My Top 8 Race Day (and Pre-Race) Fails

I’m a firm believer that what doesn’t kill you makes your stronger.  Al Franken summed that up pretty well with his quote:

“Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Unless it’s a fatal mistake, which, at least, others can learn from.”

I also believe that a large part of my ramblings here is to provide you with an educational experience.  Specifically, one where you learn from all my mistakes, perhaps thereby minimizing the number of them that you choose to repeat yourself. 


So in an effort to illuminate some of my more ‘highly talented’ moments, I’ve put together the below list.  If nothing else, I assure you it will provide plenty of entertainment.

The Pre-Race Screw-ups:

Ya know what I’ve found?  That some of the most embarrassing screw-ups actually occur before the race even starts.  I think this is because I can’t even blame fatigue at this point…just…well…my own stupidity.  Here’s when things went wrong before the starting horn even sounded:

1) Ironman Providence 70.3 2009: Forgetting all nutrition

Usually when you have two people packing for the same race you double your chances of packing success.  But not in this case.  Despite going through multiple Race Day and Race Travel checklists, we found ourselves with our race day nutrition not exactly making the trip up to Rhode Island for the race.  With a longer event like a half-iron, you spend considerable time ensuring that you train with the nutrition that you plan to use on the course.  So when you realize the morning before that you lack all of it, you pretty much freak out.  Then go ahead and multiply that freak out factor by two people people (myself and The Girl).  Let’s just say it was not good times.

Thankfully though my parents came to the rescue and found the only place that had it in stock – about an hour away in Boston, and drove up and back to get it for us.  Yup, they’re awesome.

2) Nautica New York City Triathlon 2010: Forgetting my swim goggles…and then more…

Like many big inner city races, they are filled with lots of complexities and things to keep track of.  Yet while I managed to navigate all of the more complex items…I inexplicably managed to forget my goggles on race day.  See the day before I had gone to get in a swim workout and taken a different bag. Somehow in the packing activities the night before the swimbag didn’t get set back into my regular bag – despite my packing list.  Thus fast forward to race morning and I find myself on the banks of the river with thousands of my dearest friends trying to borrow a pair of goggles.  Turns out I’d find one friendly women who’d lend me a pair of goggles.  Pink goggles.  Pink leaking goggles.  But goggles nonetheless… My pre-race fails (and during race fails) wouldn’t end there though, but it’s probably best you just wander on over and read the first portion of the race report.

3) DC Triathlon 2011: Being unable to shift/change gears

In retrospect I knew this was coming…but I just didn’t think it would get as bad as it would as quickly as it did.  See I was having a bit of an issue in the weeks prior to the race where when I would go and shift into certain gears the chain would drop (fall off towards the outside).  This was being caused by a bit of damage to 4-5 gear teeth on my large chain ring (that’s the front gear).  But somehow in the craziness in the days prior to the race I forgot about this only to be painfully reminded about it as I was riding my bike the short quarter mile or so to bike check-in the evening prior.  Despite the onsite bike mechanics best efforts to remedy the situation there wasn’t much he could do aside from get it to stay perfectly in one gear with the sage advice to ‘pretty much avoid shifting’.  So I did.  And if you watch the video from that race you’ll notice that I pretty much never shifted.  But in the end it worked out with a 3rd place overall, so perhaps I should break my bike more often.

Fear not though, my chain ring is now happily swapped out for a new one…albeit post-race.

4) Boise 70.3 2011 – Main zipper on tri suit failed just prior to start

Just a week prior to the DCTri chain ring incident I found myself at the start of Boise 70.3.  Everything pre-race was going along just great.  Bike was racked, transition area all setup, and all the prerequisite port-o-potty visits had gone swimmingly well.  I even got some sunscreen applied.  And then I went to zip up my one-piece triathlon suit.  As I did so the fabric connecting the zipper piece to the tri-suit piece got caught on itself and then subsequently ripped itself away from the tri-suit while at the same time damaging some of the zipper itself.  After a bit of analysis I attempted to make the situation better…but that only made it worse.  Before I knew it – I had a completely open and permanently stuck tri-suit.  My solution?  A small army of safety pins pulling the suit closed like a scary looking voodoo doll, especially when some of the safety pins would pop loose, sharp ends and all.  Not at all my most fashionable hour…

The On Course Race Fails:

While it seems that getting to the starting line is half the battle…the other half is clearly on the course.  Here’s my top on course Homer Simpson ‘Doh!’ moments:

1) Rev3 Knoxville Oly Triathlon 2010 – Getting hit by a car during bike leg

There’s little more terrifying or astounding in triathlon than a bike crash.  But when you add a car to the mix, the holy crap scale increases dramatically.  And assuming one ends up relatively alright (though everything’s ‘relative’ when you involve cars), it will always make for an interesting story.  And since the whole story is far to long to type here, I instead typed it up in my original race report.

2) St. John’s Triathlon 2010 – Three flat tires…one race

Come to think about it, 2010 really wasn’t a good year for me and luck at races.  In fact, I didn’t even mention getting severe food poisoning the night before the Las Vegas Tri last year.  But this paragraph is instead about the St. John’s Triathlon up in Newfoundland, Canada.  I was pretty excited about this race for a slew of reasons – namely that it was in The Girl’s hometown.  The swim went…swimmingly, and I was quickly onto the bike ready to rock in roll – with a very solid chance of nailing the overall podium.

But…the Newfoundland pavement gods wouldn’t have it that way.  I’d end up flatting about 5-6 miles into the race.  No worries, I was able to quickly tear off the tire and stick on my spare tubular.  Then, just as I started going, I found my other wheel had flatted. Lacking any more wheels I kept going on the flatted tubular to complete the first loop (6 more miles). I was lucky to get a sag wheel swap for the flat tire as I passed transition.  Yet my flat tires weren’t done yet.  By the end of the race I’d end up flatting my newly replaced tubular yet again.  Needless to say, at $100+ per tire, it was a very expensive race day…

3) Kirkland Triathlon 2010 – Falling and face planting while running

Continuing my 2010 season of falls and fails, I went into September at a race in my hometown of Seattle.  The swim went fine, and the bike so-so, but I was really looking forward to the run since that’s my strongest sport.  And with a sprint race having ‘just’ a 5K run, it’s pretty much balls to the wall.  Add to that the nice cool climate of Seattle (compared to the sauna of DC) and I was ready to rumble. 

Well, turns out I should have said ‘rumble and tumble’.  As I was navigating the turnaround at the out and back of the race I managed to slip and face plant right onto the ground.  Astoundingly my face wasn’t damaged, but my leg did get fairly cut up.  The cool part here though is most definitely the gash and blood stream running down my leg mixing with the light rain to produce a very Hollywood horror movie like situation.  In fact, it pretty much looks like I was shot. Thus, let’s be honest, that’s just pure awesome.

4) Escape from Ft. Desoto 2009: Having to stop in the middle of the run course for directions

This was my first triathlon of the season that year and I was really excited about throwing down on the sprint course. The swim went fine, and the bike went exceedingly well. I was onto the run and screaming along when I got to a section of sand dunes and beach (I should mention that neither of which are ideal for running) which had conflicting signage. One sign pointed one direction, while navigational cones pointed another direction.

See one of the hazards about occasionally lucking into the pointy end of the pack is that there isn’t a stream of folks to follow. Sometimes you end up having to blaze a trail…quite literally in this case. Another runner (and competitor) came along, but we were both equally as confused as to which way to go. In the end we took a gamble and lucked out, but it did cost me a touch bit of time and probably a few places on the overall standings. But I certainly can’t complain with an AG podium either.

So I just rounded up my top race day fails, but I wanna hear from you!  What have you got hidden away that others can laugh at learn from?  Remember, points are awarded for both the mistake…and the recovery.

Thanks for reading!


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  1. SSB

    I had a similar problem wiht my speedsuit. I let someone zip it up for me and as i got out of the water it wouldn’t unzip. So I tugged and tugged. Nothing. I finally decided to just get out of it, pulling my arms out and RIP, right down the front. Fortunately it was a really long run to T1, so not much time lost. Had the suit stitched up the front and it’s as good as new. Of course it’s not WTClegal anymore.

    And at Honu this year I put Sprite and Red Bull mixed in a bottle on my bike. I’ve been using this on my bike workouts before I start my long interval repeats. But I put it in the bottle between my aerobars. On it’s side. So I closed the top. Everytime I opened it it exploded in my mouth. I swallowed so much air and every time thought I need to remember than. Never did. By mil 40 I was bloated and didn’t know why. I had to sit down on the run because I was in so much pain from the pressure. But still didn’t know why. It wasn’t until mil 7 of the run when I farted that I realized what was going on. The rest of the race I just let them rip and started to feel better and better while making everyone laugh on the course.

  2. I’ve posted this anecdote before in a competition thread somewhere on your blog Ray, but it probably bears repeating…

    My top tip is always to check that you have clipped the correct shoe onto the correct pedal in T1. Whilst it is possible to cycle 20k with your shoes on the wrong feet, it’s certainly not comfortable!

  3. Thanks Ray, these are very helpful tips.

    Some people just seem to be a magnet for ‘chaos’ and you are one of them.
    I believe some people just have a built in mental processing system of chaos (that in the end, usually works out ok without anybody getting harmed).

    At the 2010 NYC Triathlon, I saw you frantically “chaotic” running down the ramp to make the start just in time .

    Believe it or not, I think it has little to do with the actual event of a triathlon …..

    Did you have any chaos at your wedding ??

    Again, this is not a negative comment, just an observation on a mental condition some people have.

    Congrats on your success !

  4. Drew

    I left my bike home once. I had read all sorts of horror stories about people with fork mounted roof racks leaving front wheels behind, so I purchased the Thule Big Mouth rack, thinking problem solved.

    Well Long story short it was pouring as I was packing my car, so I backed it into the driveway to shorten the trip from garage to car, and I left my bike sitting inside out of the rain.

    All packed I jumped in and pulled out, hitting the door button on my way. Neither me nor my wife were able to see the bike laughing at us as we left since we were looking the other way. The lack of wind noise eventually triggered that “^&*#@” moment, and I was fortunately early enough and close enough that I was able to turn around and grab it.

    Was the last person to sign in and from all the running around I was pretty close to LT when the gun went off.

    Lucky for me I am slow, so it didn’t impact my race any!

  5. YNWA Steve

    Hold on to your goggles when you jump off the dock! I didn’t in the DC Triathlon/Dextro Energy ITU race a couple of years ago. The goggles went flying off of my head never to be seen again. Swimming in the Potomac is questionable as it is…but with no goggles, I may as well have been pouring parasites and other various bacteria right into my brain.

  6. I hadn’t heard of the Kirkland Tri. Is it sponsored by Costco?

  7. How about putting your tri-shorts on backwards and not finding out until 10 minutes before the race started. Yep! That was my big fail at the 2011 Gulf Coast Tri. On the beach I asked my wife to check inside my wetsuit to see what was scratching me in the back. It was the drawstring.

  8. M

    I’ve had the last one happen to me too. But mine ended up going bad.
    I did a 3.5 miler in the Sierra foothills last year. We were being lead/paced by a bike and the entire lead pack missed a turn right after mile 1. By the time we climbed a 500′ hill, we knew we went wrong. After backtracking, the fast runners caught the moms pushing baby strollers walking the course. My watch said mile 2 was 22 minutes long. I did catch my wife right before the mile marker – she was walk/jogging with the stroller @ 15:00/mile.
    The winner of the race averaged about 9:00/mi, everyone faster got caught by the wrong turn.
    And to top it off, it was late in the year, about 45F and raining.

  9. OK I have one major screw up pre-race and major equipment failure during another.

    Race day–Mt Evans hill climb. Already nervous as a scientific meeting I am organizing and chairing in Arizona starts the evening of the race. I have to finish the race get in my car, drive to Denver and fly out, without falling asleep! I had to pack for the race and for the trip (1 week long) all of my race gear, travel and my computer for my talk, etc. Well…I get to the race and I forgot something, my bike shoes were at home waiting for me in the closet. Since it is a 1.5hr drive there is no way I have time to get my shoes. I had speedplay pedals and went looking for cleats. A very nice fellow was kind enough to lend me his shoes, he was not racing. With virtually no warm up I set a PR that day that I have never broken and made it to my meeting on time. I won’t ever forget that race!

    Major equipment failure–Boulder Roubaix-a rough race on dirt gravel and pavement. After two flat tires I had lost the lead group but was determined to finish the race by myself that is until my seat post broke! I decided that riding without a seat was not worth it and ended up with a DNF.

  10. Major equipment and mental fail. This was a little over 2 years ago, at my 2nd race ever…I had only been riding a bike for 3 or 4 months, and didn’t know the first thing about them beyond how to pedal. It was a sprint in a pool. As a former swimmer, I always managed to be toward the very front (going back to Ray’s comment about being at the point end of that stick)…I didn’t see the arrows marking a left hand turn until too late. Despite best attempts to brake at the last minute and make it, I ended up in a small ditch on the side of the rode. The chain fell off…which I could deal with. But what bothered me the most for the rest of the ride (I was probably a third of the way through when I crashed) was despite best efforts, I was only going about 15 or 16 mph…getting passed by everyone and their grandma. I kept looking down at my wheels to see if they were bent, and my chain to make sure everything was running smoothly, etc. Everything seemed okay. But I was getting killed on the bike nonetheless…

    After the race I had a friend look at it. Turns out the front brake just shifted when I went into the ditch…and was rubbing the tire. FAIL.

  11. Anonymous

    This is minor compared to what I’ve read in other comments, but recently during a 5K I decided to run with an iPod. Why, when I don’t usually run with music in my ears unless to pass the boredom of a treadmill? Good question. Anyway, the boom of the start happens, and there I am, fumbling with the iPod controls, since apparently I had one song on repeat. I am the last person to leave the start. I am also without music after 30 seconds when my headphones pop out and I’m too annoyed at myself to stop and fix the problem. So I end up running around with earplugs on.

  12. I would like to save face here and remind you that I didn’t “forget” my race nutrition at Bosie that year, YOU told me we didn’t have time to stop at our tri shop the day before we left and “Not to worry” they will definitely have EFS at the expo! I think there are two lessons to be taken from that 1) Let the Girl do the pre-race organization from now on! and 2) Don’t count on ANYTHING at the race expo other than your packet!

    Sorry Hubsters had to call you on that one :)

  13. On the 2nd of July in Vlissingen Netherlands my first tri ever. It was an 1/8th. I forgot everything. After signing in and picking up my race number I went walking to the transition area.(700m) There I changed my clothes. After this it started, first I discovered that I forgot to put on the HR strap, to attach this with the Tri suit on is not that good idea. I think that spectator thought that I was spastic or something like that. After fixing this I saw that they forgot to give me a race chip. So I went walking back tot the secrataries office.I took several minutes and to have another chip. Back in the transition area I finished to prepare everyting and headed to the start of the swim leg. First I forgot to wear the fr310, so went back. Then I realized that I wore my flip flops so have to go back to leave them in the transition area. After this I saw everyone with swimcaps. Where is mine??? Went back again (clock kept ticking) Back in the transition area I could not find the cap in my stuff. The only option was that the lady who has checked the bag for my chip, kept the bag with the cap still in. So I rushed to the office again. There the lady told me that she gave it to someone else because she tought that it was surplus. To get another swimcap was not that easy. In the end I had the last one I think. I managed to be at the start just seconds before the start. A warming up was not needed.

    In the end, It was my first tri but not the last for shure. I really loved it and also the course here in Vlissingen is really nice.

  14. I had two equipment mishaps at Wildflower this year. I had gotten new shoes the week of the tri, but knew better than to wear them for the race as I had only run in them once. When I got to the transition area to set everything up, only then did I notice I had forgotten to replace the Superfeet insoles in my old shoes… Not wanting to run 10K without any insole, I swapped out the ones in my cycling shoes.

    The second mishap was entering T1 after the swim. I didn’t account for my helmet being too small with wet, messy hair. I hit the release clip as I ran out of the transition area, thinking it would let go one notch. It let the whole thing go and my helmet was bobbing on my head. I clipped it under my chin and went with it, fiddling to reclasp it the whole way up Lynch Hill. Lessons learned!!

  15. Here’s a good one.

    I’m a newbie runner (started only a few months ago) and just finished my first 5k. It was kind of chilly out in SF and so I wore sweat pants over my shorts. But it turned when I was dropping my bag off that I had actually forgotten the shorts and only had boxer briefs on.

    There was no way I was going to compromise my time by wearing thick sweatpants so I just played it off like I had running shorts on and ran the 5k in my undies. FAIL!

    But it worked out – I took a minute of my PR with a 24:33.

  16. Sander

    I always train with a cadence meter on my bike. However.. the bike pod tends to shift a bit every now and then, especially when it’s on a car being transported to a race. So.. I forgot to check and found out during the bike leg. Stupid.