Ask anyone who knows me: I am a planner. I love my spreadsheets and iCal and color-coded schedules. Growing up, I had a very clear path: excel in classes and take all Advanced Placement classes possible to achieve admission in a top undergraduate institution; advance through the ranks of figure skating via specific tests and competitions in pursuit of a spot at the National Championships. Once I arrived at college, it was similar: earn top marks in classes in order to secure a corporate recruiting position to kick off a successful corporate career and win seat races (1-on-1 rowing races)/pull specific splits on the ergometer to position myself as a top rower on the crew team and help lead us to the NCAA championships. Check, check, and check.
As I pursued a corporate career with athletic goals on the side, the path was clear, and I knew that if I did X, I would achieve Y: there was little ambiguity, and 9 times out of 10, I was able to make decisions with full information. But as many CEO’s and accomplished professionals promised me throughout business school, this is not true in business or, well, life. I learned firsthand that they were spot on when I launched my career as a professional triathlete after business school.
If there is one thing I’ve learned in my 2 ½ years of ITU racing, it has been to expect the unexpected. As a developing ITU athlete, ambiguity is simply a way of life on both the micro and macro scales. On the micro scale, race venue access and course familiarization schedules and even sometimes race schedules are frequently changing with little or no advanced warning. On top of that, many of the race dynamics embedded in ITU racing are outside of my control; unlike non-draft racing, I can’t say “if I can swim X time, average Y watts on the bike, and run Z time, I will contend for a certain finish.” The dynamics of open water swimming and drafting on the bike create races where times in the pool mean very little and watts on the bike can mean absolutely nothing. On the macro side, it’s nearly impossible to plan out even a whole year of racing, as race opportunities are so dependent on swim/bike/run advancement. This has been particularly true for me coming from an untraditional background with no formal background in swim, bike, or run before starting triathlon. Building all three from nothing to world-class status has meant that I’ve frequently been planning race schedules out with my coaching teams on a month-by-month basis.
The last couple weeks have been no exception to this rule. Two weeks ago, I headed up to Penticton with my Triathlon GOLD-mates to compete in the Super League Triathlon qualifier. Approximately 20 pros and I arrived ready for 3 days of grueling racing through which we could earn prize money and a “golden ticket” to race in the upcoming Super League Championship Series. Unfortunately, mother nature had other plans. With air quality five times worse than that of Beijing due to smoke from surrounding forest fires, we were only able to race the first day’s time trial and were prevented from racing the rest of the weekend. The Super League team did an incredible job of communicating with us proactively to try to help us plan our nutrition/meals, training sessions, etc. But we were all ultimately going hour by hour and playing everything by ear over the course of the weekend. The ambiguity surrounding the weekend’s schedule challenged my ability to measure my emotions: remain sharp and ready for racing but never get too amped up so that I’m left drained in the very moment that I need to muster the energy for Super League’s extremely challenging race format. Ultimately, the weekend ended in a very hard treadmill session and we were all granted the opportunity to race the first Championship race in the Channel Islands (Jersey), where there will be a race-within-the-race to determine which of us continues on in the series.
The following week, we traveled to Montreal where I raced in the CAMTRI elite women’s event. I had been hoping to be in good enough form to contend in the upper level WTS race that weekend, but a summer of adversity had put my development a bit behind schedule – such is the nature of sport and I was still eager to put forth a great race, since I have been feeling strong and fit despite my setbacks over the last couple months. I executed a front-pack swim positioning me right where I wanted, but a collision coming out of T1 blew all of my plans to pieces. As athletes raced by me, I had to keep my wits about me enough to make sure my bike (and body) were OK, get my wheels spinning again (one had seized up from the impact of the fall and had to be unhinged and subsequently re-attached to my bike to get it to move), and then get back on the bike and fight my way back into the race. In short-course racing, even a 10second penalty can feel like an eternity, so the 60 seconds lost just trying to get back on the bike was a total game changer. I was able to claw my way back to the chase pack and put forth just an OK run. I was left with mixed feelings: extreme disappointed with a 17th place finish—my lowest finish ever in a continental cup; but pride in my resilience and ability to maintain calm and function at a high level even when chaos and adversity surrounded me. These are skills that I know will serve me well as I continue to progress in the sport of triathlon and in other future professional pursuits.
When things go awry and all your well-laid plans crumble, it is so easy to let yourself fall to pieces and focus on all the uncontrollables that seem to be dictating your fate. Sport is an incredible way to learn to focus your mind on what you can control and to maintain composure when chaos surrounds you in order to not only handle these situations but to come out of them as a stronger athlete, business(wo)man, spouse, parent, you name it! On that note, coach and I barely blinked after the race and it was back to work. I’m pushing hard in swim bike and run and seeking to take advantage of a few more training weeks before a big block of racing this fall! Next up, Weihai World Cup on September 22nd!