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Lessons in Failure: Anatomy of a DNF

Typically we like to brag about our accomplishments.  Today, let’s talk about what went wrong.

In the last four years our athlete have crossed somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 finish lines, from 5k runs to Ironman triathlons.  Of these, more than 100 were triathlon newbies racing for the first time in their life.   In addition to those successes, our coaching resume includes six DNFs – six athletes who failed to cross the finish line and Did Not Finish the race.  These six failed performances fit in three categories.

 

IGNORING AN EXISTING PROBLEM

Coaches love to repeat the phrase “Nothing new on race day” as a reminder to practice your race strategy long before your race.  The idea is that you show up to the start line with the same clothing, same gear, same nutrition plan, same everything that you have been practicing with all season.  That way you know everything works in role play before its time for real play.  But what if something doesn’t work in practice?  CHANGE IT!  Two of our DNFs came from tire issues they already knew were in bad shape.

In one case, the front tire repeatedly kept going flat during training rides. There was no visible issue, like imbedded debris, but it kept going flat.  And on race day it went flat.  Three times.

The other athlete had tires as old as she was.  They were worn so thin that the tube came through on race day and went flat.  You can repair a tube.  You cannot repair a tire. (well, you can, but she didn’t know the dollar bill trick)

Lesson:  Practice makes perfect.  And if practice isn’t perfect, fix the problem before race day. The above examples happen to be about bike tires, though the concept applies to other aspect of your racing such as your saddle if it doesn’t fit and keeps chaffing you, your sunblock if you keep getting cooked, your pacing strategy if it leaves you fatigued, your nutrition if it upsets your stomach, and on and on.

 

STAY FOCUSED

These are three short stories.  Two involve cyclists who crashed and broke collar bones. The third is an adventure racing team that missed their cut off.

Both cyclists were very experienced.  One guy is a life-long mountain biker used to riding in rough terrain and managed to fall on his tri bike during a bottle exchange.  The other guy is a veteran crit racer who is used to bumping elbows with other riders at 25 mph.  What happened?  They both admitted to losing focus during a race and managed to eat pavement.  No other riders were to blame.

The adventure racing team was over seven hours into an eight hour race.  All they had to do was run/trek 3 miles back to the finish area (in adventure racing you don’t go a certain distance as fast as you can, rather you go to as many Check Points as possible in a given time).  Instead, they decided to squeeze in one more Check Point and got thrown way off course and didn’t make it back before cut off.

Lesson:  You have to stay focused.  Always.  If your mind wanders, your performances suffers.  And sometimes it can cost you a race or even a broken bone.

 

FAKING IT ON RACE DAY

We all have a friend like this athlete.  She’s the fit chick that is genetically gifted to do almost anything.  10k run on a hangover? No prob.  10 miles muddy obstacle run without training?  She’s in.  Olympic distance triathlon with an ocean swim without training?  Sure, why not.  Well, we’ll tell you why – swimming is a skilled sport.

An athlete on one of my huge teams signed up for a tri in Maui.  To this day I couldn’t pick her out of a crowd since she only showed to two practices the entire season and neither of them were swims.  When race day came she thought she could muscle through the swim like so many other races she had faked in the past.  When that strategy failed at the 200 meter mark of the 1,500 meter swim she was escorted to shore by the lifeguard.

Lesson:  You have to practice.  There are so many little nuances to completing a triathlon and if you don’t practice in similar conditions to how you have to race, your race day may not be pretty.

 

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