As I prepare for my next race on Sunday at IRONMAN Raleigh 70.3, I searched for my report from last year’s race. After all, I really only signed up this year to redeem myself from last year’s performance–my worst triathlon to date. I searched, but it doesn’t exist. Because I never wrote one! And that was the race that I probably learned the most of any. Well, maybe not the most amount of information (I overcame a steep learning curve during my first few races), but I learned my greatest lesson in triathlon (and in life) during those 70.3 miles–most specifically the final six. So important, in fact, that “Don’t pull a Raleigh” has evolved into a mantra that regularly and involuntarily creeps into my consciousness during races.

Let me back up and use George Darden’s words to apologize, as it’s “bit obnoxious for me to say that I am not fully satisfied with my race given that” I landed in fourth place in my age group, which qualified me to race in the 70.3 World Championship in Mont Tremblant later that year. So I can complain. Too much.

As my second 70.3 ever, but my fifth(ish) triathlon, I felt relatively prepared for this race. From what I remember, the swim went surprisingly well, although my wetsuit felt hot in the balmy water, and I caught a few calf cramps. I completely blacked out the bike. I remember literally no part of it, which concerns me for Sunday (was I roofied? Maybe it’ll come back when I see it again?). I can picture the transition area and recall the sensation of daggers in my quads and calves with each step of this run (similar to my experience at Chattanooga 70.3 just two weeks ago).

While Coach had stressed and emphasized and reminded me loud and clear to take the first loop easy, my illogical “race mind” assumed I would inevitably blow up on the run at some point due to the debilitating leg pain. The prudent (experienced?) triathlete would have slowed down, taken in nutrition and attempted to salvage the run. Might as well bank some time now! So I set out at a 7:XX pace (regardless of whatever the last two digits were–it was entirely too fast). I somehow made it up the gradual and relentless 4.5 mile climb to the turn around at the obnoxious, cheesy cowboy sign that’s vividly burned in my memory.

By the second loop, the “inevitable” happened (in reality, it was a self-fulfilling prophesy). My legs wouldn’t go. Any weight bearing caused them to seize in agony. I vowed to walk-run up the hill, then run down it. Well, I walked all the way up. People passed me in droves. When I saw that giant, foolish cowboy sign again (I believe I may have cursed at him in my head–or aloud), I tried to trot. Nope! Not happening. Legs wouldn’t allow it.

Well, this is MY race. And I’m gonna enjoy these last few miles cause I WANT to (insert voice of that bratty girl from Willy Wonka–what was her name?). So I casually sauntered in. Masses of people continued to swarm by me, and I was certain that I had zero shot of placing anywhere near the top of my my age group. As if this were the only point of racing (it’s certainly not). I reached the finish with my triathlon tail between my legs, collected my medal, and collapsed on the pavement with Bethany, John and other ATCers. I half-heartedly patted myself on the back for a decent effort, knowing that I could have performed better.

I later learned that I finished the bike FIRST in my age group. Some chick passed me early on the run, who would would have won regardless (and deserved to). But apparently TWO other girls passed me during the LAST MILE of the race! Both finished within SECONDS of me! Had I managed even a light jog here and there, I would have earned a second place spot on the podium. C’mon, Susie! You could have done that. My performance ended up a solid one, but not one I am proud of.

And thus I’m bummed I didn’t write a report. If I’m honest with myself, I probably abstained out of vanity, rather than use the experience as a learning opportunity for me (and anyone who bores themselves reading this blog). What triggered the negativity? Could I have turned my mind around? Could I have turned my body around? How much nutrition did I take in? What parts were difficult? What issues did I have? Perhaps other lessons were woven into this experience that I could have reflected on.

What I learned, though (which stuck with even without writing it down) is 70.3  miles is a LONG WAY TO GO! Duh! A lot of pavement stands between the start and the finish. And a lot can happen. To you AND to your competitors. In triathlon (and in life), you CANNOT claim defeat when things don’t go your way. Because invariably something will cause a hiccup (or a disaster). Once you allow negative thoughts to enter your mind, you’ve lost all hope of redeeming yourself. By staying positive, you will not only provide yourself with the opportunity to achieve your goals, but also, you will finish knowing that, in the end, you’ve done absolutely everything in your power. And that produces intrinsic rewards regardless of when you cross the finish or how many people get there before you.

At Raleigh last year, I let negativity get the best of me. I will race again on Sunday. My Coach warned me that–coming off of Chattanooga 70.3 just two weeks ago and racing a tougher course in the blazing heat–the second loop of that run course “will be a battle”. I’m entering this race, not only with more triathlon experience under my race belt (the fact that I’ve even bothered to look at the race course prior shows significant growth as an athlete since last year), but also with a greater mental fortitude. I am determined to not “pull a Raleigh” this time around. But I welcome any kicks-in-the-butt and/or sneering (read: motivating) remarks should I walk that entire second loop again!

For those dying in anticipation, find out how it went down.