Just because I’m a pro doesn’t mean I always execute races perfectly. As most of you know, I’ve been racing a long time and I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes in triathlon. I thought it would fun to do a run down of the more ridiculous mistakes I’ve made in races.
20 years ago in my very first pro race back in the Gold Coast in Australia, I did a sprint format race. I had been training with my coach Cole Stewart who at the time had probably the best group of professional triathletes in the world with the likes of Miles Stewart, Matt Reed, Chris McCormack, and Shane Snuffy Reed, just to name a few. I had big shoes to fill in my first race with these guys either watching or racing. Back then I was a pretty terrible swimmer. As I got on the bike to start chasing, I realized I had put my left shoe on my right pedal and vice versa. At first I tried to put my feet in and ride like that, but after a couple of miles it got too painful, so I decided to try and switch them over. Instead of stopping, I thought I’d be smart and reach down and unclip one and put that shoe in my mouth while I switched the other shoe over. Although it worked, I lost a lot of time and a lot of dignity as most of my friends saw me doing it. I became the butt of everyone’s jokes for a few weeks.
A few years later, I was racing in Phuket, Thailand. Me and Miles Stewart were putting our bikes together and I’d realized that I left my front skewer at home. I knew there was a bike mechanic down at the expo, so I thought it would be a great idea to just put the front wheel in and ride a few miles down to transition. As I was getting to transition, I was quite pleased with myself for making it without crashing and for some stupid reason, I sat up and took my hands off the handlebar. As I did that, I hit a pothole and my front wheel popped out. As my forks dug into the ground, I went over the handlebars and landed on the head stem and broke two ribs. Of course I tried to race. I made it a couple of miles into the run and then had to pull out.
After battling a few years of Cole Stewart’s training, I managed to get a start at the Grand Prix sprint series in Australia, which was doubling up as the Commonwealth Games Selection Trials and also the Australian Sprint Championships. I was having probably one of the best races of my career at that point. I came out in the lead group in the swim and broke away on the bike with a group of legends including Hamish Carter, Miles Stewart, and Matt Reed. Towards the end of the bike, I managed to break away from them and put about a minute into them leading into transition. However it was a multi-lap bike course and when other athletes were lapped, they had to pull out. Riding on my own, I came up behind a large group on the bike and I got really excited to pass them all, but I was on my final lap and should have gone into transition. I ended up riding down to the turnaround and back which was an extra couple of K’s that I wasn’t supposed to do. By the time I got into transition, the group I had broken away from was just leaving on the run. That day I probably missed getting an Australian title and a spot at the Commonwealth Games.
In the early days when I was in racing in Germany, I quite often raced double Saturday and Sunday races. This particular time I raced in Darmstadt on a Saturday. I borrowed my friend’s hatchback car and drove to the Netherlands that night. Unlike America, small hotels in Europe close their doors around 10pm. I arrived closer to midnight and couldn’t get into the hotel. I had to put the seats down in the car and just sleep in the back of that. I used my wetsuit as a blanket. All I had for breakfast was leftover pizza and a banana and then I went and raced.
Another race I did in the Netherlands was a ETU cup race. This race had two transitions. I had a great swim-bike and got off the bike with 2 or 3 guys in the lead. However when I went to get my shoes out of the transition box, they weren’t there. I forgot to check them in at transition in the morning. Without thinking too much, I took off on the run in bare feet. This race was a 3 lap course. Luckily back then I was only doing Olympic distance and my friend was also racing. For some reason he had pulled out so he gave me his shoes going into the second lap. He’s 6’2″ and size 11 feet and I’m 8.5, however it was way better than running on bare feet. I still managed to hold on for a top 3 finish.
In 2009 at the 70.3 World Championships, I was probably in the best shape of my career. I had start number 2 and for some reason Ironman started using the plastic transition bags in 70.3 races. This was new for me and for some reason the pros just had to lay our bags out on the ground. I had a fantastic swim coming out of the water in the top 10. As I ran through transition, I grabbed the second bag and what I thought was my bike bag. I ran into the change tent where I dumped out the contents on the ground. As I put the helmet on, I realized it wasn’t mine. At the time, I picked up the sunglasses and decided to race anyway, but as I exited the transition tent, my conscience got the better of me, so I ran back to grab the correct bag. By the time I got everything sorted out, I’d lost close to 2 minutes. This particular year, there was a 50 man front group on the bike and I got stuck riding alone behind them. I ended up with one of the fastest run splits running from 50th place into 11th, but it didn’t do me much good. This led me to my next stupid decision, which was doing Ironman Arizona the next weekend. I had a great race in Ironman Arizona until the last 6 miles, where I completely imploded. I still managed to finish fourth but it scarred me for nearly 5 years.
The last time I raced at 70.3 Austin, I woke up early and had all my nutrition packed and ready in the fridge from the night before. Once I got up, I put my race kit on. I was still feeling a little sleepy and laid back on the bed. I still to this day don’t know what happened. I thought I only laid there for one or two minutes, but apparently I’d fallen asleep for an hour. Once I got up, I went into the kitchen to make breakfast and then saw the time on the clock and it was only one hour before the start of the race. Luckily I had checked the bikes in the day before. I had a major panic attack and just ran out of the house and got in the car and started driving to the race, which was half an hour away. Once I got close to the race, I got caught up in the age group traffic trying to get into the parking lot, which took another 20 minutes. While I was sitting in the car, I realized that I had left all my nutrition in the fridge. I made an emergency call to BigSexy McDonald, who was living in Austin at the time. He managed to call his wife who brought a water bottle from home. As I ran into transition, she passed me the bottle with a couple of gels. I dumped the gels in the bottle and ran down to the swim start. As I got there, everyone was lined up and ready to go. Luckily the race was delayed 5 minutes, which allowed me to get my wetsuit on and start with everybody. I still managed to finish 2nd on just one water bottle.
Another dumbass mistake was when I raced down in Costa Rica. I thought I would be smart and charge my DI2 battery before I left so I wouldn’t have to take the charger with me. Once I got there, I realized I had left my DI2 battery at home. This was back in the early days when I was one of the only people riding electronic shifters. Back then, nobody had spare anything for electronic gears. Luckily a friend got delayed in Chicago coming to the race and they went to a bike shop and borrowed a battery and it ended up working out fine. You’d think I would have learned from this mistake, but it’s happened a few more times since.
Sadly this isn’t all my stupid mistakes and I’m sure I’ll make plenty more. I hope this makes all of your feel better anytime you make a dumb mistake. Don’t stress or panic about the little mistakes – things always work out in the end. And if they don’t, at least you’ll have a good story and a laugh.