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Expecting the Unexpected

By David Burgess 

expectationsOne of the many things I enjoy about being a triathlon coach is speaking with multisport and endurance groups. Not long ago, I spoke with a small group of my own athletes who had a target race coming up — it was a casual, laid back Q&A session. The purpose of this meet-up was to discuss their final training preparation and how to approach race day itself. These athletes range from first-time or novice triathletes to competitive age-groupers. My hope was to calm some nerves while finalizing last minute training plan changes and strategy.

The most interesting and vibrant conversation occurred when the questions focused on what happens on race day. And by “what happens,” I’m referring to questions that started with “What do I do if…”

  • What do I do if I lose my goggles during the swim? (Um, keep swimming.)
  • It’s an Olympic-distance tri – what if I get a flat? (Fix it! You might not place in your age group, but you’ll still finish strong.)
  • What if I have a serious mechanical issue? (Your day might be done – wait for the sag wagon or start walking.)
  • What if the weather is terrible? What if there are three-foot swells in the swim? (Pack your arm warmers for the ride, and sight early and sight often in the swim!)

There were many more questions, but you get the point. Eventually, as the queries continued, my answers shifted from being specific to more of a “don’t worry about what you can’t control” vibe. There were some first-time triathletes who I could tell were now stressing about the what ifs. So I countered: “Did you enjoy your last training ride? Did you have a good run last week? If so, excellent. You should be fine.” 

Yes, your training is targeted toward, and culminates with, your “A” race. And it will, well, suck if something happens and you can’t finish your race. Truth be told, you’ll find another one to do. 

If you’re not enjoying the training – the process – then why do it? You have to enjoy the time spent on the long rides, at the track, the long hours in the pool. To quote someone much smarter than me: The journey is the destination. Yes, we all want to perform well. But focusing on what is beyond our control is a fruitless endeavor. Did you become a better athlete over the past six months of training? Most likely, yes. You’re a better triathlete even if your race doesn’t go well. 

As a coach, I have many such discussions with my athletes. Eventually we dial things in and focus on what is needed for the particular, targeted race and what the plan is for varying distance races. But we don’t talk about “what ifs” anymore. Why worry about what we can’t control? Enjoy the process.

Dave Burgess is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach, a USA Cycling certified coach, as well as an ASCA and U.S. Masters Swimming certified coach. Based out of Colorado Springs, he is the founder and head coach of Podium Training Systems, and is also an Associate Coach at Vanguard Endurance. For more information please visit You can contact Dave by visiting or by email at