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Dear Coach: I Keep Missing the Podium

Dear Coach: I Keep Missing the Podium

Mary Timoney

Ironman University Certified Coach

We’ve all been there…4th Place.

Missing the podium finish by one place. So so frustrating.

If you are competitive like me, 4th place in a race is torture. That means that you trained for weeks on end, grinded it out like nobody’s business, sacrificed your sleep, gave up time with friends etc.-all for a 4th place finish. That sucks. I totally get it. I have been there!

I remember earlier in my career signing up for a Sprint triathlon series in Charleston, SC out at a state park on the beach. I committed to doing 3 of the 4 races and really hoped for a podium finish at all of them. The year before I had taken Overall Masters Female at that same race at the same venue so I was feeling very confident that I could go up there and show them how it’s done.

The first race was in late May and it was very hot but all in all a decent day weather wise. I drove up with a friend the night before, had a nice pasta dinner, half of a glass of wine to calm down, then went to bed early to be at transition by 6am. I used to get very nervous before races because I put tremendous pressure on myself to do well. I learned that the more you have invested in something and the more it means to you, the more anxiety you feel, LOL. I was in a tough age group at the time, but I knew I was competitive and that I had a great chance of a podium finish once again. My swim was just ok because the water was murky, visibility was low, and they had changed the swim course from the previous season. My bike ride was fast and I felt very good as I passed several competitors in my age group. I was going for the win. When I got to the run, it was slow going at first, very hot, and my legs kept cramping up on me. I truly started to feel like my legs were lead, my breathing was very labored, and I really wanted to walk but didn’t. Disappointed, my pace per mile was about 8:30, almost :45 seconds slower than usual. As I crossed the finish line I wondered if I still had a chance at the podium, although I had seen several ladies in my AG pass me on the run after I had smoked them on the bike. Super disappointing. We checked the times at the results tent and just as I had suspected, I was fourth in my age group.

The next race in the series was about 2 weeks later, and we tied it in with our vacation to Myrtle Beach. I knew I had to have a slightly better swim and much better run in order to place first. In a nutshell, the same freakin’ thing happened again- my run was very labored in the heat, I couldn’t get into a rhythm and ran another 8 min pace. Fourth place AGAIN and only by a few seconds.

This went on to happen even once more and I was out of my mind with anger, frustration, and sadness. Why couldn’t I be on the podium like last year? Why were my splits so shitty? I knew I could do better.

I am very competitive and always have been. Most of the sports I did growing up were individual sports such as track, cross country, and gymnastics. I remember feeling nauseous at gymnastic meets before my turn at the uneven bars. I was first in the district for bars and the pressure to keep it that way was tremendous!

I remember not signing up for races if I knew that I wasn’t in my prime because then I might not win. I rarely raced “just for fun” because I felt like I had to prove myself. And most of the time I did. I think I only raced a handful of times in my career without a podium finish.

But why would I tank 3X in a row with a 4th place finish? What’s really going on with an athlete that keeps missing the podium by a hair?

Looking back, here’s my take on the entire thing:

1. I was not relaxed. AT ALL. The tension and pressure I put on myself didn’t help me relax and run my best race. I wasn’t having fun. I was racing completely stressed. I had to lighten the load I was placing on myself.

2. I’m pretty sure I was dehydrated. The series was dead in the middle of summer, and although the distance was short, it was still hot AF on the run. I didn’t know then what I know now about keeping your body hydrated. It has to start the week before the race.

3. I didn’t go through and look at my numbers the way I should have. What was my TSS (training stress score)? What was my cumulative fatigue over the past several weeks? What was my HR upon waking? How fast was I recovering after workouts? These are all pretty good indicators of fatigue and /or overtraining- higher resting HR, feeling of fatigue, depression, apathy toward workouts, inability to bring down HR after hard efforts etc. Although I didn’t have all of these symptoms, I’m pretty sure I was fatigued and dehydrated.

4. I wasn’t doing any mobility work on my body. None. I learned that mobility and flexibility make your body feel good AND it can make you race better! I once read that the PiYo workout can actually lengthen your stride for running.

5. My nutrition sucked. I never bothered to do a sweat test to see how much fluid I lost on the bike and run. I should have been more methodical but I was just winging it. Just because you are racing a shorter distance race doesn’t mean you can skip your hydration and nutrition.

6. I was wasting too much time in transition. Not clipping shoes into pedals, trying to put on gloves, and not learning how to mount and dismount the bike quickly. All these things add up to a few seconds, but seconds is what separates 2nd place from 1st place.

These are the big things I was doing wrong and they were costing me my podium finish. Breaking down your race piece by piece and having a look at all of the components is a game changer. I highly recommend digging deep and taking a good look at your Training Peaks numbers, nutrition, hydration, sleep, self-care, and training load. I learned over time that all of these things matter.

I hope you find this article helpful. Have you thought about hiring a coach for your next event? Click the purple box to learn more and I will set us up for a 15 min chat about your race goals!


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