Just the Smallest Little Thing

Going into each triathlon season, I love to look at a wide variety of races and plan out the summer. I choose some races because they look fun, some pose interesting travel destinations and there always ends up being that one race that sticks out as the primary hard-core race of the season. Maybe it’s a race I didn’t do so well at in the past, maybe it’s a high profile race that draws the best competition, or maybe it’s a local race that seems to find its way onto my annual schedule.

One year, that target race was a very fast and flat half-ironman distance. When I say ‘flat’, keep in mind that I ride in the Sierras and that particular course started in the ocean and included a single overpass as its highest point. The year before, I had raced it and done poorly. I had spent the year training hills and worked on power instead of steady tempo riding.

The next year, I was laser focused on that event. I changed my bike training strategy from climbing to ‘point and shoot’. Instead of swim training in lakes, I did many open water swims in the ocean to get used to the tidal influences. Not only did I train for the event, I prepared everything. I was meticulous in thinking through anything and everything including booking my travel arrangements early, got the time off from work approved months in advance, even got my car tuned up weeks prior to the travel date.

The day before departing while on an easy taper run, something wasn’t feeling right. Instead of feeling energized and fresh, I struggled just to make the warm-up mile. What was wrong? You guessed it; I was getting sick. A flu bug that I picked up somewhere in the prior few days hit me hard. The next day, instead of heading to my big event, I was stuck in bed and could barely get up.

Important lesson learned. No matter how well we plan, something as small as a virus can derail us.

What could I have done differently? From that point on, in the week or two leading up to a big event, I shy away from people. My girlfriend (now wife) used to get upset with me when I would essentially self-isolate. Paranoid? OCD? Perhaps, but I haven’t missed a big event since due to illness. That goes for races, big work projects, or any other significant event. I may not sequester myself in the house, but I certainly keep my distance when I can.

On an individual level, missing that race was brutal. A one-year goal went up in smoke. But when it happens on the scale we see in the world today, it is far more drastic. People are dying as a result of COVID. Compared to that, missing a season takes on a far smaller meaning.

I want to cry for Olympic athletes who have dreamed and prepared for their events for a life-time and cannot compete this year. I cannot fathom how they can maintain the fitness and the focus for an entire extra year. For those who have to wait to compete, my heart goes out to you. For those of us who have to wait to watch greatness, what could we have done differently?

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