Welland Half Ironman distance, Sunday, 2012 June 24: a race experience.
Mentally, the Welland Half Ironman triathlon began for me on Friday night, when I crashed with my bike on the train tracks on the Iron Horse trail in Kitchener, leaving me with a bruised right knee. I’m not a very experienced triathlete, so the challenge of the Half Ironman was already quite daunting without an injury. Now, even finishing the race looked sheer impossible, so that I was strongly convinced that I will face a DNF (did not finish) race result.
I decided to do at least the swim, as it wouldn’t be so hard on the knee. And maybe I could even do the bike leg (or part of it). However, I doubted that I could even begin the run. With this plan, me and my friend Florian, who was racing in the duathlon, drove to Welland on Saturday evening, sleeping near the race site. I’m usually very nervous before a race and have trouble sleeping, but this time it was different: having no expectations for myself and with all the pressure gone to perform, I slept like a baby, waking up well rested and cheerful the next day, ready to try my best.
At 8:30am on a pleasantly warm day, the gun went off for the swim start. A hectic open water mass start with over 400 swimmers can be quite intimidating, especially for a slow swimmer like me. In spite of this, I decided to enjoy the swim, knowing that my race might be over as soon as I exit the water. I focused on a smooth movement and a regular breathing, and after 200 meters, I felt like in trance.
Then I started the bike leg (90km). I did pretty much all the pedaling with my left leg. Despite this difficulty, time flew, and before I realized I was at kilometer 60. I even managed to pick up the pace for the final 30km.
After getting off the bike, I hesitated to start the run. This was the part I was most concerned about. It was, after all, quite a long run (21km). Still, I started running very very slowly, and by kilometer 5 I had picked up the pace, and felt quite good. I kept running until at around kilometer 15, when I could feel effect of the run. I slowed down to avoid hurting my knee, and walked/jogged to the finish line.
While I had a middle of the pack finisher time, my friend Florian took the second place overall in the duathlon with the fastest run time. Given the circumstances, though, it was not my priority to have a fast finishing time. What was important was for me to stay focused and pain-free, and to believe in myself. Placing became irrelevant. In fact, there will always be somebody who’s stronger and faster and will leave me in the dust. The only thing I can count on is my determination to go on, keep training, and to get faster for the next race. All this while having fun and enjoying the sport, independently of results.
Up to now, I’m still hesitating if it was the right decision to race at all given the bike crash. Since it wasn’t such a bad injury, I dared to go out and race, even though not at my full capacity. But then again, one should err on the safe side, and allowed oneself to stop at anytime. This experience reinforced my assumption that it is not always so easy to judge when to push oneself a little more and when to stop – and not only with respect to sports. In fact, in many situations we must make decisions based on an incomplete set of variables, that only let us guess the consequences without absolute certainty. In retrospect, of course, one is always smarter – but that’s not when decisions are made.
One thing I know for sure is that I will be very careful when crossing the train tracks on the Iron Horse trail by bike in the future. It’s best to dismount.