A hitchhiker's guide for tri newbies.
it's been a week and a half now since the passing of our dear friend and i've been having mental blocks on how to write my next entry.
because i have unanswered questions which i haven't a clue how to address in order to fully move on.
because it was inconceivable how careless a race organiser can be, when it comes to safety control.
because he was a dear friend and it's hard to accept that he had died in vain if nothing was learnt from his passing.
because i still mourn.
i've been gathering my thoughts, and finding ways how to keep the fond memories and move on. how to address those nagging questions (how could nobody see he was in trouble? how could he be in trouble in the first place? why the hell did he pick such a big race as his first ever?) and how i can share with other newbies or seasoned racers so that his passing was not in vain.
my entry today and for the next 2 or 3 after this, will be in loving memory of him.
Crash course dummies - Part 1: How to pick a race
i notice there are two mindsets of people when they first pick up triathlons: those in it for the fun, and those in it for the bragging rights.
neither has gotten the concept wrong and both have the right to feel the way they do.
whether you're in it for fun or bragging rights, if this is your first time, my sincere advice to you is be humble about where you start.
because it doesn't matter what your physical fitness base is. it's also irrelevant how strong a swimmer, biker or runner you are. your first race will only spell one thing:
what people take for granted most is raceday conditions and this is only natural because we train in a friendly environment either with a group of friends or solo. i'm not sure how far the 'friendly environment' part is true to you but in my past year of training, i have not heard or said "golly, did you see the way arif punched me while we were swimming laps?" or "that was a good ride, if only bernard wouldn't suck my tail all the way only to drop my in the last few kms"
so, first thing to remember:
training (swimming laps, sunday bike rides, weekend long runs) gives you zero indication of what raceday conditions are like. no matter how big your group is.
none of us would like to admit that our egos are bigger than we think. and while some of us are blessed with a caring other half that reminds us to be humble and not be so cocky, most of us are left to be victims of our own unadmitted egos.
let me be the first: i am egoistic.
my ego, while some may think is nonexistent, is there and it's huge. why else would my motto for tris be "just do it, or die trying"? when i'm struggling uphill at 3km/h, doing my circus act (read: balancing the bike), why else would i say "i rather fall off this bike because i can't balance on it anymore than to get off and push". why else would i still feel regret for my desaru race last year when i decided to pull out because my bike chained broke 15k from transition? thoughts of "senn, you should have just pushed the bike back and did the run. you could have done it. push up hill, straddle down hill. in total in would have just been a 36k run." well, had i mastered marshal arts then, i would have fought off the marshal that told me i could not continue with my bike's condition.
you may argue that because you know me, i'm just extremely determined and admirable (bless your soul for being blind because you are fond of me :D). but i'm telling you, my determination stems from ego. this may be a little deep, but the fact that i'm admitting to an ego larger than i can carry off, is already an egoistic act on my part.
my entry today is not about condemning those with egos. that would be outright silly. egos are good. egos make us push ourselves to achieve what seems beyond our reach. egos, when managed correctly makes us confident and to a certain extend make us popular in our group.
that's right... 'managed correctly'.
egos are like those things in life that can potentially be dangerous if not managed or handled properly. knives, for example, are very much like our egos. if handled correctly, it's a very useful and probably the most needed kitchen utensil, but disrespect it and it will make you bleed. petrol is another. without petrol, the only people who will make it to meetings on time in this modern world would be the gazelles in love. can you imagine being late for a meeting and saying "sorry boss, the 40k to office had to be at recover speed because of that outstation meeting yesterday"? we use petrol with great ease and take for granted that what we potentially have in our vehicles, is highly combustible liquid.
so, how is this relevant to choosing your first race?
simple: by being honest to yourself and assessing your true ego size, you can then decide whether the unpredictable race conditions may be too overwhelming for you. you do not need to share it with anyone if you're uncomfortable, but you must assess yourself.
your first tri will be like no other races that you've been in before. you're a champion cyclists and always top 10 in cyfora races, you're a national state swimmer 3 years in a row, you're a duathalon champ in your circle of friends, you're a top track runner and an excellent marathon racer or you've only started cycling 6 months ago, you plan to swim kampung style because someone said start at the back and just waddle your way through, running is not in your vocab: none of this will matter because it will not determine the raceday conditions of your first tri.
training and physical ability is half of the body conditioning for raceday. and to me, it's the smaller half. the bigger half is mental strength.
sounds dodgy, but hear me out.
training is important. train hard and your body is conditioned (read: tortured) enough to get use to strenuous exertion on raceday. but training does not condition your body to one thing on raceday: exhiliration.
imagine, this is your first tri, you've trainned all you can. you made sure your transition area is perfect, you've heard of great tri stories, you've even picked out a race bunny. but you suddenly feel nervous. butterflies in your stomach. "will i cramp in the swim? what if i forget my gels for the bike? shit! where are my gels?? ok-ok... i've placed them right. spare tube in saddle bag, CO2... hmmm... don't think of flats!"
your mind is full of anxiety, your heart is beating in your ears and the race hasn't even started. bad news.
the guy next to you and a hundred others are feeling just like you... double bad news.
exhilaration and anxiety injects adrenaline into your veins. you're on a natural high making you brave and gungho, which equals pumped up egos. everybody there is going to do their best and with pumped spirits, they will be racing quite aggressively. and in such a condition, your mental strength to remain calm and focus on completing the race without taking unnecessary risks is vital.
so, second thing to remember:
acknowledge your ego and embrace whatever size it is so you can mange it better.
when you decide to do a race, make it part of your sanity check to ask yourself "am i comfortable with the distance, or am i just signing up because my ego says i can heck it?"
Talk to those who have done the particular race and ask them how it went. admire their hero stories but make sure you find out what was difficult about it. like, was the water choppy? how did that impact them? what was it like to ride 30km/h in the rain? were they scared? what did they do to calm themselves? how would they have raced differently? think of all the negatives and learn from them.
if you have doubts after hearing all this, try a shorter version of race. if you think you can heck it, don't stop yourself. but at least now you won't be so shocked about raceday aggression.
if you're a seasoned triathlete, do your part in ensuring your newbie friends are well aware of what they are getting themselves into. gloat about your victories but pull them aside and tell them what darkness lurk on raceday. what shit to expect and how to overcome it. if you sense that your friend may be taking a risk advice them on a 'test' race (sprint distance) instead. egg them on only if you are very sure that they will have a safe race.
they will never know how raceday conditions will be like for their first tri if you do not share your experience with them. it is irrelavant how many bike races they have succeeded in, how many channels they have swam or how many marathons they have participated. triathlons, duathlons, single sports are all animals in their own right.
my cycling guru richard, actually prohibited me from joining cyfora last year because he said i lacked the experience of handling my bike and would panic because i'll be biking a mere inch away from the next guy in a heated pelaton. and he said something really sweet: "senn, don't race because it is madness, i won't be able to take care of you when i am racing and it would worry me that you're out there being bullied"
be honest with your friends and tell them what they should think about. ultimately, the decision is theirs. but at least you have done your part as a caring friend to equip them with what to expect.
you may actually be saving a life.