Lessons of DNS and DNF

You spend months visualising a race and training specifically for it, those thoughts provide the motivation and fear of failure to get the work done and make the best decisions you can. The emotional investment outweighs the financial one for both you and your family, but the cost of both together is high, especially when your investment doesn’t pay off. As a Neo Pro what I need are the results and experience of Elite racing as well as rewarding my sponsors for their backing. Prize money doesn’t come in to my thinking, firstly because there is so little of it and secondly because these days getting in to the Prize money slots represents a huge achievement for very little financial return. The people you have to finish ahead of to reach the prize money slots in almost every IM, is a far bigger prize than the money. This situation obviously raises the overall standards of Elite racing and I understand why it is the case on WTC. If you are able to achieve a good placing in a race, what you do get is a profile and sense of achievement you could use to develop your life as an Elite athlete in other ways, and that is very important and also worth more than the prize money. With the previous Kona qualification system, lots of races were left almost empty of Pro fields. Lanzarote 3/4 years ago had around 6 male Pros and Wales had around 6 2 years ago. Last year Wales was in the mid teens and this year Lanzarote was over 30 top quality athletes. Every IM race has stacked Pro fields with real depth and quality, and you cannot develop your Elite Career with Prize money in mind unless you have bags of talent that pours out of you very quickly. With quick early progress in my Triathlon career I had hoped for this, but 2 years of bad lock and bad choices means a slow burn is the only option for me if I want to support my family and provide an income in other ways.

But more importantly I also need to break what is becoming a habit of DNS and DNFs due to the combination of a ton of bad luck but also some questionable choices. The truth is sometimes there is just nothing you can do. As an Elite Triathlete it’s not like I’m turning my wetsuit lube in to wine, or helping people in need, in fact it’s quite the opposite. I am choosing to suffer these disappointments in a selfish adventure. What sport does above everything else is magnify and condense life situations in to short, intense periods of time, and in this way it can teach you lessons quite quickly and quite abruptly if you can absorb them. Because things happen so quickly it’s also easy to let these lessons slip by.

So what have I personally learnt from another DNS at IM Lanzarote?

1-The first thing I have learnt is that every race matters, whether it’s an A,B,C race, tapered, rested or knackered. I ran a marathon a couple of months ago and although I didn’t rest or taper, that race and result has more significance now I’m once again recovering from the race that never happened, and trying to build another peak for my next attempt at reaching the start line.

2-The second thing is that you have to judge your success and failures in your build up training without a race to confirm your form or fitness. This is very difficult. The athlete half of us is not a great person, even though I’m sure most of us view it as some kind of Holy Lycra Hulk that emerges from under our tired, life worn bodies. But the majority of driving forces to physical athletic success are not good qualities, even if you’re on the start line for charitable and noble reasons. Stubbornness, selfishness, absorbing physical/mental pain and pissing yourself sometimes twice in a day, are just a handful of the joys Lycra Hulk brings to the party. Of course determination and not giving up are noble qualities, but I’m sure quite a few adventurers and explorers have met the man in the sky with the same determination and drive not to give up. So to make judgements on how your training went Lycra Hulk has to get in the cupboard and stay there while you make your conclusions.

My main conclusions were that I took myself right up to the cliff edge of over training, fatigue, injury, skinniness and overall meltdown, then walked right along the cliff edge until I reached a massive hole. I stopped and looked at the hole, and then jumped in while Hulk held on to the edge with one finger, which slowly slipped until it was only the end of the finger nail on his little finger keeping me out of the abyss. Then I pulled myself out of the hole feeling strong confident and ready to take on anything with a finish line, and an Ironmam felt like it would be just another box I was going to tick with my mighty pen of fitness. I was actually looking like a White chocolate Ginger Bread man climbing out of a Coffee according to my wife, and not the Lycra monster emerging from the abyss I had thought. Moody, skinny and pale with bad posture and in a constant state of eating, stretching or leaning on a foam roller in the corner talking to myself. I had managed to absorb a huge amount of training with some pretty epic sessions. A 6hr ride with 5000m of climbing, 2hr runs of solid, hard hill reps and 3hr runs off 1hr hard bikes, and I had managed to be consistent even with these huge sessions. More importantly I had more consistency and specificity than ever in the pool and I was at a lower weight with more muscular strength in the Gym than before. But with all of that came a lot (too much fighting). My guess is that I was fitter and lighter than I have ever been, but also mentally I was a little bit out of control. I had lost perspective and balance on most things, and although a long taper may have brought me back to life, I don’t think riding the edge is the best way to produce a rounded athlete. Building up to the edge, seeing it and then tapering straight away with control is a safer, more productive option in my opinion. Lesson learnt. Again!

3-This can require turning off a lot of your athletic instincts. You have an Idea in your head like it or not, of which sessions you should tick off and how light, powerful and capable you should be leading in to a race. If you’re self coached deciding which training sessions are a reality requires a lot of self control. Lycra Hulk will want stick his/her sweaty green finger in to the programme and add on a few hours, so it’s important you don’t let him. Otherwise as you try to live out Lycra Hulks false prophecy you will turn on your athletic instincts to fight, endure and suffer etc too early, and as an endurance athlete these instincts can take you a little to close to the edge, hole or Zombieland that is doing too much training and pushing too hard. Like Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade there are great rewards to be had in this land but only if you can keep your head, and being able to keep your head in that land is easier said than done. A race of any importance requires self control and awareness. So without a race to confirm or deny that you had the right training plan how do you reflect on how it could have turned out?

Unless you’re as optimistic and positive as a Puppy playing with a Baby in a meadow full Lemmings, reflecting can be hard with out a race performance. I am (have had to be) this positive, so I see the lack of a race as a chance to view blocks of training that don’t lead to a finishers medal as a chance to view things more clearly. There are no excuses/reasons from the race to cloud your judgment before you start your next training block for your next race. Got swam over, got my nutrition wrong, shat myself on the bike or just didn’t have the legs etc don’t have to be your opening lines in conversation with your close ones. You are left with a clear, endorphin free view of how you felt in those final weeks/days of training, and after a rest break with no immediate jump back in to more heavy training, providing of course Lycra Hulk is stashed deep in the Cupboard next the canned Tuna. Then you can start some good quality analysis before once again scraping yourself off the canvas for the next event. It’s very easy to convince yourself that if you had made it to the start or finish line without any problems the form would have been there, and the crowd would have sung your name as you crossed the line looking like a shirtless Cristiano Ronaldo. The truth is that you will never know, so assume the worst and look at all areas of your build up and be very critical. Don’t change everything, but be honest enough to change something. Write down what you find and take it in to your next block of training and do not talk yourself around your findings, especially as the fatigue builds up. Do this enough times and eventually you will understand yourself better than your wife.

Regardless of where your analysis takes you the truth is that DNFs and DNSs hurt very much, and acknowledging and feeling this is important. Don’t just jump straight back in to the Blender, make sure you tweak what you did with some cold and clear analysis. Stay positive as things always change! Bad luck can take many forms, but there is almost always something you can do to try and avoid it or mould it in to a slightly better situation. I often find myself balls deep in a pile of Haribo after my knee starts to play up again and Ive had to cut that session short, or when life or illness has meant I’ve missed a session or 4. This is a good example of how to make a bad situation worse! A little extra chunk of fat to work off isn’t going to improve your mental state in the long term.

Without sounding too prophetic, as in life, people who get dealt good hands will say things like ‘a real man makes his own luck Jack’!! But the Titanic sunk, his FiancĂ© ran off with Leonardo Di Caprio and shagged him in a car, then apparently he shot himself a few years later, so eventually he got a bad hand as well and that confirms what a pile of crap that theory is. Some people are very good at playing a good hand, some people are very good at playing a bad hand and some people are very bad at playing a bad hand, and as long as you can reflect enough to stay out of the last group there is nothing more you can do.

DNFs and DNSs are an opportunity to put things right because you own the information telling you what went wrong and how you can get it right in the future, but only if you can cut through the emotions and keep Lycra Hulk out of that analysis. The same can be said for worse than expected race results. These situations give you the information to make correct choices on everything from injury to diet, Bike maintenance, mindset and most importantly setting realistic and achievable targets. So to summarise, do the analysis first, then take Lycra Hulk back out of the cupboard, and borrow his/her determination to keep going, because although Hulk can be misguided at times the truth is that if you analyse falling short in the right way, the determination to keep going is the only other ingredient you need to reach your potential.