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2011/03/10 - Newsletter

Deal with it...

Oh the mistakes you can make

Welcome again to the tri-strides newsletter.
This newsletter is all about what can go wrong - and how to deal with it. In a blog post from 2009 - to be found at I described a lot of errors of mine during races. For this is an old posting, here is a review of this list.

I listed

  • ...that I had run an extra mile in a marathon because I missed one turn. In a century ride the same happened - I missed a sign and even was followed by a whole group of cyclists onto that wrong way. They weren't happy and found their way back - me following them in a speed which was much faster than my regular cruise speed. In both occasions missing turns could have easily been prevented by being completely familiar with the race course. Knowing my sense for orientation, I also know that it might happen again. Actually, it happened again this Winter in a 10k race but here it was the lead vehicle turning the wrong way with everyone following and then everyone following everyone else.
  • ...that I barely could see the directing buoys in the swim leg of an olympic triathlon. This was due to my goggles being blue and the buoys being yellow on a very gray morning. In a different race I started against the sun - here really dark goggles might have helped. And the lesson? Wear goggles matching the occasion.
  • ...that I did not always check my bike as it should be checked. Once I ended up with loose cleats, another time without a working spedometer, last year I added starting the bike leg with the cadence sensor scraping my race wheels. All of those easily can be prevented by doublechecking the bike: check if the wheels run freely, if the computer works and is reset, and if the brakes are working ok (especially when you remove your wheels for transport - many bikes have a lever allowing the wheels to come off easier by losening the brakes. Just braking doesn't work when that lever is loose). Also check your shifting and tire pressure to avoid any problems there. At some very hot Ironman Wisconsin (not the one I was in) volunteers had to get busy fixing flats in transition because the wheels had been pumped to max pressure and then the day heated up, the air in the tires expanded and the tires went kaboom.
  • ...that I got stuck in my wet suit. Well, there's an easy fix: practice, practice, practice. I like the video on youtube at with Katya Meyers showing how it's done. I'd like to add, for putting it on, plastic grocery bags over hands and feet help sliding the suit on. Personally I never use any body glide, PAM, or vaseline - but my wet suit really fits well.
  • ... that I went off road while returning my water bottle into its cage. In the meantime I went offroad twice more, both times in curves, but I could catch myself well enough not to crash. So, again, this is solved by bike handling practice.
  • ...that I have had my good share of food troubles during races. I ended up with a glycogen deficit in my body at the Chicago Half Marathon because I was too slow to still catch any of the offered gu. With my racing speed this is something happening more often but in the meantime I carry some gu and other nutrients on my own.
    Once for an olympic triathlon I mixed my own supply of sports drink and then did not drink any of it because the local water I had used to mix it was overchlorinated, as was the water they served at the race course. This was a really tough race for me.
    At Ironman Cozumel I also prepared my sports drink in a camelbak, gave it to the crew the day before the race, and put the camelbak on for the running leg of the race. Then I wondered why I became kind of nauseous during the race. My husband tried the mixture that evening and noticed it had fermented. Well, that's almost like running on beer... Not a good idea if you ask me. For Louisville I packed only the powdered drink and mixed my concoction directly before starting to run. The heat still got to me, anyway, but at least I didn't run on alcohol. In that notorious Chicago Marathon of 2007, though, I fared really well carrying my own liquid - I then supplemented with water from the hydrants they had opened later in the race (hey, it is all Chicago drinking water!) which I filled into a small bottle somebody had passed to runners.
  • In Louisville I had packed salt tablets directly into my bento box, thinking that it'd be easy to get them out that way. Well, it was hot, I sweated and eventually this sweat had turned the tablets into an even saltier mess which I did not want to ingest anymore. But I had a second pack in a little container which probably saved me from the cramps lots of other athletes got.
  • In the Chicago triple challenge which includes a super sprint race, I ended up not finding my bike because counting to three can be a challenge in the hustle of a race. Eventually I got it but I lost valuable time. Walking all pathways inside transition really helps, though.


These all are errors of mine. Stuff like that happens and there are two ways to deal with it. One is to freak out, fixing one's mind on the things that didn't work and have a miserable race - maybe even giving it up. The other way is to recognize the error and deal with it as well as possible. There's always that slight panicky feeling involved, at least with me, but then I ask myself how to handle the situation.
In a case like the fermented drink in Cozumel, I noticed that a handful of peanuts some friendly soul had given me saved the day. I tried them very carefully, half a piece at a time until I noticed that my nausea didn't get worse. Then I established a routine of eating half a peanut every mile until they were gone. Re-making a plan definitely helps me.
In a case like the bike leg where the wheels scratched against something I couldn't see at the moment, I defined that it might be a safety risk, got off the bike and fixed the problem. That cost me time but stopped me from worrying.
When my cleats were lose or the computer unresponsive, though, I just ran for it. This was no safety issue so I could just go forward with it.

One never can plan for all eventualities but it helps to visualize one or two obstacles. Visualizing how one would keep calm and solve the problem is one part of race preparation. Another one is actual practice to avoid running the bike of the road or having navigational problems in the swim. Training in wicked conditions like streaming rain or glaring heat also helps - when you are in a difficult situations you can always tell yourself:"but I've mastered something more difficult in training - been there, done that"

Happy preparing your racing season!
Stay tuned for the next issue of this monthly newsletter.

Greetings from your coach's desk
Dr. Sylvia Zinser
USAT Certified triathlon coach, USA Cycling Certified coach