One of the best things about being an athlete is that you learn to roll with the punches. Plan for contingencies. Expect the unexpected. Cope. Adjust. Let it go.
I’ve heard it all – from race prep seminars to “coachable moments” to my dad, standing on the sideline when I was ten years old. From the minute that goal went in behind me (a not-so swift-moving goalie of desperation), and dad, the coach, yelled “Are you okay?” in full view of the parents, I expressed my INability to cope. Rather loudly, in front of said parents. Through the shame of my red face and mortification that I sucked, I told my dad the only thing I could that made me feel better. “I’m FINE. SHUT UP!”
Er, right. I wasn’t the best daughter, and I’ve still never adopted patience, but I have become a girl who laughs heartily, and often. I’m lucky, too that I’ve had enough experiences to make me laugh so hard I’ve cried while on numerous courses. And if it’s not me, it’s my friends, who are full of their own bad race day ju ju, and who keep me laughing many, many days.
But as I’ve said before, I’m also a planner. I like to learn from my mistakes, even if they make me laugh a lot. Therefore, I present to you, the list of what NOT to do on race day, courtesy of many laughs, and many lessons learned:
Don’t wait until race morning to cut (or RIP) the tags off your clothing.
The first time I ran the Indy Mini, we were so nervous that my friend Val showed up with her CES tattoo on upside down. Not only that, but she ripped the tag out of her shorts on race morning, leaving a nice nickel-sized hole in her shorts, right down the butt line. After laughing at her for about 5 minutes in the hotel lobby, she decided the “wrap around the waist” tee shirt was the only solution, as there were no backup shorts. Lesson learned: cut those tags out with scissors – and do it before race morning.
Running shoes = One Left Shoe + One Right Shoe
Then there was the time my friend Jen showed up – for the next year’s Indy Mini – with a pair of shoes. Only, it wasn’t quite a full pair – it was TWO left shoes. She didn’t realize it until the day before the race, and because she’s a size 5, couldn’t find a replacement pair. She wore her friend’s shoes, a size 6, with three pairs of socks. She was last reported with feeling in her feet at Mile 8 – after that, she couldn’t be certain she’d have toes at the end – but she finished.
Don’t Wear Platforms on Cable Car Hills (Parts 1 and 2)
San Francisco, 2007 Nike Women’s Marathon. Cynthia, Kelly, Abby, and I decided to go to tea at the Fairmont Hotel (which sounds very she she but was really just an excuse to sit down, gossip and drink sparkling cider and eat little sandwiches). We had a ball – until I walked out of the hotel and attempted to walk down the VERY VERY STEEP street towards our hotel in my 3″ platform slingbacks – black patent and adorable, of course – and almost rolled myself down the hill. I literally had to walk down the hill sideways, all in the name of fashion. And then, when I reached the bottom, I promptly rolled my ankle as we crossed the street. Lesson learned: the day before a race, it’s okay to sacrifice fashion for function. Even if those BCBG Girls platforms are aDORable.
Don’t Wait Until Race Morning to Read the Directions to the Start
Two words: Speeding. Ticket. RNR Arizona this year – I misread the directions and my friend Lisa navigated us perfectly – to the start line (which was not where we needed to park – in fact, it was 13.1 miles away from our real destination). But we were late heading out that morning, and I was driving, and the lead foot gets even heavier on race morning, so unless you want to be out some coin for a speeding ticket, check those directions the night before.
Oh, and Gas is Important, Too
I once drove into Columbus to do the Wendy’s Triathlon with my cousins Jill and Bill. I drove in late the night before, and didn’t realize I was running low on gas. The next morning, as we left the house in two cars (to manage the bikes) I realized I didn’t have much gas. And, unlike living in Chicago, the closest gas station was about 8 miles away. I held my breath the whole time, and as we RAN into transition 10 minutes before it closed, I vowed I’d never be low on gas the night before a race again. Why? Because being late means only one thing: you are SWEATY when you get in your wetsuit, and that means you’re sticky, and potentially, there’s some staring as you jump one-legged from the bathroom and emerge looking as if you’ve just wrestled with a walrus. Yes, I’m still scarred from that one. The bystander probably is, too.
DO Take Chances When it Comes to the Potties
The first Indy Mini, we hit the track at Mile 8 and there were about 25 women waiting patiently in line for a bathroom. The men were going in and out of their bathroom as if each man was only given 10 seconds to do his business. I took one look at the woman behind me, said “I’m not waiting”, and walked up to the men’s room. “Can we use your stalls?” I yelled. “Come on in!!!” yelled the dudes. We walked in, eyes glued to the walls next to us, as I yelled “Ladies coming through, thanks guys!” They kept yelling “Woo hoo, stalls in the back” as we filed on by, wandering into our reserved seating. We saved at LEAST ten minutes, and no one cared – definitely a risk worth taking.
DON’T Forget to Check the Transparency of Your Garments
There’s really only one garment that matters, and that’s shorts. If you go commando, or even if you don’t, take your shorts out for a spin in the daylight – and, if necessary, have someone take a picture of you. Um, yes, I learned my lesson the hard way, when, two months after the Flying Pig, a friend showed me a picture of myself dancing past the gospel aid station – and let’s just say that I’m not sure all the cheering was for my dancing. I’ve sinced retired those shorts, but the lesson remains – puritan modesty or not, I’d rather the world not be able to tell I’m in my dri-fit bikinis if I have the choice. Yet again, there I go, leaving scarred bystanders in my wake. Geesh.
DON’T Fight the Alphabet
Coach Jenny Hadfield taught me one of my first race-day lessons: there are “A” days, “B” days, and “C” days. When you’re on the course on a “C” day – when the weather is hotter than hell, and you’re wondering if you can get through it, do NOT decide, for example, to sprint the last half mile just because a friend, or family is there telling you you CAN. Because throwing up in front of the 100 people at the finish is not worth it. Really, save it for an “A” day, or maybe even a “B” day. I learned this at the Tyr Women’s Tri in Manteno, when my friend Karen was said cheerleader, and I thought “she’s right! I can finish strong”, and kicked far too early. The better answer would have been to go in slow and steady, and not have to wipe the vomit off my medal at the end. It’s really not as attractive as it sounds, trust me.
DON’T Forget to Clip Your Nails
This is for all the men out there. Yes, I clip my nails before every race, so I’ve never had a problem. But my most annoying race injury of all time happened at Chicago, where I came up on a swim wave of men, and some guy had most definitely NOT clipped his nails, which I found out the hard way when he kicked me in the arm, and took a chunk of skin out of said arm. In addition to the fact that it was just GROSS, it hurt. So please, boys, clip em for the girls. We appreciate it. 🙂
Just a bit of the race wisdom I’ve earned. I try to roll with what the race day brings me, and I hope you can too!
See you on the path….