I love to race on familiar courses. Triathlon events in my country is limited, so if you plan your races well, you should be able to do 90% of the races offered in less than three years. I would love to say that I have done most of these, but after debit order day (which includes paying off my “Race Fund Credit Card”) there is not much left for traveling and racing. So, I tend to stick to the familiar.

This year, however, I took the leap and entered a 70.3 distance race I have never done before (it coincided with an overdue visit with my bestie and some work things with my husband, so it was a win win). Race is part of a well known brand, taking place early spring. The route looks exciting and the run is through fruit orchards surrounded by the most beautiful mountains. The swim is in a lake with clear water and a triangle route, easy to navigate, so no chance of getting confused or lost. Excitement was pumping through my veins!! First race of the season is happening and I have a goal time I want to SMASH!

And then the weather happened. Snow came and covered the mountain peaks, it was raining in the area few days before the race. The temperature kept on dropping day by day. Thermal wear was washed and packed out. I can deal with cold on the bike. Toe covers for shoes, long gloves and arm warmers are ready to go. But the temperature just kept dropping. Race prediction 5 days before the race was 6 degrees with cloud cover and some wind. I still have to fly down to where the race will be held, so the temperatures are not really creating anxiety…yet.

Anxiety hit like a fist in the stomach when I got off the plane? The wind was like ice. It cut through like a knife and chilled every part of skin exposed. WHAT THE HELL??

Fast forward to our arrival at the race venue for registration. Rumors are flying about a cancelled swim, but we will only know the morning of the race. Talking about the morning… It is race morning I wake from under the ton of blankets a little cloud of moisture escapes as I breathe out. In the room. This was a great idea. Cars are covered in a layer of ice, but we head to transition for bike check in. It is 4 Degrees outside, so race briefing and start is already delayed by almost an hour. Athletes and supporters are huddled in groups around fires and a few brave souls are even already in wetsuits (optimistic much?), waiting to hear the fate of the swim. The race director finally puts everyone out of their misery by announcing that the swim is cancelled due to the 11 degree water and the air temperature that was now only about 7. I would love to say “a collective sigh of relief ” was heard, but it was more a cries of absolute jubilation.

Now the scramble to get to run bags, change gear and line up for the the race, which now will be a duathlon (run 5km, bike 90km and run 15km). Even though I could have warmed up more, that 5km felt like heaven compared to the thought of a 1.9km swim in 11 degree water with a chilly wind on the bike after.

Out on the bike, reality set in. It was nasty out there. Clear beautiful day with magnificent views of the lake and mountains, with a wind that chilled from eyelids to toes. No matter what I tried, my legs could not seem to get warmed up. I tried high cadence pedaling, power pedaling and praying. I did get a pretty nice tan on my legs, but my muscles never felt loosened up enough to really get the beast going.

Finally off the bike I head into transition on semi- frozen legs, switch shoes and head out on the run course. My legs are literally cramping up from the cold. I can see the knots forming on my quads. I stop and quickly try to stretch them out, but as soon as I start again, they just cramp up. Only option is to suck it up and continue moving. Once I kept on moving the cramps released and I could manage a decent pace. Three loops of 5km  lies ahead and the cramps kept coming, but I managed to run through it and finish  way under my predicted time. But what a race.

I took several lessons from this race:

  1. Thermal saves lives: Swallow your pride and just put on the gloves/toe covers/arm warmers. Nothing ruins a race like being uncomfortable for 3+ hours. Dexterity in your toes and fingers makes transition smooth and the first 1km of the run so much more bearable. You will have other chances to show of your shoulders, your GPS watch tan lines and tri shoes.
  2. Don’t ruin your race within the first 5km: Not sure if it was the relief not having to swim, but everyone took off at a massive pace on that first 5km. It took some effort to get myself to slow down. My race goal was not to do a 5km PB. A lot of athletes ran away from me and yes, you feel stupid because technically you are last coming into transition, but I passed most of them on the bike route. Patience is key. Race your own race, not anyone else’s.
  3. Nutrition: On the first lap of 30km, I noticed I have not been following my nutrition plan as I would have on a normal and warmer race. I might not have been sweating as much, but I was definitely burning more than enough calories. Adjust, but don’t forget or neglect. Not fueling on the bike is going to cost you on the run.
  4. Sunscreen: Rookie error. Even with the cold, the sun was still hot and my legs are showing it. I train and race outside most of the time and sunscreen is part of the routine, but the cold threw me off and I thought I won’t need it. Skin cancer is not worth a tan.
  5. Big Match Temperament (BMT): I got the worst race nerves ever and the worry about the swim and temperature threw me out of my race zone the two days before the race. This meant I was bombarding my coach (who is based in the US) with messages about how I am planning to stay warm at all hours of the day or night (the 9 hour time difference does not really help in cases like this, but it makes me feel in control). Stop. Think. Don’t Overthink. Work with what you have. The cold is going to bother everyone. Don’t go and make radical changes to your choice of gear. Thinking back, I actually spoiled the two days leading up to the race for myself. I could have been excited about the new challenge and instead I spent time worrying about things I have absolutely no control over. Just breathe.
  6. New races are good: Yup, familiar is great, you know what to expect and there is definitely less anxiety. But who really wants to do the same race over and over? New races equals a new opportunity to test your fitness and skills. You meet new people and might even win something in a lucky draw (Yes I did!).

Whenever I talk to athletes about why I tri or my experience at my first race, I realize that I make myself excited all over again. I love racing, I love how it makes me feel and crossing that finish line is magical! So I have decided to enter new races and put myself into that “first time” feeling. I cannot promise to not overthink or get anxiety, but making the conscious decision to get excited as if this was my first race, should get me to the start line in much better spirits!! Never fear the unknown. Respect it, but don’t let your fear stop you from living in the moment.