The Sweet Taste of Disappointment: Chengdu ITU Triathlon World Cup

By Sophie Chase | June 12, 2018, 3:48 p.m. (ET)

Winning is fun, but what about when it doesn’t happen? My experience at the Chengdu ITU Triathlon World Cup in China was eye-opening and transformative for a number of reasons. Most notably, it served as the first “loss” of my triathlon career. I speak of “loss” very loosely, because although my result of 11th place wasn’t great, it wasn’t horrible either. However, after four victories over the past couple of months, the disappointing result was humbling and a bit of a wake-up call in regards to the work that still needs to done and the experiences that need to be had. As much as this wasn’t the race I wanted, I realize it was what I needed. Without the disappointments, the victories are far less sweet.

I was recently asked what my strategy was going into Chengdu. I am a competitor at heart, and I always race to win. Although I knew the competition would be far stiffer and the race format far more challenging than my previous triathlons, I still went into Chengdu looking to win or get on the podium. Of course, it’s important to balance expectations with reality, but what’s racing without a little faith that a victory is possible?

Sophie Chase

I was a bit more nervous before this race. This was due primarily to the unique format of the event. The race weekend featured both a sprint triathlon prelim, and if one advanced, a super-sprint triathlon final. It ended up being my first time racing triathlon two days in a row! The prelim included a 750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike and 5-kilometer run. The final included a 500m swim, 11k bike and 2.5k run. I knew it would be out of my comfort zone!

In order to qualify for the final, I had to finish within the top 14 in my prelim heat, while also conserving as much energy as possible. As a competitor, it’s sometimes hard to hold back. However, I knew if I wanted any shot of doing okay in the final I needed to be more conservative in the prelim. Although I got the chance to do so on the bike and run, the swim was another story. I had to get out fast in order to secure a good position. This, of course, was everyone else’s goal as well! As soon as the race got underway, everyone was pretty much on top of each other, thrashing the water and fighting for the lead into the buoy.

Sophie Chase

The brawl going around the first buoy was unlike anything I have experienced before. Unfortunately, as I emerged on the other side, I found myself at the back of the pack. I knew T1 and the first couple kilometers on the bike would make or break my day. I kept swimming as hard as I could, and I emerged from the water somewhere in the middle. Although my T1 wasn’t perfect either, I still managed to jump onto the second bike pack. I maintained my position throughout the bike in order to save my legs. We got out onto the run course in a group of about 10. After counting the number of women around me and realizing I was well within the top 14, I backed off considerably. I felt strong, made my way around the run course and maintained my position through the line. Recovery was the priority for the rest of the day. I jumped in the pool for an easy flush out and then got a massage from USA Triathlon’s team massage therapist, Gavin.

The morning of finals included an extended warmup to help get the blood moving. I felt good to go by the time we lined up for another all-out sprint to the first buoy. Although initially I was swimming pretty well, I once again found myself pushed into the thick of things as everyone converged at the buoy. Unfortunately, the rest of the swim was basically a repeat of the previous day. I struggled and came out of the water near the back of what would become the second bike pack. The rest of the race followed a similar trend. Although I felt really good on the bike and was right at the front of the pack coming into T2, I had trouble getting my shoes on. This left me chasing everyone as we got out on the road. Although I was able to catch a few athletes as they faded back, the shorter format of the run made it difficult to move up. I was hurting and frustrated at this point, but stayed tough and finished 11th. I felt a mix of emotions as I ran through the line. Although I was disappointed, I knew I had given my all. 

Sophie Chase Swim

It’s not uncommon to feel a combination of regret, anger, sadness and frustration after a less-than spectacular performance. When I was a college athlete, I use to let these emotions consume me. I would dwell on disappointing races and become depressed since my self-worth was so tied up in competing. On the flip side, I was addicted to winning. I found myself needing more wins to attain the same emotional highs. I was never satisfied. It got to the point where quitting seemed to be the only way to get off emotional highs. I was never satisfied. It got to the point where quitting seemed to be the only way to get off the roller coaster of emotions for good. I praise God, and the people in my life who showed me another way. The lightbulb moment came when I realized that I have a choice in how I respond to both victories and disappointments. Critiquing myself and learning from mistakes, but not dwelling has been essential. Being excited about wins, but keeping them in perspective has also been important. Of course the disappointments will still be disappointing, but with the right perspective they are a whole lot sweeter.

I ultimately walked away from Chengdu satisfied, because I know I gave it my all, learned a lot from the race and accomplished my major goal, to give glory to God. I know I will face disappointments from time to time, but I know I have a choice in how I respond to them. I am excited for what lies ahead. Next up for me is the ITU Triathlon World Cup in Huatulco, Mexico in June. I am incredibly thankful to USA Triathlon for the immense support they have showed me these past couple of weeks. A huge thank you is also in order to my coach, Jarrod Evans of Triathlon Gold, who works hard every day to make me the best athlete I can be. Finally, I want to offer my gratitude to all of the sponsors — Quintana Roo, Rudy Project, Team Psycho, and ROKA — who make my dream possible every day. You make pursuing this pretty sweet!

Sophie Chase