A race gone wrong.

I hated writing this post. Every single word of it. I love the weeks when I tell you how I’m rocking and rolling, PRing and feeling on top of the world. I hate the weeks when I have to be real and honest and raw, when I have to admit defeat.

When we decided to trade in our Labor Day Triathlon for a weekend of fun and relaxation I came home and immediately signed up for this one. I couldn’t let the summer pass by without doing at least one tri and I knew that if I actually registered it would force me to follow through with it. So despite all the chaos of the wedding I managed to squeeze in a decent amount of swims, bricks, and finally learned how to ride a road bike.

Race morning was a bit hectic – we arrived late, had a hard time finding parking, hurried to pick up our packets and set up our transition areas. I felt scattered from the start. And then I began to notice that very few people were without a wet suit, and I started getting really nervous about the swim. I knew it was my strongest leg, but I couldn’t help but imagine myself as a frozen iceberg in the middle of the pond. Despite the recent warm weather it is September in New England after all. As someone sang the national anthem I went in up to my ankles and it was exactly what I thought it would be: brrr. I told myself it would just help me swim faster.

What happened next is both a blur and yet very clear in my head. Our wave was called, the airhorn sounded, and everyone bounced into the water. I walked in up to my chest and then dove under. Almost instantly my body felt stiff, my lungs felt like they had been sucked right into my heart. I jerked my head out of the water, and tried to calm down and swim. I couldn’t catch my breath, I felt like I was weighed to the ground. Barely a minute into the swim I yelled to my buddy “I can’t do this” and turned around.

Climbing out of the water to a beach full of people staring at me was one of the most mortifying moments of my life. I was barely in the sand before my husband was there wrapping his arms around me and I of course responded in the only way I know how, by bursting into hysterical tears. My heart ached from embarrassment, from panic, and with the realization that I had just blown the entire day in seconds. I have never felt like such a failure.

My immediate instinct was to flee – leave all my gear in the transition area, ditch my buddy, and get away from that park and all those people who had just witnessed my disaster. Once my husband had calmed my hysterics he convinced me that we should stay to cheer on my friend, and then suggested I ask the race volunteers if I could jump in with her for the bike and the run. The sweet woman I shuffled up to told me that she had seen me get out of the water and that she felt terrible for me, and that I could keep my chip on and keep going.

I headed back into the transition area, dreading the disappointed look I would get from my buddy when she returned from the swim. To my surprise she asked if I was okay, and then reminded me that sometimes you have to make smart calls. Knowing that she wasn’t mad made the blow a little softer and I threw on my clothes, took my bike off the rack, and we headed out.


The combination of anger at myself and knowing that I couldn’t mess up any more made me ride faster, push harder, and run stronger. I didn’t dare complain and I knew I couldn’t stop so I gave it everything I had. I rode further and faster than ever before, and my run splits were better than any triathlon or brick I’ve ever done. It’s a shame that I didn’t finish the swim because I could have had a really decent time and walked away glowing.


Instead we crossed the finish line, and I was handed a medal that I knew didn’t belong to me. I smiled for pictures, but I was cringing on the inside. I kept my fingers crossed that no one would recognize me and yell at me for continuing on. I got home and immediately threw away the swim cap, ferociously scrubbed the sharpie tattoo on my arm. I just wanted it all to go away.

FullSizeRender (1)It’s been a few days and I’ve been retelling the story by cracking jokes, because it’s a lot less awkward to laugh than it is to spill warm tears. But that doesn’t mean I’m not upset, not embarrassed, not disappointed in myself. I’m scared that the memory of my panic in the water will affect me in the future, will surface again the next time I face the open water. It’s my first real black mark.

I know I’ve got to pull myself together, got to tuck away my lessons learned, got to get back out there. And I will at some point. I’m just not done sulking yet.


About Kathleen

When your legs get tired run with your heart.

Posted on October 1, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. This. Was. Epic. Can’t wait for your next race.

    • Don’t let one section of your many and numerous triathlons road races 5ks 10ks full and half marathons discourage you. you still went through the rest of the race! Not many would. hope you’re done sulking…a lot of people are inspired and motivated by you through your posts!

  2. Hi, great post. Just wanted to say, don’t worry, we all have one of ‘those’ races!! At Ely tri over here in England, I did 3 more lengths then I was meant to in the pool, got 2 punctures on the cycle leg and then spent 10 minutes in 2nd transition trying to get my running shoes on. In my delirium, I was trying to put on someone else’s shoes who were 4 sizes smaller and didn’t even look like mine.

    And this wasn’t even my first Tri.

    It happens, you just have to laugh, put it down to experience and knock the next one out of the park!!!!

    Looking forward to your next post


  3. Kathleen, Very touching blog. But remember you weren’t running to please the people who were watching you get out of the water, they most likely thought you were sick. And you’ll always remember that your very wonderful husband was there to comfort you immediately at a most important time, and helped you pulled yourself together. You had the courage to go on and complete what you could. You have been on an overload schedule, and your very human body was responding at an inconvenient time. Be proud of yourself – for continuing,the race and for sharing the experience – the rest of us are proud of you!. Once again, a wonderful blog.

  4. Things are very rarely as bad as we think they are. It was cold. You panicked. So what? I know that’s easy for me to say because it wasn’t me. But in the grand scheme of things? Disappointing, for sure! But not a huge deal. There will be more races. Most will be better, but some may not. I’m happy you jumped back in and finished! Good for you 🙂

    • Now that it’s over and done with I’m still upset that I panicked about the water, but glad I was able to move on from it. The person I was a few years ago would have NEVER done that. (Well, she wouldn’t have been there in the first place but thats a different story 🙂 )

  5. I am so proud of you for going ahead and finishing, I don’t think I would have had that courage or mental strength and I really look up to you for that. Each race we learn something new no matter how long we’ve been doing this. I hate anything cold and water is no exception – I just can’t catch my breath. I saved up for a wetsuit and it has made a big difference. I also double cap in cold water which helps too.

  6. Thank you! I’m still shocked that I got it together to finish… another lesson learned. (The major one being to get a wetsuit!)

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