Sunday, April 21, 2013

Good times, bad times, you know I've had my share. (A very short Race Report)

Things did not go very well at the White Sands Sprint Tri on Saturday. In fact, they went pretty bad.

As I'm writing this I'm enjoying the morning sunrise on the beautiful coast of Santa Rosa beach. On Saturday however, I was not enjoying it nearly so much.

When I was packing on Friday morning, I decided to leave my wetsuit at home (just another bag...right) as well as all of my cold weather gear. I mean, it's Panama City Beach... it's going to be scorching hot! Right?

Definitely not. The morning of the race it was 45 degrees. To say I was shivering is a laughable understatement. I honestly don't think I've ever been so cold. A swimskin was almost comically inappropriate attire, and we waited for the Elite Men's wave to fire, I just tried to stay warm. Nonetheless, a 600m swim isn't even a warmup, so I was confident that I was in a solid position to take home the prize purse. (It's here I remind you of someone much more famous than I that said something about pride preceding the fall)

We're given the go sign and we're off. The water is warmer, but I'm still not warm. Also, the sun is beating me in the face on my left side, so I switch to breathing only on my right. The course is a normal style out 200m, over 200m, in 200m. Directly before reaching the first buoy I look up to sight... and vomit!

I'm not going to lie to you, that scared the sh*t out of me. I've never vomited on a swim. I stop at the buoy and retch again. At this point a paddleboarder makes his way over to me to ask if I'm alright. I nod and give him the "ok" hand sign and turn to start again. I get another 20 feet or so before I hurl again, this time dry heave. The paddleboarder is closer now. Our conversation is as follows...

" You ok man?"
" I think so... not sure what's wrong."
" Salt water?"
" I guess, I don't think I was just drinking a bunch of it though..."
" Are you in the elite wave?"
" Yeah."
" Sorry man, I think your race is over."

I look. The rest of the elite wave has made the turn back in to shore. Now comes a tough choice.

I can suck it up and push through. I probably don't have a shot at the podium, but I can still probably salvage a decent finish.

Or I can quit.

That's right, Quit. It's a tough word to even write. I mean... It's a 600m swim. I've finished races of EVERY distance. That includes a 2.4 mile Open water swim. So I'm considering pulling out over a swim distance shorter than my usual warmups?

Not only considered, but done. I tell the paddleboarder I'm done, but that I can swim back in to shore myself (so he can keep a look on others as the other waves are starting)

I take my time getting back to shore and turn in my chip. I try to vomit again but either there's nothing left or I can't force it up. An extremely nice woman near transition loans me a beach towel to wrap up in (I'm still shivering cold... as I've been doing since 15 minutes before the start) and asks if I'm ok. My buddy Wes wants me to go to the medical support (he was pretty worried... in his exact words "what the #$@! happened man???") but I assure him I'm going to survive.  We pack up and I sit in the car with the heater running full blast for about 10 minutes.

So ends my White Sands Triathlon.

Now, what went wrong? What turns a 600m swim into a DNF for a seasoned triathlete. Most importantly, what can I learn from this race.

First, I was terribly unprepared. My reasoning against taking my warm weather gear & wetsuit was "it's the beach, it's going to be scorching hot!" That was supported by 0% fact. It would have taken my 30 seconds to verify all that on the computer. My reason against taking the wetsuit was that it was an extra bag to pack... sure an extra bag that took up about a square foot. Big deal. It was foolish NOT to take it.

Understanding that salt water is much different than fresh water is something that I probably couldn't have truly prepared for, especially in the sense of how it affected my stomach. In the future, I will make a more active point of trying NOT to swallow ANY water (I don't generally go out of my way to spit out any small amount of water that gets in my mouth) and I plan to use a good portion of the rest of my vacation swimming in the ocean, trying to learn it a bit better.

The final thing I want to talk about is "when you know" that it's time to pull out of a race.

It's very important to NOT let emotions make decisions for you when racing. Usually when we talk about that, it's in regards to pushing on in a race. I talked about suffering a few weeks ago, and suffering through the emotional pull to "stop" is part of endurance sports.

That said, it's important not to let emotions rule you in the opposite way either. Emotionally, I wanted to push on and finish the race. And why not, I'm no quitter. You're going to look like a Pansy... what, you just don't have it any more? You're in the elite wave and you can't even finish the swim!!! Ooohh Big Bad swim is too tough for baby. AND IT'S JUST 600m! These are the things that were actively going through my mind. But when you take emotional responses out of it, let's look at the facts.

- I'm sick. Whether it's just salt water or something else, I can only guess (it's a good guess, but out in open water is not the place to be guessing)

- I'm out of the race for the elite wave. Even with a super tight bike split and run, I'm not going to be able to make up 3-5 minutes.

- I don't need to prove to anyone, myself included, that I CAN DO IT. I know I can swim the distance. Hell, I swam back to shore under my own power.

- Even if the rest of the swim is uneventful, I'm going to be dehydrated and shivering cold. Is it smart to jump on a tri bike and push a big gear like that?

In the end, it's easy to see what the right choice was. I had no business continuing. If this had been a question on a forum from someone, my advice would have been "pull out...duh." Of course, it's easy to spit advice at someone you've never met... it's a lot tougher to take your own medicine.

And so here I am, still at the beach, feeling fine (I actually felt fine as soon as I warmed up) and enjoying this sunrise. I'm disappointed that my race went the way it did of course, but nonetheless it was invaluable. I have learned things at this sprint that I have to adapt and work around (I can't imagine if my first salt water swim had been something like IM Florida)  and it will not effect me negatively going forward. I'm going to take my vacation easy, rest both physically and mentally (even spiritually if you believe in that new age stuff) and be both recharged and excited for the rest of the race season this year.

Thank you all so much for reading, I hope my bad experience will help both myself and possibly you in the future.

- Christopher Morelock.


  1. Considering your goal this was the right thing to do for you. I get a lot of flack from my tri buddies because I say if I get a flat tire in a sprint or olympic I won't bother fixing it and I will DNF, because at that point I am out of the race. We are past the point where we are just satisfied in finishing a small race, I hate admitting that, but its the truth. You are young have have so many elite races ahead of you, you'll hit your stride (or should I so, stroke) next time!

  2. I would have totally freaked out if I started vomiting on the swim! Impressed you were able to hold it together! I agree you made the right call. Sorry it did not go as planned!

    1. Such is life :) At least I learned something(s)