Friday, 7 January 2011

How triathlon training can get you through the inconceivable.

I've written before about triathlon and improvisation. Simple principle: If you prepare to improvise, you probably won't have to...much. In a race, bad things can happen and usually do.

A short generic list could look like this:
  • Forget to pack race nutrition
  • Goggles break during race warm-up
  • Get a flat or two or three
  • Weather too hot, or too cold or too wet
  • Go out too fast, or too slow
  • Bonk, hit the wall, bite the dust, crash and burn...
How you respond to bad things is a small indication of how well you have trained athletically and a bigger indication of if you have the mental toughness  required to successfully complete any endurance activity.

During a race, bad things happen. Sometimes they come in clusters. Sometimes you can overcome and persevere. Other times it is best to just pack up and go home, knowing that you are not quitting, you are making a strategic race decision. The outcome of this decision will impact future races, training patterns, and even, potentially, how you deal with real life, non-sport situations.

Personally, in difficult situations, I have found myself repeating the mantra, "I can do this, I'm an Ironman!" It usually helps, or at least adds comic relief, especially when facing a toilet plunging situation.

But sometimes, in very rare situations, you may find yourself in a place where you cannot make a "strategic race decision". You cannot simply stop, you must endure. You must take everything that is thrown at you, make the best of it and just get through it. A good attitude is the only thing that can get you through these situations.

Think of bad work assignment situations, family crises, natural disasters and, in a very recent example from my life, international family vacations.

Those of you who know me, know that my family and I just completed a disappointing holiday. Because it involved air travel,  we were in a situation where calling it a day and going home was just not possible - or permitted by federal law and the Department of Homeland Security. But we endured. And even as things went from bad to worse to ridiculous and then changed gear into inconceivable and absurd, we got through it. My mental toughness and positive attitude kept me sane. My family? They probably kept it together after years of dealing with my mental toughness babbling.

We endured, we persevered, we finally got home.

How bad could it have been? Really? Here goes - in short points:
  • Journey begins pre-dawn December 18.
  • Plane delayed.
  • Arrive Chicago O'Hare. Connecting flight to London, Heathrow canceled.
  • Heathrow Airport closed for all air traffic indefinitely. Here is some related Airport closure news.
  • Stranded in Chicago for six days. Two adults, two teenagers - one small hotel room. (Did enjoy Chicago, great city!)
  • Fly to Heathrow Airport for transfer to Glasgow, Scotland.
  • Glasgow connection delayed because aircraft must arrive from Dublin and Dublin airport closed for two hours because of "pilot error". Some dude took wrong turn on main runway and got stuck. This was originally a link, but now longer works.
  • Arrive Glasgow, December 24th, 9 pm.
  • My suitcase is utterly destroyed and is only held together by luggage belt that I had put on it.
  • Our host, tour guide, chauffeur and close relative becomes ill and bed-bound for 5 days.
  • Coldest and snowiest December in UK on record.
  • Never saw the sun once, except in pictures and a documentary on the Discovery Network.
  • Swine Flu epidemic grows in UK.
  • Friends and one child all get sick to varying degrees.
  • I get sick for two days.
  • We do nothing that was planned during our vacation.
  • Spouse falls on ice and seriously bruises elbow. Can't use arm for one day.
  • The day before we are scheduled to leave, an elder and much-loved relative dies.
  • January 4th 2011, journey back home begins in the pre-dawn darkness.
  • Flight is delayed because fuel delivery system at Heathrow breaks down and no planes can be refueled.
  • Arrive at Heathrow, we missed our flight to Chicago on United. 
  • No flights available for a family of four going anywhere close to North America until the next day.
  • Booked in the Ibis Hotel, AKA the Abyss in London for the night. Not a hotel I would normally even recommend to enemies.   Edit. this hotel has cleaned up its act, since then. Probably because of this blog.
  • Spouse gets sick - has the same flu-like symptoms that everyone had earlier in the week.
  • January 5, 2011. Scheduled to fly with Air Canada from Heathrow to Calgary, Alberta, then home.
  • Plane is delayed one hour because air crew needs more sleep because of late previous night arrival.
  • On runway, plane has a generator malfunction and must taxi back to terminal.
  • Decision is made to use back-up generator, after refueling and going to the back of the take-off cue, plane takes off, three hours late.
  • Miss connection in Calgary. 
  • Get standby tickets for 9 pm flight, but that flight is overbooked. 
  • Spouse and one child manage to get seats because there are two no-shows. 
  • My other child and I spend the night in Calgary, arriving at Hotel just after 10:30 pm.
  • Leave hotel on January 7th, 5 a.m. to catch flight home.
  • Truly problem-free and effortless 45 minute flight home.  
Thanks to my triathlon training (and a two precious solo runs in Glasgow), we endured the bewilderment of the inconceivable, much like after a race where everything goes wrong, despite months of training and dedication.


    1. Hey Terry, good to see you are back. Sorry to hear things did not go well. Knowing you, I know you would have made the best of it.
      What can one say, sometimes shit happens but this time it was one hell of a shit :)

    2. Unbelievable... you probably used up most of your 'things that can go wrong during travelling list'. So the next trip should be surprisingly perfect, if you are to take another family overseas trip, that is.
      And yes, isn't Chicago a great city?

    3. I'm not a tri-athlete, but I can relate so much. It's Murphy's Law, I think, "If anything can go wrong it will."

      I remember getting stung TWICE by a wasp during a race.

      I've got heat exhaustion when least expected.

      I've doubled down on cramps when least expected (on a coastal, semi-cool weather marathon).

      I've found that if "anything can go wrong, IT WILL. : ))) And I find that amusing. It makes for a great story.

      Just eturning from our Christmas road trip, the biggest "wrong" thing was: we arrived to our destination with the stomach flu, which we promptly passed around to family members arriving also from out of state.

      Best wishes Iron Man on future events.

    4. ian MacAusland-Berg8 January 2011 at 09:08

      Oh my! The vacation from hell. I'm happy you're all home safe and sound with stories to tell for the rest of the year!

      "There's no place like home" Dorothy.

    5. Only a few days after the ordeal and I'm having trouble remembering some of the nuances. Funny the resilience of the human soul. I guess this is why we find ourselves signing up for races the day after we completed ones we vowed to never do again...Thanks for your comments.

    6. Sorry you and the family had such a bad vacation. How unfortunate. I can't imagine enduring that day after day. I would imagine your strength as a communicator also helped, since getting answers from anyone in an airport is next to impossible. If it makes you feel better, I met a woman in Calgary airport who was on her 6th day trying to get home from Vancouver. she loves Air Canada. At least you got to see some part of the rest of the world, and your family had an experience that they will always remember. And everyone is safe.


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