By Elaine Sheikh, Team OAM Now Triathlete
Triathlon is a sport dominated by “Type A” individuals. As a whole, we are very precise people. We can spout off our 500 time for yards and meters; we can give you not only our 5K and 10K PRs, but those of our friends and competitors, VO2 max on the bike, and max heartrates for our individual sports without stopping to think. We are extremely particular about our item placement in transition. We have our ritualistic pre-race dinners and breakfasts. We like to have plans and be prepared, but ultimately, external factors greatly affect the outcome of a race. It can be 40 degrees and raining at a triathlon in June, then 95 degrees and humid at one in July. There are circumstances you just can’t prepare for. In every race, something will not go according to plan. Triathlon is a sport that requires adaptation to succeed.
I was toeing the start line at the Detroit Tri U25 EDR one week after a successful weekend at USAT Nationals. It was to be my first draft legal race, and I was excited to compete in such a strong field of women. The top three finishers would receive pro cards that day. I fully anticipated finishing towards the back of the pack, but all I really wanted was to race hard and well enough to avoid being lapped out. In draft legal races, the bike leg takes place on a multi-loop course and if you are passed by the race leaders, you are to dismount your bike and make your way back to transition. You are not allowed to finish the race.
The swim was non-wetsuit, but I was not the last person out of the water, despite being pretty far off the back of the pack. On the bike, I quickly caught one woman, but she was unable to hold my wheel, so I lost hope of being able to work with her. I worked as hard as I could on the bike, and knew that I was not in danger of being lapped. When I went to dismount my bike, however, I realized I was incredibly dizzy. I nearly tripped as I dismounted, but caught myself with my bike. I headed out on the run course, but disaster struck immediately. My breathing was completely out of control and my vision was foggy. My chest was tight and I knew I was hyperventilating. I have hyperventilated in races before and knew that if I could slow down and get some deep breaths, I would probably be okay. This time though, my dizziness and the darkness rushing in from the edges of my field of vision caused me to stop completely.
I remember sitting down on the side of the course (and, like a true data addict, somehow I stopped my watch as well). Then a volunteer was screaming and the next thing I knew I was on my back with a bunch of people standing over me shoving ice in my tri suit. I started gagging and they rolled me on my side. I couldn’t open my eyes and my breathing was still out of control. As soon as I could talk, I started begging to finish my race. The medics would have none of it, though. I hadn’t been lapped out. My body just gave out.
I had never had a DNF in a triathlon before that day. A DNF was not part of my plan. Although I frequently doubt the quality of my performance, I never doubt that I will finish a race. Sometimes, though, it isn’t up to you. So, what do you do in a situation like that? Well, I for one will try again. Sure, my confidence is shaken. No one likes their race to be out of their control, but I plan to race again this weekend. And the thought of a DNF will not cross my mind.
I will not doubt my ability to finish. I cannot allow myself to do so. Triathletes are not just Type A people. They are strong. They are resilient. They can endure. And they never give up.
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