Blog


Article: My Epic Triathlon Race Day Failure, and What it Taught Me about Life

The moment I hit the ground, I knew that I’d just lost my chance of winning my age-group in the USA Triathlon National Championships.

This wasn’t race day. It was 3 days before my ‘A’ Race at the age-group national championships.

I limped home awkwardly in my bike shoes, carrying my bike on my shoulder, blood streaming down my left arm and left leg. The real problem I knew was that I felt the blood pooling in a deep inner thigh bruise I got from sliding down the hill with my bike wedged between my legs.

Over the next few days, with some massage therapy, ice baths, and acupuncture, I could feel my leg coming back to life, but the psychological damage was done. Mentally I was not ready to race.

Knowing that I wasn’t 100%, I had a horrible swim start – hyper-ventilating as I started. I spent most of the swim in a desperate and embarrassing doggy paddle, kicking my legs furiously. By the time I left the water and got on the bike, my heart rate was racing 20 beats higher than it usually did with the bike on race day. And it stayed there. Although my leg felt fine, I smashed my lungs on the bike trying to catch up. By the time I started to run (my strongest event), I had hit the wall. There was no gas left in the tank.

I finished over 30 minutes off my personal best, even though I was in the best shape of my career. To get ready for the race, I had spent 8 weeks of my precious vacation time in Boulder, Colorado training at altitude, just to get ready for this. Yet despite all the effort, I had the worst race of my short, but intense career (aside from my first race).

The worst race of your career CAN be the best thing that ever happens to you. However, it can also be the worst thing. It all depends on how you handle it.

When the race was over, my mind was a toxic mix of anger and depression.

I felt like I had let everyone down. My coach who’d worked so hard to prepare me for the race. People I had paid for private lessons, and wanted desperately to impress – like 6-Time Olympic running coach, Bobby McGee. My friends and family, who watched me transform myself physically over the past year into a Triathlete. But ultimately, it was my own fragile ego that took the biggest hit.

This is the last time I ever raced or even trained for a Triathlon.

But this one small race (which nobody really noticed but me) had a monumental impact on my life.

Without this disastrous race, I probably would never have started Triathlon Research. Yet this really isn’t about my story in Triathlon (although I will finish this later for you). This is really about you, and YOUR story.

If you are reading this, you probably have had a race that didn’t go the way you wanted it to go.

You might not know this (especially if it just happened to you), but the worst race of your career CAN be the best thing that ever happens to you. However, it can also be the worst thing. It all depends on how you handle it.

Why I asked Gwen Jorgensen and Jamie Turner to teach Triathletes how to race

Last year, I invited Gwen Jorgensen and her coach, Jamie Turner to appear at a 5 day camp Triathlon Research held with 48 Triathletes in Clermont, Florida called “Race Like a Champion.”

Gwen Jorgensen’s current winning streak is nothing short of phenomenal. The sport has never seen someone so dominant for so long at this level.
Gwen Jorgensen’s current winning streak is nothing short of phenomenal. The sport has never seen someone so dominant for so long at this level.

Haunted by my own triathlon race day experience, I wanted Gwen and Jamie to teach the athletes at our camp the secrets to racing at the highest level.

What they taught the athletes was deceptively simple. When I tell you what it is, you will probably say at first, “Is that it?” But before we get into HOW to succeed on race day, it is important to frame Gwen’s achievement for you.

When we held the camp in December, 2014 Gwen had just won her fourth straight race to claim the 2014 ITU World Championship. Her four straight ITU World Championship race wins had set a record in the sport. At the time of writing this (September 2015) Gwen has just won her 12th straight ITU World Championship race – qualifying for the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Gwen Jorgensen’s current winning streak is nothing short of phenomenal. The sport has never seen someone so dominant for so long at this level.

How does she do it?

Well, looking back, it is easy to construct a ‘story’ that will help explain Gwen’s dominance in the sport.

A former collegiate swimmer and then NCAA All-American runner, Gwen took easily to the sport of Triathlon. But don’t call her a ‘natural’ athlete. In a recent podcast interview I did with Gwen, she correctly reminded me how much time she spent in her youth developing her ‘natural’ ability as a swimmer and then runner.

In 2010, Gwen burst onto the Triathlon scene in her first race and immediately earned her pro card. Just a year later, in 2011 Gwen was racing while holding her day job as an accountant at Ernst and Young, and she placed 2nd in the London Olympics test event, easily qualifying for the olympics in 2012. At this point, Gwen got ‘serious’ about Triathlon and started to do it full time.

A former collegiate swimmer and then NCAA All-American runner, Gwen took easily to the sport of Triathlon. But don’t call her a ‘natural’ athlete.
A former collegiate swimmer and then NCAA All-American runner, Gwen took easily to the sport of Triathlon. But don’t call her a ‘natural’ athlete.

At the London Olympics, Gwen’s medal chances were dashed after she suffered a flat tire, finishing in 38th place in London. After the race, Gwen decided to join Jamie Turner and the squad of Triathletes he trains called the Wollongong Wizards.

In 2013, Gwen was in prime position to avenge her 2012 Olympic disappointment. At the 2013 world championships in London, she headed into the race ranked #1 in the world. Yet again, her race ended prematurely when she suffered a bike crash on the course. One small slip had cost Gwen the world Championship.

At the camp in Clermont, FL Gwen opened up about her experience in London at the World Championship. It was a revealing moment. Gwen was incredibly honest and vulnerable as she shared with all the rest of the athletes at the camp. As she talked about this experience, you could still see the disappointment in her face a year later.

 


And at this point, I thought back to my own disappointment at my own race, and compared it to what Gwen must have felt after her big race. I felt pretty silly. I was just a no-name age-grouper, but I had felt the exact same disappointment, perhaps even worse, even though the stakes were not nearly as high for me as they were for Gwen.

Gwen Jorgensen’s current winning streak is nothing short of phenomenal. The sport has never seen someone so dominant for so long at this level.

Gwen’s job is to race. This is her livelyhood. She has sponsors, and hundreds of thousands of people watching her. With such high stakes, it would have been easy for Gwen to quit and pack up at that point. How did she deal with this type of failure and come back to dominate the sport?

How Gwen Jorgensen turned her worst race into the best race of her career

After she told the story of her race day failure at London, Gwen and Jamie went on to explain exactly what she did to recover from it. It was something Jamie had already taught her, but it took a real loss to drive home the lesson.

So here it is (I hope you are ready):

Stop caring about the OUTCOME of your races

Yes, its that simple. In order to win the big races, you have to stop thinking about it.

This is a lot easier said than done, especially when winning is your job: you have sponsors, thousands of fans, international media coverage.

But to win – especially at the highest level – you have to let go of the outcome.

I call this the winner’s paradox.

The singular focus and ambition you must have to focus on one goal – on Olympic Gold Medal – for four years is extraordinary.

But in order to win that gold medal, as Jamie Turner teaches Gwen and his athletes, you have to learn how to stop worrying about it on race day.

But If you really want something (And people chasing Olympic Gold REALLY want it), how can you stop thinking about it?

This is where it gets hard. You have to learn how to think about the PROCESS of racing and to take your mind off the OUTCOME.

In order to win the big races, you have to stop thinking about it.

So what is the process of racing?

Well, as the old saying goes, DO sweat the small stuff.

The smallest things in racing are really the most important things.

How you setup your bike in the transition area. The first nine strokes of the race. Your dolphin dives to exit the water. Jumping onto your bike and strapping in while you are riding. Focusing on your bike handling skills. Executing a perfect flying dismount. Focusing on the perfectly relaxed army swing while you run.

DO sweat the small stuff. The smallest things in racing are really the most important things.

All of these things – the little things that most amateurs don’t even know about – these are the things Gwen obsesses about. Not the outcome of the race. Why? Because as she tells me: she can’t control that. All she can control is her own actions during the race.

After the race, Gwen decided to join Jamie Turner and the squad of Triathletes he trains called the Wollongong Wizards.
After the race in London, Gwen decided to join Jamie Turner and the squad of Triathletes he trains called the Wollongong Wizards.

Of course after the race, you care a LOT about the outcome. The stakes are huge, and you have so much emotion built up during a race. Gwen told us she was extremely disappointed about her 2013 World Championship race. How could she not be? But what she didn’t do was dwell on this.

She just got on with fixing it. Focusing on the little details that would lead to a big outcome in the future.

Why Racing Is So Important to Every Triathlete

I speak to a lot of Triathletes who tell me they just race to finish, that they really don’t care about the results.

I don’t buy it.

Show me a person who pays a race organizer to allow them to sweat and thrash their muscles on a Triathlon Race (something you can always do for free), and I will show you someone who cares about their race results.

Why do age-groupers PAY to do this? At least Gwen gets paid to race!

Because racing is your chance to prove to everyone (including yourself) what Triathlon has done to transform you into a better, more alive version of yourself.

Triathlon makes us more human.

In the past 100 years, and through technological innovation, we have managed to banish physical labor from our lives. Chances are that your great grand parents earned their living either working in a field, or sweating it out in a factory. They walked to work, and milked the cows in the morning.

Now, sitting in our modern offices trapped behind a screen all day, we have lost our connection to physical labor and survival. The transformation from levels of physical exertion has produced modern neurosis and a mental health crisis in our society.

Most people in modern life don’t have the privilege of knowing what it is like to really NEED calories.

Triathlon is growing like crazy because it has stepped in to fill a deep physical and emotional void in our modern lives.

Triathlon combines the two most powerful drugs ever invented – adrenaline and endorphins – and in a powerful cocktail. After we finish, we get to ‘recover’ with food and drink that our body truly needs.

Most people in modern life don’t have the privilege of knowing what it’s like to really NEED calories.

Think about a pack of your ancestors who 10,000 years ago who would have spent hours, even days, carefully stalking their prey before finally getting to feast on its bounty. Imagine the thrill they felt at that moment.

Triathlon racing is a powerful demonstration of our humanity – our courage, our fears, our doubts, our joy, all wrapped into one intense experience.

Finishing a Triathlon successfully is the modern equivalent. The thrill of killing your prey and getting to feast on its bounty.

Triathlon racing is a powerful demonstration of our humanity – our courage, our fears, our doubts, our joy, all wrapped into one intense experience.

That is why we feel so much pressure at a race we actually paid to do, even though nobody is really watching us.

What Triathlon Races can do for your life.

Ok, so racing is a BIG deal. No denying it. Now what do you do?

Here is the secret to racing: learn how to win no matter the OUTCOME of the race.

Of course you will set a goal for yourself. This is natural. Depending on your personality, you will either tell everyone or nobody about these goals. But you have these goals. Admit it and embrace them. Goals are what drive us to train and do things we never thought we could do.

But the key is to stop obsessing about the outcome, and focus on the process.

This is exactly what Gwen did after she lost her 2013 race. She could have felt sorry for herself and started to think of herself as the talented athlete who couldn’t win the big race. But she didn’t. She moved on and started to focus on the process and what she could do better next time (things she could control).

jdksdfbvs
What was her lowest moment as a Triathlete turned out to be the best race of her career because of what she did with it.

What was her lowest moment as a Triathlete turned out to be the best race of her career, BECAUSE of what she did with it. It launched a streak of 12 straight record breaking wins and counting.

So what about YOUR worst race? What did you do with it? Did you let it define you and sink you, or did you use it to refocus?

For me, I now look at my epic race day failure as a great success also. But for very different reasons than Gwen’s.

I didn’t go on to win my next race. I never raced again actually. So how could I possibly count this as a great success for me?

Here is why.

If it wasn’t for this race, I would never have founded Triathlon Research.

When I started Triathlon, I was serving in the Army at the time. I knew I no longer wanted to continue my army career (even though I was just 10 years away from a guaranteed government pension).

But I had little idea about what I wanted to do next. The time I spent on my bike chasing my outrageous goals in the sport gave me plenty of time to think about my life, and what was next.

I realized that the next step in my life was to throw financial caution to the wind and leave my secure job to pursue my passion for Digital Publishing. I can honestly say that I never would have spent the time thinking about my life, and coming up with this idea without triathlon.

However, getting the idea of what to do next is not nearly the same as having the guts actually to pursue it.

I remember when I told Bobby McGee my goals in the sport, he wrote me to say: “That is a great goal, but the journey is what really counts.”

When he told me this, I remember thinking “yes, I will really love the path to this amazing goal that I will achieve.”

But when I had my massive failure at Nationals, I finally realized what Bobby meant.

The goal I had set for myself in Triathlon (becoming a professional Triathlete and making the Olympics) was too costly for me to really pursue. That was because the real goal I had for my life — founding a digital publishing company to change people’s lives with high quality researched information — that was in no way related to my Triathlon goals. I couldn’t do BOTH at once. I had to choose.

So the journey (The Process) of chasing my dreams in triathlon was far more important than the result (The Outcome) that I never actually achieved!

Triathlon gives you a ‘safe’ place to experiment on yourself. How you do triathlon is how you live the rest of your life.

But I never would have found this out unless I set this crazy goal and really chased it. Triathlon gives you a ‘safe’ place to experiment on yourself. How you do triathlon is how you live the rest of your life.

If you want to change the rest of your life, practice in Triathlon first!

nlkenflwkernflwker
If you want to change the rest of your life, practice in Triathlon first.

Here is how I apply the lessons of Racing from Gwen Jorgensen and Jamie Turner to the rest of my life.

Starting and running my own business has been an incredibly challenging experience. Every day presents a new challenge. It is a huge amount of stress to provide high quality experiences for customers, meet payroll, and make the right decisions. When I failed on race day, the only thing at stake was my own fragile ego. But when I fail in business it has real consequences for my customers and for my employees. That affects me deeply.

The pressure can be overwhelming. And when I find myself feeling pressure, I always remind myself to stop thinking about the outcome (like financial goals I need to meet) and focus on the process. What can I control right now, and make better in my business?

When I find myself feeling pressure, I always remind myself to stop thinking about the outcome (like financial goals I need to meet) and focus on the process. What can I control right now, and make better in my business?

I have not stepped back into Triathlon since my last race three years ago. I was only in the sport for 2 years. But Triathlon was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Because now I have the privilege of learning from world class Triathletes like Gwen Jorgensen, and her coach Jamie Turner, these amazing lessons I can help impart to the Triathlon Research audience.

I am not a Triathlete anymore. I am certainly not a coach, but I love my sort of invented role as a Triathlon Historian-philosopher to help you on your journey.

Last week I spoke on the phone with a Triathlete who reminds me a lot of myself when I was training and racing – Nat Harward after he posted this post on Facebook about how well he did in Age Group Nationals.

nat-harward-fb-post

caption here
Nat Harward celebrating his results in Age Group Nationals.

Unlike me, Nat didn’t choke on his big race, and he gives a lot of credit to Gwen Jorgensen and Jamie Turner for the lessons they taught him.

If I can help just a few more Triathletes learn the importance of PROCESS vs. OUTCOME in their racing, and more importantly, apply that to the rest of their life, my own personal race failure is well worth the positive impact it helps others to create.

It has been an honor building the Triathlon Research Community, and I really hope you decide to join us and learn all the lessons we will try to pass on to you through our podcast, free video lessons, and other courses.

Share this with your friends: Share Tweet GPlus Pin it Email

SUBSCRIBE AND NEVER MISS A POST!

You will receive a content form pro triathletes, cool infographics, video and many many more! See you.