After a collegiate distance running career, Kyle Pawlaczyk began racing triathlons in 2009. Kyle recorded two top-10 finishes in the Ironman 70.3 series in 2010, his first season as a pro. He resides in Charlottesville, VA.
This column will follow Kyle as he faces the challenges associated with becoming a viable professional in the sport of triathlon.
Anatomy of a DNF
Clearing my head after failing to finish
By Kyle Pawlaczyk
I remember the first time I dropped out of a race. I was a junior at William and Mary and decided to race the 5000 on the track, despite some nagging shin pain. A mile into the race, the pain showed up. Over the next few laps, it became unbearable. My gait degenerated to an awful hobble by two miles. I passed my coach on the turn, and heard him say "Kyle, if something's wrong, step off."
I stepped off. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in my tibia. It turns out I was literally running on a broken leg. Nevertheless, dropping out of my first race presented me with a weird mix of emotions. Part of me was embarrassed. Part of me was disappointed. Part of me was just pissed.
So, I raced Ironman 70.3 Florida last weekend. After getting out of the water, I left transition, got on my bike, and realized something wasn't right. Some tightness in my hamstring/groin gave way to a massive cramp. I tried to pedal it out. I got off my bike to stretch it a couple times. The second time I got off my bike, I couldn't get back on. I dropped out of the race.
It was my first DNF in a triathlon. I have taken some comfort in the knowledge that recording my first DNF now puts me among the majority of pros who have had to bag it at one point or another. Like my previous DNF back in college, I felt that same mix of embarrassed, disappointed, and pissed off. Like my first DNF, the whole experience also struck me as an opportunity lost.
I heard all the clichés from people as I hobbled around transition. Live to fight another day. Get ‘em next time. But, one cliché made me feel better about the whole thing. It came from one fellow pro's manager. After explaining what happened, he said to me, in accented English: "That s**t, it happens."
I thought about this for a minute. S**t does indeed happen in our sport. In fact, it often happens at the worst possible moment. Since becoming a fan of triathlon, I have seen Normann Stadler hurl his bike into Hawaii's lava fields after two flat tires at Kona. I've seen Chris McCormack bail on the same race because of a snapped derailleur cable. I've seen Chrissie Wellington not even start the sport's biggest race because of illness. S**t happened to them. It was tough on them, but they got over it, and went on to success. Normann won Kona the following year. Macca won two years after his DNF. Chrissie has been unbeaten since her withdrawal from Hawaii in October. Three pros who couldn't perform when there was an awful lot on the line, but managed to come back and get the job done.
Their cases and mine illustrate one of the important lessons I've learned in my young career: you have to handle the highs and lows. Ironman racing is often a very emotional experience, the line between success and failure is very thin, and you often only have a handful of opportunities to "make a splash" each season. These factors combine to make success seem especially sweet. Unfortunately, these same factors often make failures seem much larger than they really are.
That's where I was on Sunday, when an opportunity lost made for an awfully long drive home to Richmond.
You have to have a short memory to get over the failures. S**t happens, you move on, and you look ahead. Because of my bad racing experiences over the years, I think I've developed the short memory necessary to succeed in this sport. I experienced one of my lowest lows as an athlete on Sunday. Today is Tuesday, and I'm over it. S**t happened to me. Now it's time to move on and "make s**t happen."
Follow more of Kyle's journey at his blog: Kyle Pawlaczyk - Pro Triathlete
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