By Rachel Faulds
I flew to Romania with a purpose; execute a race that I was proud of, earn some points, and make some euros. I was ‘on form’ which is an athlete’s way of saying that my training showed me something special could happen. My body was primed to deliver, and it was on me to make it happen.
Like any competitor taking a risk, this opportunity thrilled me. I like to think that one of my biggest strengths as an athlete and as a human, is how much I trust myself. Stepping onto the plane at Pearson I felt calm and confident. The travel wasn’t seamless, with multiple delayed flights, extra baggage fees, and a little less sleep than I had hoped for. But 15 hours later I was at the Bucharest airport and found the man the race organizers had sent to pick me up and drive me to the venue. I got into my hotel around seven and squeezed in a quick run as it was getting dark. My legs felt surprisingly good, no stiffness, effort felt easy, and the body was great.
I went back to my hotel and the moment really sunk in, this was my first time in mainland Europe. My first time traveling somewhere where I knew there would be some language barriers and my first time going to a race completely solo. Usually, I have teammates at my races, but I was the only Canadian on this start list; I was in Eastern Europe completely alone. All of these realizations made me a little excited and just added to the fiercely independent person I viewed myself as. I felt strong, I felt capable, I still felt ready.
It was getting late and I was starting to feel tired, so I walked to a restaurant to grab some takeout. Just for some context -I’m a vegetarian. So, I ordered what I thought was some plain pasta and went back to my hotel where I saw that there was bacon throughout and I couldn’t eat it. Now dinnerless, it was one point for the language barrier and minus one point for me.
The next morning food was my priority but finding it within walking distance proved virtually impossible. I settled for buying a lot of granola bars, some bananas and a San Pellegrino. In was 10:30 am restaurants were sparse and their hours unreliable. The only constant was access to cappuccinos, liquor or cigarettes. Armed with caffeine and a granola bar I went back to my hotel to assemble my bike where I realized the skewer on my back wheel had been damaged on the flight over making my bike un- ridable.
At this moment I felt proud of my composure- I contacted the appropriate people to focus on getting it fixed. The problem was the wait; my only access to a mechanic was mid-afternoon the day before the race and after the Elite Athlete Course Preview. Knowing I would be unable to view the course I studied the maps and tried to run portions of the route to make mental notes.
Meals were still a problem. Accessing vegetarian food proved difficult and I could only rely on having one ‘good’ meal a day with a lot of granola bars to keep some calories up. I did find joy in the quality of the cappuccinos though. Sleep was also hard; I’m not sure if it was the jet lag or the worry I was trying to suppress about my bike or not being able to follow my pre-race routine- but I got about three to five hours a night less than I would have preferred.
Race day came and I woke up with a very runny nose and lethargic legs. It didn’t matter; I had a job to do. Grabbed a granola bar and cappuccino then tried to relax. Gun went off at two. I felt nervous and tried to combat the nerves by taking 10 minutes to myself to focus on my ‘why’.
Why was I here?
Why was I doing this?
The answer is always the same:
To make myself proud.
The ‘how’ to my ‘why’ was a pre-race promise to myself. I promised that in every opportunity I would make the decision to be tough. Commit to it now, so that when things get hard, there is no thinking there is only doing. A mantra if you will.
A few hours later I was on the start line. A familiar line up based on World Ranking with the ‘heart beat’ music we were accustomed to. I heard the command ‘You’re in the hands of the starter’ followed by the gun. From that gun to the finish I no longer felt like myself, I could walk you through the execution and the exact flaws in my race but that isn’t the point. It could be summarized by saying there was a huge disconnect between my mind and my body. My mind kept repeating ‘brave and tough’ and my body never responded. Runny nose and lethargic legs were all I could produce. I was the last elite across the line.
I cooled down, grabbed my bike and walked back to the hotel-defeated. I called my mom and her immediate reaction was to comfort me; ‘Well Rach, this was all new to you. It’s your first European cup. You haven’t had a real breakfast or lunch since Tuesday. You had the stress of your bike, you haven’t been sleeping. It was your first-time racing with such aggressive waves (the Black Sea does have aggressive waves). There were a lot of firsts this weekend and you gained some experience so next time it can be better. It’s okay.’ I hung up to sit by myself because something didn’t feel right, and I needed to figure it out.
Everything she said was true, there were a lot of firsts and there was a lot of stress, but it felt like if I accepted that as the reason I would be projecting all the fault into external factors and not really looking at myself. I made the choice to pursue elite triathlon, so I need to behave like a damn professional and be better. I thought about the list of reasons and could combat each of them with what I could have done better in the given situation and knew that I needed to take complete ownership.
When things go well, I own my success. I love taking credit for my hard work, my resilience, and my execution. All the characteristics that I’ve chosen. So, in that moment, sitting by myself- taking ownership of where I failed felt like the only authentic solution. My body was primed, my coach and soft tissue team put me in the best position to perform that day and I was the one who didn’t execute. I focused on racing brave and racing tough but neglected being smart- and that neglect cost me.
I’ve come to terms with that because I feel like if I can identify why I failed and where I failed, then I have the capacity to succeed. It just comes down to me, the person that I take pride in trusting so much. So, I went to my first European cup and I didn’t execute- something that I am responsible for, and you can quote me on that anytime because you can bet that when I have that breakthrough that my body is primed for- I’m sure as hell going to own that.
Feature Image Photo Credit: Radu-Cristi