5 Lessons Learned - The Hard Way

by Cherie Gruenfeld September 27, 2016 3 min read

5 Lessons Learned - The Hard Way

My “A” race for 2016 was the 70.3 World Championships in Mooloolaba, Australia. Sounded like a great trip, interesting course and challenging competition. Count me in! All season long I prepared for this event. I did all the work and arrived in Australia ready to race.

But things didn’t quite work out the way I’d planned.

I’d done what all athletes are advised to do prior to race day – I studied the course on paper at home, drove both the bike and run when I arrived in Mooloolaba and did light training on both. This research indicated that the bike course was a bit tricky, but I had no worries. I’d been racing triathlons for twenty-four years and had yet to screw up a bike course. What could possibly go wrong?


Lesson Number One: There’s a first time for everything

There were close to 3000 racers navigating this two-different-loop course. One had to remain constantly vigilant to where on the course they were, disregarding all other racers who might be riding right with you but essentially on a different part of the course. And counting on volunteers to communicate effectively with large numbers of fast, focused racers was not a good strategy.

Sound complicated? It was. But that’s no excuse. A racer is responsible for knowing the course and riding it correctly, regardless of circumstances.

I screwed up, didn’t see a turn I should have taken and didn’t realize my mistake until I got back to T2 with only 50 miles on my Garmin. This mistake cost me a first place finish in the 70.3 World Championships. I was given a DNF after I crossed the finish line. And it was little comfort that fifty others made the same mistake.

Just because it’s never happened before…


Lesson Number Two: Own up to it

Stuff happens. For me, it was missing a loop on the bike course. For you, it might be something else. There are a myriad of ways that things can go wrong during a triathlon. We hope any error we make affects only ourselves, but sometimes it affects others as well. If you happen to be the unlucky person who messes up, big or little, don’t try to run from it. You didn’t intend it; it just happened. It’s over. Accept it - apologize, if that’s in order – be a good sport, congratulate the winner and move on.


Lesson Number Three: Do Deep Research

Although I don’t have any reason to believe I will make this kind of mistake again (once in 24 years is a pretty good track record), I still plan to make my pre-race “recon” more specific. On a new course, I check out the hills, rough roads, sharp turns and potential danger spots. In the future, I’ll pay more attention to the turn-by-turn directions (i.e. road names and distances between turns).


Lesson Number Four: Always finish the race, if possible

When I arrived into T2 with only 50 miles on my Garmin, I was worried. I hoped it was an unlikely computer error, but I recognized there might very well be a problem. Rather than stopping there and talking to someone, I put on my running shoes, did my run, crossed the finish line and then spoke with an official.

My thinking was:

Best Case: It was some glitch in the course or my Garmin and I’d ridden a very good bike time. (I’d also had a flat, so I knew this was highly unlikely)

Worst Case: It was my error and my run wouldn’t matter.

As it turned out, it was the Worst Case scenario. I felt terrible about the DNF and losing the World Championship title, but I didn’t feel as terrible as I would have had I aborted my race before the run. It’s a personal thing.

When I see a runner on the course battered and bloody following a bike crash, I know that this racer isn’t going to have a race he’s happy with. I also know that it’s important to him that he finish – regardless. It’s a personal thing.


Lesson Number Five: No matter your experience level, there’s always a lesson to learn

In 24 years of racing hundreds of events, you’d think I had seen it all.

Not the case. I’ve never missed part of the course and, believe it or not, I’ve never had a flat tire. I learned that I am able to remain calm and quickly fix a flat in the middle of race day chaos. And, of course, I learned that a DNF isn’t the end of a racing career. It’s simply something that happened on this day. I’ll make certain it never happens again.


It’s your race. Do everything in your power to make it the one you want.

Good luck

Cherie Gruenfeld
Cherie Gruenfeld

Sixteen Ironman Age Group Wins Worldwide Nine-time World #1-ranked Amateur Ironman Triathlete. 2000 WTC Female Age Grouper of the Year 2001, 2007 USA Triathlon Female Grandmaster of the Year. Multiple-time USAT All-American Team (#1 Rank) "Everyday Champion" featured on Wheaties Energy Crunch cereal box. “My first triathlon was a Half IM in ’92 which qualified me for the IM World Championships in Kona. In ’92 in lived in Santa Monica, but now live in the Palm Springs desert with my husband, Lee, who is my biggest fan and supporter. He also writes and takes photos for the World Triathlon Corporation at many of my races. At the end of 2015, I announced my retirement from Ironman racing and am now focusing on 70.3s. My 2016 goal is to win the 70.3 World title in the W70-74 and setting a new course record.” For more information: http://www.cheriegruenfeld.com/

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