So You Had a Bad Swim

by CBCG athlete Amy VT

There’s no avoiding it: the swim sets the tone and affects your mindset for the rest of the race. During a full iron-distance event it can be devastating to have things go so wrong, so soon, seemingly pulverizing your hopes for a certain goal.

Athletes hoping for a Kona spot or a PR might as well just pack it up and go home if they have a bad swim, right? Don’t even bother getting on the bike? Obviously not, but it can certainly feel like there’s no hope for that PR or Kona spot. In this week’s blog, let’s take a look at an extraordinary example of a bad swim turned into an awesome race, and how he did it. He is CBCG athlete Scott Goodrich. 

Scott Goodrich at Ironman Wisconsin 2019

Scott Goodrich at Ironman Wisconsin 2019

1486th out of the water. Scott Goodrich is a talented and strong triathlete who was certainly eligible to be in the running for a Kona qualification at Ironman Wisconsin last month. True, his swim is by far his weakest leg, but a 1:40 was far, far off his predicted time.

1338 spots. That’s how many spots Scott moved up as he tore through the majority of the field that day. Many competitive athletes’ momentum would erode after such a bad swim, irreparably wining their remaining eight hours of racing. So how did Scott shake it off, keep his head in the game, and proceed to pass over 1000 people that day?

Image: IRONMAN® Tracker app

Image: IRONMAN® Tracker app

“Evolve and have fun!” Scott reports. “I was able to quickly change my perspective of the day based on the conditions, and tapped into my drive to fight even though my goal was compromised.

 “All indications and my preparation considered, I was realistically set to swim around 1:18 to 1:20. Race morning, however, winds were whipping out of the East, portending rough conditions that were only intensifying at race start. My start was perfect until I breathed to the left, met with far too much chop and a big gulp of lake. I started working on my timing of the swell, but there was no rhythm. 

 “The left at the second turn buoy introduced head-on swell, waves breaking, and white caps. My pattern was rendered chaotic at best as my face was consumed by water to the right...try to the left...face still underwater…shit…out of breath...full stop. ‘Okay, goal change for the day needs to happen now,’ I told myself. ‘This is going to be a long swim no matter what, so don’t worry about the time. It’s time to fight like hell!’

“Finally out of the water, I saw the damage: 1:40. It was tempting to revel in my disappointment, but I focused on these truths:

            1.  disappointing, yes; controllable, no

            2. it was a rough swim for everyone

            3. I still had a lot of the day left, including a very fun ride

 “My main takeaway was that I was proud of my ability to quickly adapt, shifting my focus on the rest of the race as though the clock was reset. I was unprecedentedly focused leading up the race, nailing my training and setting an ambitious, but realistic plan with my coach.That focus allowed me to rip a fast technical bike and run, taking advantage of my strengths when I could. Evolve and have fun!

Scott finishing Ironman Wisconsin strong

Scott finishing Ironman Wisconsin strong

Other examples:

  • Jim Lubinski, professional triathlete  - “Ironman Los Cabos 2014: the water in Cabo is extremely salty, and I must have swallowed half of the ocean. I exited the water so far behind the leaders, I figured there was no hope to place among them, let alone catch up to the mid-pack. I just got on the bike, anyway, surrounded by the women and first age groupers, which didn’t help my ego. I felt so nauseous on the bike I made myself puke, letting the half of the ocean I swallowed out while riding along at 20+mph. I just kept trucking and went on to have the fastest marathon in the race at 2:54 good for 11th Place overall.”

  • Rachel McBride, professional triathlete -  “2008: I was dead last out of the water at US ITU Elite Nationals, but finished top 10! Back in the day (in my late 20s), I was racing short course triathlon and had my sights set on the Olympic stream. At the 2008 Elite Nats at Hagg Lake, Oregon, I came out of the water DEAD LAST, much to my dismay as I had been working hard on my swim. I was three full minutes behind current long course superstars Sarah True and Jen Spieldenner, and I mean, like, not even at the tail end of a pack. Just all on my lonesome. Yikes. It was pretty discouraging to look behind me and see literally no one else. From that moment on I stopped looking back and set my sights on forward - got myself up to a solid pack of cyclists thanks to one of the fastest T1s of the day and blowing a few matches early on. I remember the run also being particularly tough, and I gutted it out to finish 9th place. Top-10 at US Elite Nationals was a pretty rad result to add to my resume!” 

  • Zach Wiens, CBCG alumnus -  “I had the worst swim of my life at Ironman Cozumel 2013. I swallowed a couple gallons of salt water, threw up and then fought a current that felt like it had me at a standstill. In fact, I swam 4:00 per 100-meters for the last 1200 or so! I decided I was going to quit before I even got out of the water, but I somehow convinced myself to get on the bike. It took almost an hour on the bike to feel normal again but I got there, and finished with a huge smile at the end of one of the most (ultimately) enjoyable races of my life!”

  • Amy VT, professional triathlete - “I looked up and couldn’t see anyone or anything in any direction. I yelled HELLO to no response, and didn’t even know which way to swim. It was a foggy Ironman Mont Tremblant 2018, and I was dead last out of the water with an impossible 20 whole minutes off my goal time. I was so far back I ended up dead last off the bike, too, making the prospect of the marathon less-than savory. I ended up running down six girls, however, into the money spot, so poutine was on me that day!” (It was difficult tracking her down for that quote.)

Rachel McBride out of the water and focussed on T1

Rachel McBride out of the water and focussed on T1

What do all the above stories of perseverance have in common? Focus, patience, and belief: 

  1. They all refused to let the disappointment sour their attitude and momentum.

  2. They all stuck to the plan to pass all those racers and have great outcomes (in other words, they didn’t burn matches trying to furiously make up time or places).

  3. They all shifted their focus extremely rapidly (in other words, they didn’t dwell on it throughout their ride).

When you have a bad swim, we hope you can channel their focus, patience, and belief and, in the words of Scott Goodrich, “EVOLVE!”