There’s only one answer. Smile – And embrace it.
Think about it. What are your other options? Get pissed off, expend a ton of negative energy, and jeopardize your chance of finishing. Get sad, cry, expend a ton of energy, and jeopardize your chance of finishing. Quit, walk off the course, and later regret the fact that you put a ton of effort into your training and you didn’t even attempt to solve the problem and finish.
Race plans fall apart on a monthly, daily, even hourly basis. This is called the course of life. Yes, there are rare instances when things are absolutely perfect. Those are the races that I suggest you memorialize and possibly consider hanging it up afterward. Perfection is tough to exceed. But 99% of the time, something will go wrong. Accepting this is the key to a happy race, and hell, a happy life!
As a former professional triathlete, I encountered my fair share of hiccups. I take the approach that the best race story is one with a little character. If something doesn’t go wrong, I haven’t been tested enough. I learned this after I realized that if I set myself a standard of perfection, I would never again be happy. Happiness is important to me, so I allow myself to be imperfect from time to time!
I want to share two stories. The first one involves a long trip to Japan and a saddle that wouldn’t cooperate. In 1999, my first pro year of racing, I was invited to a long course triathlon in northern rural Japan. If I won the race, they would pay me $1000. That was a fortune to an up and coming pro, so I was determined to have a great result. I turned in my bike the day before the race, feeling very confident about my chances. When I handed over my bike, I remember feeling the tiniest wiggle in my saddle, but I didn’t think twice, I just went back to the Japanese army barracks (seriously!) and hunkered down for the night.
The next morning started with a bang. I was the first woman out of the water, second only to Craig Alexander from Australia. I jumped on my bike and started cranking out the 85 mile bike leg. Five miles in, I was feeling great. I jumped out of the saddle to pump over a hill and felt something strange happen behind me. I heard a noise, felt a wiggle and as I looked back, I saw my saddle fly off my bike and land in a ditch! What the!!!
My first thought was, “Oh crap!” My next thought was, “I have 80 miles to go, and I need a saddle to get there.” Without the saddle, I would be sitting on four pointy steel bars that housed my saddle. I immediately went into MacGyver mode. I stopped, found the saddle and assessed the situation. Tick tock tick tock. No women had passed me yet. But the pressure was on.
My only option was to attempt to jimmy-rig the saddle so that I had some sort of cushion for the remainder of the ride. I looked around and focused on my spare tire. Now, this was no $10 spare. This was a $100 tubular tire that Tim had handed me before I left with the words, “Don’t lose this tire. It costs $100.” Sorry Tim – I didn’t hesitate. I untaped the tire from my bike and tossed it in the ditch (hope I didn’t get a flat!). I quickly used the tape to semi-attach the broken saddle to the four spikes.
Five minutes later, I was back on my bike, still leading! Throughout the bike leg, my saddle fell apart piece by piece, until it was completely gone. I rode standing up for the last ten miles. In the end, I won the race, and came home $900 richer (remember the tire?) with a great story to tell!
My second story has to do with another kind of race: the birth of my new baby girl, Wilder. As an athlete, I have been conditioned to create a plan and then roll with the punches (as noted above). I took the same approach for the birth of my baby. I studied birthing options, interviewed everyone I knew, and created a birth plan, more along the lines of our birth preferences.
Our goal was to have as natural a birth as possible in the hospital, without inducement aids, IVs, or pain meds. The one thing that I didn’t even attempt to study was a c-section because I wasn’t going to have one so it didn’t matter.
Wilder’s due date, December 17, 2011, came and went. And went. And went. Finally, on December 30, they told me to come in. I would have to get induced because my amniotic fluid was very low. And so it began. First the balloon that is supposed to encourage dilation. Then the pitocin. Then they broke my water. Then the IV drugs. Then the epidural. Then the “fake” amniotic fluid. Then I was pushing. Then her heart rate dropped. Then they called the OB/GYN. Then they whisked me into surgery. Then they performed an emergency c-section.
And then finally, Wilder DeBoom entered the world. It wasn’t the birth story that I envisioned telling. But it was our birth story and it was incredible. And throughout, we laughed and smiled and rolled with the punches. Because, really, what choice did we have?
For those of you who are preparing for an upcoming race, I know you will have a good day. But the difference between a good day and a great day is how you approach it, not necessarily your time at the end. Smile – and embrace it!