the race (I hadn’t!). It turns out that brick sessions, running straight off the bike, are pretty crucial for triathlon! Another lesson learnt.
Wadebridge Tri – Losing my time chip
The first sprint triathlon my parents came to watch, my time chip fell off my ankle in the pool. Everyone knows that every second counts so I didn’t know what to do and whether I would be disqualified without the chip. In between laps, I tried explaining I had lost it to the counting marshall in my lane but he was young and didn’t seem to understand or know what to do so I just continued my race. As I left the pool and ran to transition, I ended up shouting at every marshall as I ran past that I had lost my chip and what should I do? I didn’t want to stop. Nobody really had an answer for me. So I just kept going and jumped on my bike and set off. I finished the race in a good time but had no idea whether they would have been able to track my time or if I would be disqualified. I wasn’t and I ended up on the podium but it was a pretty stressful race for my parents to witness. Always a drama!
Tavistock Tri – Contact lens pops out
Another race, I had pushed my goggles on too tight so that when I removed them, running out of the pool, my contact lens started to pop out of my eye. I ran to transition trying to poke it back in but I ended up having to take it out as I ran. I thought maybe the race might be over as it wouldn’t be safe cycling out on open roads half blind and I had a feeling I might have torn the lens. I ended up wasting about 5 minutes in transition trying to get the stupid lens in, which cost me 3rd place in the end. Every second really does count!
Bodmin Tri – Getting Lost
I am not well known for my navigation skills so I always check the routes out carefully and recce them if it is at all possible. One triathlon had bad signage and at a crucial crossroads, the marshall that was meant to be checking “foot downs” and directing you left, had wandered off just at the wrong moment to take a phone call. The arrow on the sign pointed straight ahead so I followed the arrow over the junction and only realised about 5 kms and a huge descent down to a beach that I was completely off course. I ended up asking some strangers to borrow their phone to call for help as there was no way I could cycle back up that enormous 5km hill and get back in the race. A kind man in a shop nearby saw my distress and offered to drive me and my bike back up the hill to the point where I went wrong. I was incredibly thankful and always appreciate the kindness of strangers in times like this! The marshall of course was back at his post directing all the triathletes left. I tried not to feel anger towards him and I still finished the race but, again, obviously no podium with a 30 minute detour. It turned out there were 4 others that made the same navigational error as me that day which made me feel a little better.
Zell Am See Ironman 70.3 – Getting drunk, getting nutrition wrong, unable to run
Getting very very drunk at your cousin’s wedding 48 hours before your first Ironman 70.3 and having the worst hangover of my life was a pretty big mistake.
I had a big bag of energy balls as part of my nutrition plan for the race. However, I discovered whilst racing that I wasn’t able to eat any solids. I learnt a valuable lesson about nutrition! Although I enjoyed the bike with no issues, I really struggled a few kilometres into the run, my legs were dead and I was in a lot of stomach pain. I nearly cried and gave up and probably would have, if a kind stranger hadn’t chatted to me and offered to run with me, distracting me from the pain.
Perhaps I should have chosen a gentler course for my first Ironman 70.3 (Zell Am See has a mountain ascent which means lots of climbing on the bike which knackers your legs for the run). I don’t really regret it though as it was a stunning course and incredibly memorable…plus I achieved what I set out to do which was to finish the race.
Bintan Ironman 70.3 – Not training and cheating (kind of)
This race was booked for after the summer holidays but, living in Singapore at the time, I wanted to go travelling and adventuring over my 6 week break. I decided to go ahead with the Ironman 70.3 anyway. That summer I went on a diving holiday to Komodo, jungle trekking in Sumatra and toured all over Sri Lanka. I didn’t run, bike or swim in preparation for the race. I guess it was an experiment to see if you could finish a half ironman on zero training….I did! But I was slow! I remember the commentator saying “And here is Sophie King who has apparently been tapering for months for this event.” I even had some friends cheering me on who ran sections of the run with me. One friend asked a marshall if that was OK and ran the whole half marathon with me. Nobody noticed and he didn’t get in anybody’s way. I now realise that i could have been disqualified for this but I wasn’t aiming for any kind of decent time anyway. More lessons learnt!
Vietnam Ironman 70.3 – Most of the things that can possibly go wrong
The event started with uncertainty as there was huge unexpected surf and they had deemed it potentially unsafe to swim. We had been warned it was likely to be a duathlon instead and to set up transition for this scenario. With only an hour to go, they changed their minds and wanted to go ahead with the triathlon. I was pretty nervous for this race because I had done some training and so wanted to do well. The odds were against me though.
I managed to tackle the surf and make it out to the calmer deeper water only to be stung on my arm by a large jellyfish. I continued and was actually doing pretty well. I was third in my age group 50 km into my bike when the gears stopped working, then the whole bike started to fall apart. The right pedal and crank came off completely and I had to pull over on a bridge with no shade in the 40 degree heat. I had my bike serviced before the race and unfortunately the mechanic had not put the bike together properly. I was devastated and had to watch every athlete sail past whilst I desperately tried to fix the bike and prayed for mechanical rescue. It is every triathlete’s worst nightmare. There were only 2 mechanics for 1500 athletes so the chances of rescue were slim. The minutes then hours began to tick by and my chances of reaching transition by cut off time looking very unrealistic. Eventually a random man with some knowledge of bikes suggested I could take a tri bar off and use the screws to fix my bike. I was willing to try anything so sacrificed a tri bar in order to be able to pedal. It worked and I was able to get back to transition with minutes to cut off. I started out on my run and thought nothing else could possibly go wrong. I felt pretty strong and made sure I hydrated and took salts and electrolytes as the midday heat was now burning down on everyone. I was pretty sure I might now have sunstroke but I carried on.
10 kms in and something suddenly was very wrong. My stomach convulsed and I desperately searched for a toilet (there were none on the course.) I ended up having to run into the ocean where I was very poorly, from both ends. It was a total nightmare! I staggered to a medical tent where they put me in the back of an ambulance. They gave me a strange tasting milky liquid which they said might help to settle my stomach and told me that my race was over.
I am not one to give up though and asked if they would let me walk a bit. They agreed but the ambulance followed alongside. The ambulance ended up following me all the way back to the finish line. They even took me into a hotel so I could use their bathroom to clean up. Then I continued to run. I made it to the finish line and was happy to collect my medal but I wasn’t even sure where to begin explaining how my race had gone.
I am not sure looking back at that race how many of these things were out of control. Obviously, I couldn’t have avoided the jellyfish and sometimes mechanical issues on the bike aren’t anybody’s fault (I would in future only get my bike serviced from recommendations). Getting sick could have been a combination of sunstroke, jellyfish sting or a nutrition fail but I will never know which. I just hope I never have a race as eventful as this one again.
Good times. Bad times. Lessons learnt!
Click the button above for more information on Tri2 Coaching.