Yesterday was one of my favorite races of the year- the Chicago Triathlon. For years I raced this race in my hometown city, but for the past few I have taken off to strictly focus on my athletes. As much as I love to participate, being a coach and spectator is just really rewarding. However, this year with my tight post pregnancy turnaround, I needed a late season race and this one fit the schedule perfectly. So, exactly 3 months and 2 days after Olivia's birthday, I toed the line for the sprint distance race in Chicago. It was a great day for many, myself included. Being so soon after my pregnancy I had a little different attitude going in- I was nervous and excited but also felt way less pressure than I usually do. As a result, I feel like I was able to take in the day and learn a few things. Here are some lessons I took away from yesterday's race:
1) We all have "stuff" going on. I spent the hour before the start chatting with clients and triathlon friends. A common pre-race conversation is listing the reasons you are not going to have a good race that day. I am no psychologist but I believe it has something to do with giving yourself an out if you don't perform. Yesterday I heard lots of good excuses- just got divorced, starting a new job tomorrow, just moved, injured ankle, and of course mine, just giving birth. Those are all really good excuses to have not put the proper training in for the race. But what I realized is that we ALL have an excuse to not do well. Of course we do! We are adults with families and jobs and non-teenager bodies that are testing ourselves by training for a really hard sport. So we can make all the excuses we want, but the person next to us might have a better one. Let's just be happy we are strong and brave enough to actually attempt the race.
2) Even the most experienced triathlete can make a "rookie" mistake. I made pretty much the dumbest mistake of my triathlon career yesterday. I forgot to put my helmet on in T1. I ran all the way to the bike mount line before an official called it to my attention. I then had to run back in shame to my transition spot to grab my helmet, adding 2-3 minutes to my time in the process. It was dumb, it was embarrassing and it was downright ridiculous. No one I tell can believe that I, Angela Park, 15 year veteran of triathlons and triathlon coach, made such a beginner mistake. But I did and it cost me big time.
3) You are never too experienced to practice the basics. See above post. In my haste to get back in shape for this race I did not swim in the lake once or practice a swim to bike transition. In fact, I was only able to ride my race bike outside once this entire summer. I took for granted that I had done this enough times and would be fine without doing so. This naiveté cost me an age group win.
4) When you make a mistake, move on and refocus, but learn from it. For a fleeting moment I wanted to throw in the towel after I forgot my helmet. But then I thought about all the people asking me how my race went and I knew I could not tell them I quit. So I ran and grabbed it as quickly as I could, hopped on my bike and proceeded like it never happened. I can assure you, however, that I will never make that mistake again.
5) There is more to racing than a PR or podium finish. There was a time in my triathlon career that doing something like forgetting my helmet would have brought me to tears or caused a tantrum. I really like winning. However yesterday when I was out there I was just so thankful to be racing. Pregnancy was tough for me and there was a time when I thought making a comeback would be impossible. The crowd, the pain, the feeling of being fit enough to participate- I feel the most alive when I finish a race. And I am guessing most people feel that way judging by the buzz at the finish line. We are fit and healthy and strong and taking advantage of this life by living to the fullest. Don't get me wrong, I am super irritated at myself by my mistake, but I am mostly just happy to be back out there racing. And I feel really proud of the example I am setting for my family- my oldest daughter made me the medal pictured above. She is noticing what I am doing and it will influence her for the rest of her life.
6) If you put your mind to it, you can do it. When I was pregnant and told people I planned to do two races within 4 months of having the baby, they looked at me like I was crazy. I even felt a little insane for attempting it. However, from the moment I got pregnant I had a plan. Stay in as good of shape as possible and don't gain too much weight. With my nausea staying in shape was tough but not putting on weight was a breeze. Post pregnancy I planned to start training at 4 weeks and when that day came I did. I ran one mile and could hardly keep a 10 minute pace. It was disheartening but I am proud to say, even through sleep deprivation and all, I managed to get in every single workout I planned in the past 9 weeks. And it was all worth it when I surpassed my own expectations yesterday. Get a plan, stay focused, execute and it will pay off.
7) It is hard to coach and race on the same day at the Chicago Tri. It is a crazy, crowded day and I only saw half of my athletes for bits and pieces. Very hard to focus on your own race along with others. Sorry about that! Next year I will be back in a coaching role and the Spark tent will make it's return :)
Congrats again to all of yesterday's athletes- I hope you are still riding the post race high!