Never, Ever, Give Up!

Triathletes running into transition from bike to run
December 13, 2016

Mike Ricci


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I decided to quit triathlon on Tuesday. But on Saturday, I found myself racing to determine whether it was the racing itself, the training, or just life's overwhelming demands that had been dragging me down. What unfolded taught me a few things, which I'll share in detail.

Let's rewind to the beginning. I did my first race in 1988, a time devoid of aero bars, transition racks, or energy gels. I raced in a speedo for years because there were no "tri shorts" or race uniforms. In essence, I'm saying, "I'm old."

For about 25 years, I remained injury-free. Last year, however, I endured a six-month calf injury. Despite that setback, I managed to rally at the end of the season and achieved a decent result in a Half Ironman in Tempe, AZ, securing 2nd place in my age group with a 4:54 on limited training but decent fitness. I was motivated for 2015. Then, I encountered a non-training injury that persisted for another six months. My training became sporadic, with great weeks followed by weeks of inactivity. Swimming averaged once every 10 days for about 1500-2000 yards, mostly consisting of hard 200s. I rode my bike maybe once or twice a week. Suffice it to say, I was far from being in shape for swimming, biking, or running.

On Tuesday, I headed to the track to do a few 800s. But I felt fatigued, under-fueled, and even the warm-up felt like a chore. After running a few drills and strides, I ran my first 800 at a pace far from my goal pace. I stopped my watch, picked up my water bottle, and walked home. Upon arriving home, I moved my bike from my office to the basement, where it would remain unseen for a few months. After showering, I searched for a t-shirt unrelated to triathlon – a surprisingly difficult task – but eventually found one. I quit triathlon. Done. Finished. Or so I thought.

The following day, I went for a run without wearing a watch, deciding to forego any timing pressure. On Thursday, I went for an hour-long walk. Friday saw me rise early for a one-hour run (still without a watch), during which I felt surprisingly good. It was then that I decided to participate in a local race to test if I still cared about racing. Would I have a nonchalant attitude when passed by others, or would I feel the urge to fight back and assert dominance? I needed to find out if I still cared.

I reached out to the race director of the Loveland Lake to Lake Race, Peggy Shockley, to inquire if I could still sign up. I assumed she would be too busy to respond promptly, giving me an excuse to opt-out. Since online registration had closed, I needed to sign up in person. To my surprise, Peggy replied within minutes, urging me to sign up that day. This unexpected promptness caught me off guard. Despite having scheduled phone calls and my daughter's softball game, I managed to squeeze in a quick swim – 4 sets of 200s, all around 2:50 – before deciding to sign up. I multitasked by making a phone call while driving to Loveland to register, then returned home in time for a scheduled Skype meeting at 4 pm and my daughter's game at 5:45 pm. It seemed like things might just work out.

I made it to Loveland, registered for the race, and returned home for my 4 pm Skype call. Afterward, I swapped my regular wheels for race wheels on my bike, albeit with a brief struggle due to brake issues, which I quickly resolved. Later, my wife informed me that the game was at a field near our house, just 1.5 miles away. So, I hopped on my bike and rode downhill to the game, covering only 6 minutes of biking. Despite the unexpected change in plans, I remained unfazed, hoping my brakes wouldn't rub during the race.

On race day, I aimed not to embarrass myself and to rediscover my passion for racing. For the first time, I decided to race without a watch, eliminating any time-related pressure. I simply wanted to enjoy swimming, biking, and running. When the gun went off for the swim, I noticed two guys surging ahead, but I had no intention of keeping up with them. Throughout the swim, I found myself swimming alongside another guy, who displayed poor navigation skills, veering off course repeatedly and adding extra distance. Despite his erratic swimming, I maintained a comfortable pace, avoiding overexertion.

Exiting the water together, I transitioned swiftly to the bike. Shortly into the ride, the guy I swam with passed me, displaying impressive muscular calves. Feeling slightly intimidated, I let him go initially, questioning my ability to sustain the aero position. However, I soon found my rhythm and caught up to him, passing him briefly before he overtook me again. Opting to draft behind him, I rode conservatively, especially when a sharp pain flared up in my lower abdomen, prompting a brief stop to alleviate it. Once the discomfort eased, I resumed pedaling, only to realize that the gap between us had widened considerably. Summoning my resolve, I launched a surge on a hill, overtaking him decisively. As I made a turn, I spotted him accompanied by a motorbike, indicating he was leading the race. Surprised by this revelation, I pressed on, determined to maintain my lead.

Pushing hard despite both calves cramping from the effort, I worried about being caught by the second-place contender. But I refused to relent, reminding myself of my years of training and my ability to endure suffering. As I reached T2, I was relieved yet apprehensive about the upcoming run, considering my exertion on the bike.

Approximately 400m into the run, both calves seized up, threatening to derail my race. After a brief walk and some stretching, I cautiously resumed jogging, gradually picking up the pace until I found my stride again. With doubts creeping in, I questioned whether I had veered off course or if anyone had overtaken me. Nonetheless, I pushed onward, determined not to relinquish my lead. With about a mile to go, fatigue set in, but the fear of being overtaken spurred me on. Spectators reassured me that no one was close behind, urging me to maintain my pace. Their encouragement fueled my determination, propelling me toward the finish line. Crossing it as the first-place finisher was surreal, considering my lack of training and doubts about racing.

Reflecting on the race, I realized that even in my worst physical condition and contemplating a year-long hiatus, I shouldn't give up. Often, when you're at your lowest point, you're closest to a breakthrough. Believing in yourself and giving your best effort yields no regrets, unlike pursuing goals half-heartedly. The lesson is clear: never surrender. Your best day may be right around the corner, or that long-awaited goal might be within reach sooner than you think. Who hasn't stood on a starting line and dreamt of winning a race? I've harbored that dream for years, and it's surreal how relinquishing expectations often paves the way for unexpected victories. Life works in mysterious ways.

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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