Bad Races Happen To Any Athlete

By Brett Johnston

Last week, I headed to Sharon with a large contingent of my teammates from Boston Triathlon Team to do “The Sharon Triathlon”. I had been shopping on Saturday and picked up my long awaited Powertap and new wheel, but common sense prevailed, and I decided to race with my regular race wheels and not make the far too common error of trying to race on/with new equipment.

Race day was great…up early, to the race site with no problems although I did not have my updated USAT card…but thanks to technology, I was able to get it up on the website on my phone, so I did not have to pay the extra 10 bucks…good deal. There were only 4 or 5 waves for the race, and I was in the 1st wave, which I think was males 39 and under. There was a long starting line, as it was an in water start, so we were only 1 or maybe 2 deep for the start.

The swim is ½ mile swim in a kind of rectangle shape, so you end close to where you start.
Race started and I went off pretty strong,(which for me is something new this year, as I usually waited towards the back and then started swimming once the “madness” had subsided, but at my last few races, have done the quick start, and it has worked out great).

Nothing out of the ordinary happened, other than the usual flailing arm, foot fist, and the odd gulp of water, but I was already into a rhythm, so all was good. After about 150 meters or so, as I was getting up to the 1st buoy to make the right turn, I started feeling very restricted in my breathing, almost as if my wetsuit was tightening around my chest.

I rounded the buoy and it started getting harder and harder to breathe, keep my rhythm or focus. Before I knew it, I had switched over to Breaststroke…what? Breast Stroke?... do I even remember how to do Breaststroke?? I would do a few strokes of breast stroke to “try” and catch my breath and then  switch back to freestyle, but to no avail.

What was going on? No matter what I tried, I could not get my breath back, and was really struggling…this was not good. For the next part of the swim, which took me close to the half way point in the swim. I was all breaststroke, and not getting any better. By the time I made the turn-around, I had made up my mind to finish the swim. But I was constantly looking where other swimmers were, and more importantly (because the other swimmers would probably not have been in a position to help me, should I have really needed help)where the kayakers were, and was always trying to keep them close-by and in sight, and making sure that they were aware of me and where I was.

Eventually, I made it to the finish of the swim, and literally stumbled into T1. I had one of my swim teammates who was on a relay team, ask me if I was ok, as she said “you look tired!”, to which I could not even reply and just shook my head. There was an EMT standing there too, who also questioned me to make sure I was coherent.Anyhow into T1, taking all the time in the world, I tried to relax, get my breath back, and see if I could coast through the bike.

No such luck, as soon as I started pedaling to get any sort of speed , I would have a hard time breathing and started coughing. Finished the bike, and went out onto the run…I mean walk. Why did I do the run course? For me it was really just to have a better gauge on what the problem was. I could monitor my heart rate easily, and see where/what was bringing on the tightness in my chest. Essentially I could walk no problem, or do a very slow jog for about a ½ mile, and then needed to revert to walking, which was what I did.
I eventually finished the race, and then spent the next few days trying to analyze it…and here are MY findings.

I am certain that I had the start of some sort of chest infection that had not manifested itself until the start of the swim. ( My wife had been home sick with a throat infection the week before and my 6-year old had a cough for the whole week)
·         If I had known this before the race, I would not have started, and in hindsight, I should have abandoned the swim when I knew that something was "not right".
·         The rest of Sunday, Monday and part of Tuesday, I was coughing a lot.
·         Doing my 1st workout since the race on Wednesday, which was an open water swim, I was certainly better, but when paying close attention to my breathing, I could still “feel” the wheezing in my chest.

What I learnt:
·         You don’t know what you don’t know J .
·         LISTEN to your body ( I really did this, even in the swim, I was not trying to do anything that would have caused my body MORE stress than what it was already going through, and the same on the bike and run)
·         Sometimes you will have a bad race, and if it is out of your control, then that is not a bad thing.
·         LEARN from experiences. This had NEVER happened to me before, and I hope will never again, but like any experience, you learn from it, and hopefully better prepare yourself for the next time.
·         It is ONLY a race…. I was there to enjoy it and have fun (and naturally to do well), but at the end of the day, triathlon will always be around and there are many more races….My life on the other hand is very special J

About the Author: Brett Johnston is an Endurance and Triathlon coach with E3 Training Solutions.

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