The art of failing – part 1

Learning by failing is how I learn best. There is no shame in failing. The shame is not to try.

After you have finished your race it’s definitely time to celebrate amazing effort. Enjoy the post-race time for all its worth. If you are like me, the mind (too fast), shifts its focus. Going from, “Yeees, I reached the finish line! And by the way will never do a race again” to, “I can do this better”.

Acknowledge the room for improvements, or what I in this case call failures, are crucial to learning from them. Soon after a race, while the details from the race are still fresh in mind, I write them down. It can be small things like forgetting to turn on your bike computer before the race. Big issues, for example not making your nutrition plan to work out at all, keeping you stopping at every portaloo along run course.

This was in Swissman 2013 and I am climbing the final stretch up to San Gotardo before I started a long descent. I threw my plan of putting on much-needed clothes away, which made me severely cold. By the time I started the run I felt like I was breathing thru a straw. My lungs got severely function reduction. Lesson learned: put on enough clothing, even if it takes a short while.
Triallan - Allan Hovda - Norseman - Foto: Thomas Dahlsett
Finishing third at Norseman 2013 was a major breakthrough for me. Often, it can be more difficult to learn when the result is good, then when it’s bad. Despite the good result, it was very close to going very wrong, since I only had 37 seconds margin, losing nearly 10 minutes to Lars Christian Vold the last 4,7 km up the mountain. I look strong on the picture but had a complete mental breakdown, which needed to be attended very closely if I was going to improving. The photo featured by Jørgen Melau are from 10 minutes earlier and you can see a man who have given himself up. Photo: Thomas Dahlslett 

In the text below is my failures, or where I see potential improvements from Ironman Barcelona.

Prerace 1 – The travel – When I was leaving the apartment for the train to the airport I found out that that the elevator stopped working as I got in it. I live in the 11th floor. I rushed down all the stairs with my 23 kg bicycle suitcase and the rest of my luggage and ran as fast as I could only to miss the train by 5 seconds. That was quite stressful and left me with a strain in my right thigh. Lesson learned: plan your travel with the time budget to miss a train (which I actually did in this case), and don’t get stressed up.

Prerace 2 – Nutrition on prerace day – Having had some issues to the stomach right before and early in races made me have a good look at what I eat for breakfast. That is something I usually have done on “feeling”. Weighing the food and counting the calories gave me a clear answer that I eat too much, by a good margin. 1400 kCal for breakfast?? That was me. Which is twice the general recommended intake. Now I have a 740 kCal breakfast, which consists of 120 g oatmeal, 25 g raisins and one 90 g (in pealed condition) banana, mixed with 450 g unsweetened soymilk left over night. Except from the soymilk, which I buy in the supermarket where I come I have everything with me in a suitable box. With the prerace day nutrition I am still where on the “feeling” side of things. I try to go for the light digestible sources of carbohydrates and avoid food with a lot of fat, fibre and meat, as it can give the stomach an unnecessary workload on race day. But which sources do I choose and how much? The sources vary after availability and regarding total calories? I have no clue. I also have no clue what is ideal intake. That probably is highly individual, but if I am going to find out what works for me I at least have to know what I eat and how much. Lesson learned: Get more information on prerace day nutrition intake and sketch out a plan of my own prerace day intake.

Swim 1 – My swimming have improved a lot, shaving more than 10 minutes from last year. Still, I think I should have been in the group exiting the water at 54 minutes, not the one just short of 56 minutes, which I did. The swim start is chaotic, and I am very passive and easy starter. I don’t want to get kicked in my face in the first 30 seconds making my swim goggles leak, which usually is the high-risk stage. Also to avoid going above threshold in the start have been on of the “secrets of success” to my improved swimming as it hugely improve my swimming in the rest of the course. This slow start however usually puts me in a group with slower swimmers than my potential. Lesson learned: Training on the typical pro start, swimming 200 – 300 meters really hard without filling your arms with lactic acid, before settling into a steady maintainable pace is probably wise for the 2018-season.

Swim 2 – As my group on the swim did not swim very fast, we got passed by the first females, starting 2 min behind, right before halfway on the swim. I knew I could hold their pace but did not want to sneak into their “train” and instead got on the male pros feet, which I already was swimming with as they got in behind. Suddenly the feet I was on lost contact with the group in front, and they where probably 10 – 15 meters ahead when I found out. I took the chance and did a massive surge to reach them, and I did. After a short moment recovering behind him I found out that that he lost contact with the group. I tried another effort to make contact. After swimming on my limit a couple of minutes keeping the distance status quo I gave up. This short moment of unawareness did cost me roughly 1 minutes and 45 seconds. Lesson learned: be more wary when swimming in these critical situations. Probably I should also decrease my passiveness slightly and take more of a charge, without being a bully, of course.

Bike 1 – When I picked up my bike from transition I noticed that my small tool bottle with my Tufo Jet 160 g spare tubular tire and Co2 cartridge and Lezyne adapter was missing. Someone could have stolen it as I picked up my bike late, but most likely it jumped out of the bottle holder as rode over a traffic bump or similar. I use a King Cage Titanium bottle cage as this is one of the best bottle cages on the marked and I have not experienced it jump out before. It is still no guarantee that it will not happen in the future Lesson learned: Put a solid tape around it (with a small “flip” to make it very easy to remove). Finding out that you have lost you spare tire somewhere on the last 90 km, after having a flat, can be quite a let down.

Bike 2 – I ride with a Polar V800 watch turned inwards on the arms and a Polar M450 behind the bottle. As I don’t turn the M450 on in the transition, since I have experienced that it “takes” the power meter signal I turn it on right out of T1. The problem this time was that I did not had the sport “cycling” as default, and I did not start it in advance after I got to Calella. This made me fiddle around with it while riding and it did not make contact with the GPS before 7 km out on the ride. No big deal, but giving my brain an unnecessary task of adding 7 km to the km, in order to find out how far I am from the next aid station (which I wrote down on white tape on the handlebar). Lesson learned: unpair my M450 with the power meter and turn it on with the correct sport chosen on the morning before the swim.

Ride 3 – I rode with my water bottle until the second aid station at 43 km. As I was in a deep aero-position it caught me by surprise. I threw away my empty bottle just before as the littering zone started. Since I was riding at nearly full throttle on a flat stretch with a slightly tailwind I had way too high speed and lost both of the bottles I tried to grab. That made ride more than 30 km, or 45 minutes without water. As it was early in the race with mild temperature and I had (very concentrated) gels in my aerobottle I don’t think it affected my race negatively a lot, but it surely did not improve it. Lesson learned: slow down and make sure you get what you need. If it is crucial, like energy if you are out of energy, stop and pick it up if you lose it.

Ride 4 – My bike position is very good, in my opinion. Its comfortable and fast, and I can hold it for hours. In the later stage of the race, from about 130 km both my Gluteus Medius (the muscles right above the buttocks) got really sore and I got solid beaming pain in my lower back. I had issues with my Gluteus Medius tightening up in periods with hard training and racing, and addressed the issue regularly with my old physio. As I got a new physio I forgot all about it and have not said that they need to get some extra attention. If I didn’t had anyone in front doing the heaviest pull at that stage my riding speed would suffer severely with the issues I got from the thigh muscles. Lesson learned: Don’t forget to work on your weak spots as soon as they don’t give you any problems in the everyday life.

Ride 5 – I did not pee ones during the race and had to wait about 4 hours after the race before I did. The colour was closer to brown than yellow. Lesson learned: drink more water, especially during the bike since it easier for the stomach to digest compared to the run.

Run – Funny as it sounds, finishing the run nearly 30 minutes slower than in 2015, when the conditions were much hotter and harder, I don’t think anything specific went wrong on the run. I don’t think my run training is to blame, or my technique, or my nutrition or my equipment. My belief is that the problem is a bigger underlying issue of overtraining and/or under-recovering. Lesson learned: Get more knowledge of total workload and methods for better balance workload and recovery for next year.

Post race – After a hard race I am naturally tired, but yet unable to sleep, hence being up until 4 AM writing this blog post. I tried a sleep meditation audiobook, without the wishful outcome. Next on in my arsenal, which I actually never tried before is melatonin. In Norway you have to get it subscribed by your doctor, but not in Spain and most other countries. Generally I am very sceptical to use pharmaceuticals to cope with issues in training/racing, but I thing I would recover faster with proper sleep. Lesson learned: take melatonin pills in the evening post race

These was my failures, or possibilities to learn from Ironman Barcelona. In other words, solid room for improvements. Yet, only if they get acknowledged and addressed. What were your failures?

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I am a 33 year old PRO triatlete. My goal is to swim, bike and run as fast as possible, and enjoy the journey. All my adventures and triathlon related stuff is well documented on this blog.

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