Believe it or not, this was just my second triathlon. I’ve been training, and training and training for almost a year since my first race. I’ve been talking a big game because I knew the work I had been putting in would pay off on race day. Physically, I was more than ready to earn some “race cred.” What I didn’t account for was a mental mistake. I guess you can chalk it up to a lack of experience.
I went the wrong way on the bike. There, I said it.
Yeah, I agree, it’s funny… until it happens to you. The mistake cost me about 10 minutes. In the 40-44 age division (typically the biggest and most competitive for men in triathlons) 10 minutes is HUGE, as I would find out firsthand.
First, I’ll back it up a bit.
Water was about 74 degrees. I wore a sleeveless wetsuit. The water was warm, but nasty. I couldn’t see more than two inches in front of my face. There was dirt and muck everywhere. Getting to that first buoy seemed to take forever and I had some trouble sighting. But once I got around that buoy I knew it would only get easier and faster. I got out of the water in 31:46, ranking 28th out of 61 in my division. This is just about what I expected… middle of the pack. Swimming is not my strongest leg. I was just waiting for the bike and run.
I had taken a “dry run” from the water exit to where my bike was racked so I could find it as quick as possible. This paid off. I got the wetsuit off, grabbed my bike and was on the road in 1:30, ranking 5th in my AG.
I was ready to hammer it. The course wasn’t very hilly, so I figured I could average about 22mph and would be done in under 1:10. Then, I would throw down a sub-43 10k (at the worst) and would be done in under 2:30 (at the worst). Then it happened. About 3 miles into the bike route, there was a sharp right turn with a bunch of different signs and a girl yelling instructions. (What did she say? I was going so fast, I couldn’t hear her.) In truth, I didn’t give much of an effort to listen to her.
After I make the right turn, the majority of riders around me make a quick left. The signs — with BIG red letters –said something about “COURSE LEFT” with a big red arrow pointing to the left. There were other less-visible signs scribbled in marker that were harder to read, but I just decided to follow the crowd.
As it turns out, the girl was yelling “sprint go left, olympic go straight!” And those other less-visible signs…? They said “Olympic course straight.” I didn’t realize this until I started flying past packs of people on mountain bikes. Soon, I also noticed I was headed back towards the start area and saw a sign that said “Mile 22”. I rode up to the nearest rider and asked her: “Are you doing the sprint?” When she said “yes”, I knew I screwed up. To be sure, I asked another girl… same answer. At that moment, I used some language that was not very sportsmanlike and whipped my bike around in the middle of the road and headed back the other way.
I did some quick math and realized I had just added an extra 3 miles to my bike route. At the speed I was going, that equaled about 9-10 minutes. Son of a #&^%$!!!
I’m now VERY annoyed at myself, and try to go as hard as I can on the bike while still leaving enough in the tank for the run. I covered the 25-mile course (28.17 miles for me) in 1:15:33 for an average speed of 22.4 MPH. (My official pace says 19.9 MPH because the on-course sensors thought I only went 25 miles). Not a single person passed me on the bike. If you subtract 10 minutes from my bike time, I would have had the fastest bike split in my age group by 16 seconds and the 10th fastest overall. As my man @ClydeWatts reminded me… coulda, shoulda, woulda!
Flew into the bike dismount area. Somehow I managed not to fall off the bike while dismounting. Ran to my rack area. Ditched the bike, threw on some socks, shoes, a visor and sunglasses and was off in 1:09. Not bad, but could have been faster without socks. Noted.
The course was entirely on the shaded golf cart paths of Peachtree City. What a great place to run. I started out kind of slow, but finally got my legs under me at about Mile 1. I was keeping pace with one other guy who had said to me “great pace, what are you running?” I told him that I was doing about 7:30/mile. He said “great” and we ran together for a little bit. I didn’t tell him that I didn’t plan on keeping that pace for very long.
The course was an “out-and-back”. When we got to the turnaround, I decided to pick up the pace. I distanced myself from the guy I was running with and started passing anybody I could get into my sights. With 1 mile to go, I was gettin’ after it. I sprinted to the line in 42:35, marking the 2nd fastest run split in my AG.
This is when my mistake really hit me. I look at the results and see that I finished 17th out of 61 in my division. Considering that this was only my second official triathlon, I figure that this result was not too shabby. However, I do a little more math, subtract 10 minutes, and realize would have finished 3rd! I try to blow it off, but deep down I’m really PISSED! I’m not mad at the girl yelling directions or the person who wrote the less-visible sign, I’m only mad at myself.
This was a mental error, plain and simple.
All I can think of now is Phil’s famous words: “I’m such an idiot!”
While I’m a competitive person, this is not my job. Racing doesn’t pay my mortgage or feed my family. I try to look on the bright side as quick as possible and come to grips with the fact that I am fortunate to have done as well as I did in only my second race. It was a great day. My wife and kids are all healthy. I swam hard, biked hard and ran fast. There are certainly worse things in the world than making a wrong turn.