A little life and race wisdom

When your legs don’t wanna play, put the hammer down

I’ve been very short on blog posts this year. Not because I couldn’t be bothered, but simply because every time I sit down to write, the phone rings with some other, real-money-making job, and I redefine priorities…

And now it’s almost October and I don’t know where the summer of 2019 went. Highlights flash into my head and back out again.

I was famous for a week in June after the monsoon-themed IM Ireland;
I spent a sunny month of July riding in the Alps before the Etape du Tour;
I decided to do Embrun in August, arrogantly believing I could rock up and crush the bike course…

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I won the first, came second in the bike race, and fell flat on my face in Embrun.

My perspective, of course. I made it to the end of the mythical race, and 5th still paid some bills. The problem was, I was useless. I got on the bike and nothing happened. I rode up the first hill – all 8 of 188km – wondering are we there yet?

Haven’t you ever had that feeling after a bad race, like never got into it?
You look back and you can barely remember how you got round?

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I’ve never believed in the “I didn’t have the legs” excuse.

In my world, legs are attached to the brain.

If you don’t want to go, then your legs sure as hell aren’t going to do the work for you. But whether it was my legs or my head in Embrun, I got zero spark from either.

I slogged for seven hours straight through the stunning alpine landscape, wishing I was anywhere but on my bike. Wondering if a double puncture or a crash would put me out of my misery. Thinking of the guys back home who were watching and cheering me on, of Guilhem by the roadside who would tan my backside for dropping out for any other reason than grievous injury.

Long story short, I got round the bike course. I finished the race. I was bitterly disappointed, and more than a little pissed off with myself. I got seriously ill 3 days later and spent a week shivering in bed, which may have had something to do with it.

But the point was, I never got going. I was brain-dead, leg-dead; no rhythm, no fire, no pulse-throbbing excitement. No racing.

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Three weeks later, I travelled to Gerardmer for another epic triathlon with a hilly, leg-killing bike course. I paced the hotel room the evening before, worrying I’d forgotten how to ride a bike / I was going to die halfway round / the broom wagon would sweep me up. G told me to cut it out (nicely).

“If you get out of the water and your legs feel like they did in Embrun… hit the gas. I don’t care what they say; hit it for ten minutes straight, and don’t you dare think!”

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I came out of the water. Faffed around in transition trying to put clothes on. Rode 2k down the road to the bottom of the first hill.

The air was cold, I was cold, my legs were cold.

OK, time for plan B. I stood up on the pedals and opened the throttle, trying to persuade my reluctant body to start pumping some blood. For fuck’s sake woman, ride! The road tipped skywards. I gripped the handlebar as my heart rate rocketed. I ignored the burning in my quads; ignored the stupid little voice whispering about another 80km and a half marathon run; ignored general “below-threshold” triathlon wisdom and just rode.

Of course I didn’t stop after 10 minutes because it took this long-distance triathlete a full hour to warm up and realise she’d kicked herself out of the sleepy rhythm and back into racing mode.

But it was enough to rack my bike four and a half minutes ahead of anyone else, which gave me enough of a buffer to die two-thirds of the way round the run and still grab the tape.

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Perhaps it’s wasn’t the most orthodox race strategy, and I’m pretty sure it’s not the method recommended by most triathlon coaches… But it worked, and it also confirmed what I’ve always believed.

If you stand around waiting for something to happen, it likely won’t. Go out and at least give yourself a chance, even if you blow up trying.


Motivational speech over for today!

See you in Kona!



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Photo credits © Activ’Images, Terry Bilham, B. Delhomme


There are 2 comments on this post
  1. Johnny Zumbrunen
    March 26, 2020, 9:57 am

    Bonjour Emma,
    Mon expérience de sportif de haut niveau en cap (tout en travaillant à 100%) il y a un certain temps, ma convaincu que 65 à 70 % c’est le mental Ce mental que beaucoup oublient en faisant des km et encore des km!
    Bravo pour tes performances et je te souhaite la meilleure des préparation, en prenant bien soin de Toi.
    De mon côté je vais renouer avec l’IM à Cervia ayant plus de temps, je vais prendre ma retraite…mon but me qualifier pour Kona 2020…pour cela il va falloir assurer 10h50 et gagner ma catégorie.

    • March 27, 2020, 10:42 am

      Bonjour Johnny, merci pour le message! Effectivement, dès le moment où la condition physique est là (et même parfois si elle ne l’est pas!) le mental fait toujours la différence entre une bonne et une mauvaise perf’… Tout le meilleur pour ta préparation, et ton Ironman! Ce sera quoiqu’il arrive un beau voyage et un super défi 🙂 Emma

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