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Coaches Blog

Just do it!

Updated: Jan 8, 2020

By Mandi Kowal

Race week is always a fun time for me as a coach and as an athlete. I love thinking about my athletes getting ready to race when I type up their plans for the week. Usually, I envision them doing the work and getting psyched. I do it with the intention of them following the words of advice, following the workouts to a “T”. I’m sure my coach does that for me as well.

But sometimes reality can hit you smack in the face. Not everything can go as planned and sometimes if an athlete can complete 80% of the work it’s a great week. I was reminded of this once again.

I’ve been in the middle of relocating my Mom from Florida to Iowa. Purging began in the summer of 2018, then packing, then purging, then moving, now the final purge is here. It has been more draining than I realized and last week was the low. This happen to coincide with my race week which put a damper on my race mentality. To be honest, I felt like I was just surviving to complete the week. The pressing question for me was would I race? I didn’t want to. I wasn’t there mentally. I just wanted to wave a wand, have the stuff gone, and sleep the entire week. Well, I did sleep a lot and I think I might have worked out twice. That’s right TWICE. That. Was. It.

When Saturday rolled around, I was thick into the project and making some serious headway. I was feeling good but still didn’t want to race. I was going to ask my family and then I said to myself, “Don’t ask anyone. Just get yourself on your way. You already paid for it, so just do it! Otherwise, you won’t feel good when Monday rolls around.”

So I packed up and started my drive to the race site for packet pick up.

The ride helped as I was listening to a great book on tape to pass the time. Then I got my packet, drove the racecourse and ran into one of my athletes. Things were turning for me mentally. Driving the racecourse always puts me in race mode because I think about how I will attack the course as I deal with the rain, the varying winds, sharp turns, etc.

Fast forward to the morning. I went to put on my race kit and saw that I had two different kit pieces. (see top photo) - the black bottoms and blue top. I laughed at myself. At least it wasn’t two bottoms.

It was a steady rain for our pre-race set up. I was happy to have a good raincoat and the kick butt golf umbrella I grabbed from my Mom’s pile of stuff. I laughed at the irony of that. Heck I even had enough plastic bags to cover my stuff in transition stuff and bag, holding off the inevitable, all will soon be sopping wet.

During the warmup I still felt a bit flat. Since I was in the last wave, I didn’t want to be cold before the race, so I didn’t get into the water. I was proud of my athletes who did and were able to tell me that the lake was full of weeds. I could see that as I looked at them and they had weeds stuck in their goggles. Well, this was going to be fun. As I watched and waited for all the waves to go off, I did a lot of mobility work. It helps me a lot.

It was during this time I realized that I was pumped to be in the last wave. Why? Because I love having lots of people to chase! It will be like a game of Pac-man. You get to chase the “dots” and chomp them down.

The swim got itself off to a strong and frenzied start. Weeds were flying everywhere. I laugh thinking of those weeds covering my entire face. There were points where you felt like you were grabbing the weeds to move forward. Before I knew it, my arms were asking for oxygen as I tried to break away from the group. After a minute or two, I decided I'd better relax and get into my pace I can hold for 750m. If these other peeps want to sprint, they can, but I need to lock in my race pace. After I rounded the bend, I found myself pulling away from those in my wave. It felt great and I was catching those in the wave ahead of ours. I was right along the buoy line which fired me up.

At this point, I realized ‘Hey, you’re into it!’ I was into full on race mode and loving it. This is what I had been waiting for so let’s have some fun. And it was all fun except those big rocks on the shoreline which made getting out of the water tough. Ouch!

As I headed into transition, I was thinking of those tiny adjustments I wanted to make sure to do so I could get out of my wet suit faster. Cover the watch, cover the chip, pull the suit to the ankles. Sweet, that was great. I got out of the wetsuit faster than I had all season. Finally! I felt good. And now the bike!

This was the best part of the race. I don’t think I have ever had so much fun on the bike. It felt easy, my watts were better than expected and I felt like I was flying. I was going over 25 mph and thought there must have been a tailwind. I told myself to make a mental note because I would feel this on the way back. I remember the rain hitting the helmet, thinking about being on the best part of the road for speed and corning and still passing people. One guy passed me, but he didn’t go far. I used him as bait for myself. "Don’t lose him Kowal, he’s right there. Then you can take him on the run." There were some sharp turns, and a few hills, but my timing with gearing and getting up on the other side were the best of the year. I kept thinking, this is a blast, I’m having so much fun. I’m winning at Pac-man. I feel strong, my legs were not tired. Oh wait, where is your water bottle Kowal? Not on the bike. I laughed at this but made sure to make a mental note to get some water at the first aid station on the run. Okay, last big climb, wow, I’m here already? Well, get up this hill. Holy cow, now I’m on the straight away home. This is good and time is flying. Rain is still driving down on us, not pouring but I hear it on my helmet. Here comes the head wind. My speed wasn’t 25 but 21.5+ so not bad. Power is still where I want it. I wonder where my competitors are, my guess is they are on the run. They started 4 waves ahead of me, about 12 minutes difference. I was trying to do math the entire bike ride. When I saw them with 2.5 miles to go, I knew I was still in striking distance. The last stretch proved to be just as fun as the start. Still the speed was good, I was still passing people and now the run. I love running in the rain, I find it refreshing!

Let’s do this.

I headed out on the run. I felt strong, my legs were a little fatigued, but nothing to alter my pace or mindset. Many times, I don’t look at my watch during the running portion of the race. I usually sink into perceived exertion mode as I've done most of my life. I felt like my stride was right and I was moving well. I was looking for my competitors to get a sense of how they were doing. I continued to do some math knowing it’s not my strong point during the race. The main point of me was knowing I was still in striking distance of beating them. When I finally saw them, it motivated me as they looked strong. I knew I was at a good clip so hold it so you don’t explode. You know your pace so hold it.

I decided to check my watch after the first mile to see where I was at, 7:15. Okay, not bad, keep this feeling, keep this cadence, keep chomping them down. At one point, I was moving on this guy. He ended up being the biker who had passed me but didn’t get out of my site. He turned and said, “I could hear you coming.” I just gave him a thumbs up. I can’t talk during the run because I’m breathing so hard. It felt great to pass him.

The 2-mile mark ticked by, my watch buzzed, and I looked down and the watch posted 7:21 for the mile. Okay, that’s good. Not much of a change, that’s a good sign. Just over a mile to go. Hmmm, I feel a bit nauseous. Lump in my throat, don’t lose it, keep going. It may pass. At this point, I put my sights on my next person, making slow but steady progress reeling them in.

Now I’m in my last half mile, where should I take off? Decide now Kowal. Where can you take off, get into a sprint and time it so you can keep that speed to the finish line? I saw my point. It was right at the 3-mile mark. As I got to the 3 mile mark, my watch buzzed, 7:18. GREAT! You just went faster. Now pour it on, pass this guy and finish strong. Pump the arms, lean forward, GO!

The finish line. I was able to go at a 6:30 pace for the last bit. I only saw it as I looked at my data. It didn’t feel much faster than my 7:18 pace which was a good sign to me. Meant I left it out there and didn’t save it for the end. I could feel it as I was spent. Bam!

Immediately, without looking at any results, I was super happy with the race. So many things came together. Not everything was perfect, but I rolled with the punches. I took in the day, the experience, the race situation and used it to race strong. Sometimes we can overthink the races. And there are other times you need to just toe on the line and do what you how to do. You will never know. So just do it - put yourself there to make the best of it and do what you can.

With this race, the winning moment was getting my butt to the starting line. I didn’t let what happened the previous 7 days define what the experience would be. I was right, I would have been mad had I not raced. It’s such a great reminder why we do this as a hobby. It’s a hobby, sometimes we need to remember that. We aren’t professionals even though it may mean a lot to us. As adults, with all we have on our plates, not every day is puppies, petunias and perfection. So get out there and Just do it!

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