— By Alex VanderLinden
The curtain’s just gone up. It’s race time for the vast majority of triathletes across Canada. Whether it’s Woodstock or Milton for us here in Ontario, or Shawnigan Lake out west in BC, the race season that most age-groupers have been working towards is about to arrive.
That debut race of the year is a tricky one, though. It’s unlikely that it’s going to be your A race of the season, but it’s the one that’s loomed largest. The calendar has been marked with this opening race for quite a while. You might have had this date rattling about in the back of your head since Christmas.
This brings complexities, pressures and anxieties of it’s own. If you race miserably you’re likely to question your preparation and dwell on the negatives for longer than is healthy. Questioning your training is never a bad idea, once it’s framed with the bigger picture. But it’s important to keep the perspective that this is the beginning of the season, the first step on a longer journey.
I find the week after the season opener is a great time to reflect not only on your performance, but on the work you’ve done pre-season. My own season began earlier this month with Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga. I didn’t race as well as I would have liked, but I didn’t stink the place out either. I was somewhere in the middle of where I wanted to be.
In the days following the race – and on the long drive back to Ontario from Tennessee – I let things sift around in my head. I swam about 90 seconds slower than I knew I was capable of – for a regular pro triathletes, that’s a significant chunk of time. It can be the difference between making your rent this month or having to dip into your savings. The stakes are high every step of the way, so I was disappointed to climb out of the water a little further behind than I would have liked.
Driving back home I didn’t get too down about it though. I’ve been putting out some solid times in the water this spring, so I know I’m moving in the right direction. I analyzed things with a broader lens – I chatted with Rich Pady, my coach, and we wondered if we missed anything in the pool. Did I do enough all out efforts, was I focusing too much on shorter sets. That’s the kind of perspective you learn over the years. Don’t be afraid to critique, but at the same time, trust what’s been getting you results.
Like I’ve said many times before, I’m a BIG fan of racing. There’s nothing that can prepare you for your A race like a couple of B and C races. It’s why the risk of racing poorly is always worth it. You learn something from every single race you participate in.
You can hone things on race day that you can’t simulate. Transitions, fuel, mental strength. I was watching Gregorio Paltrineri, the Italian swimmer, in the European Championships recently. He swims 1,500 metres, a distance that’s going to take it out of you. But our boy Gregorio was looking at the big picture when he raced the Europeans. He could have cruised the heats, saved himself for the final, but he had the Rio Olympics this summer on his mind. He knew that cruising the heats at Rio wasn’t an option, so instead, in the Europeans, he hammered things from the very first heat. He swam about 15 seconds faster in the heats than he normally would have done, but he saw this as a learning opportunity for the big stage.
So if you’re first race of the season is coming up, use it as an opportunity to figure out what’s working and what needs work. If you kill the race, then you’re moving in the right direction. If the race kills you, take a step back and find out what you need to work on. Either way, don’t let the race define your season.
For me, I’m staying local for my next race and heading to Woodstock for the MultiSport Canada series opener. I’ll put my lessons learned at Chattanooga to good use, but no doubt, I’ll learn something from the Woodstock experience too.
P.S. – If anybody has any questions or would like to drop me an email, I’d love to hear from you. You can catch me at alexvanderlinden.com