PART BEAR. PART MAN. ALL AMERICAN
Location: New Orleans, LA
Over the past weekend Amanda and I headed down to New Orleans to race a duathlon. We had been warned that there was very little chance we’d be doing the 70.3 triathlon that we’d planned to race, due to some severe weather altering our ability to swim in Lake Pontchartrain. Even with the advance warning, Amanda and I made some crucial errors early on by not setting up a valid set of race strategies in order to maximize our potential to race well.
To be fair to Amanda, she listened to what I had to say, and took my advice to go out hard and race the race around her. Rather than sensibly tackling the bike leg, as she had done in San Juan, she raced erratically and competitively with those around her, thus causing her to fall short of her potential in the big picture.
I mention this primarily to demonstrate how poor planning (or conversely, great planning) can dramatically affect the outcome of a race.
I, too, chose to race this event in a manner that was not the most effective for my particular state of fitness. I have the tendency to race with ego and competitive drive – a tactic that only sometimes nets the best result possible; but other times, it causes me to race outside my current skill set.
On Sunday the race was dominated by those athletes who either followed a pre-determined strategy or by those who adjusted on-the-fly, effectively putting themselves in position to really maximize their potential. It was actually quite interesting and fascinating to see. Not surprisingly, those athletes who took the right risks at the right time raced very well and took the top spots on the podium.
Those of us who allowed ego and competitive drive to rule the day, ended up having our days ruled by those smarter-racing athletes.
Starting out with a 2.1-mile run was exhilarating. I felt smooth, quick and in control over the opening miles. I knew my run fitness could tolerate most any effort, and I hoped that some of those around me would overextend and pop themselves later. In retrospect, I’m not sure two miles is enough time to really damage the day.
Jumping onto the bike, with a large train of 20+ athletes close behind, I immediately found myself in hammer mode. I got to the front within the first two miles, and never looked back. That is until folks from the back began hammering past me!
Even though I felt smooth and effortless – who doesn’t at the start of a race? – I was pushing a steady 350+ watts to open the day. Despite this pace, TJ and Tom both glided by with a seemingly easy pedal stroke. I knew this was their M.O., so I watched them sail by unaffected. What did affect me, and ultimately my race, was when I watched Trevor and Pat sail by with their determined charge to the front. I did not see how they thought that riding away that early made any sense, but to their credit – and to the ultimate success of their races – their move stuck. They got away, and stayed away with the help of Chris McDonald’s late-race strength. This was the first case of strategic racing smacking me in the face.
Case number two was when I repeatedly looked around to see Richie constantly present, but constantly 15 meters or so behind whomever was leading the chase group. He was driven to put his nose up front a few times throughout the day, a smart move, I thought, that helped keep the pace high, but did not take him out of his very wisely planned strategy. You see, anyone who watches results (i.e., me!) should have known that Richie has burned through multiple fields this season with a strong and present bike ride, and one of the day’s fastest run splits. His strategic racing, coupled with his strong fitness base, have allowed him to race his best race.
But this race report is supposed to be about me, not only about the lessons I learned from my competitors.
For the duration of the ride – including a rare mid-race five-mile section where I seemed to fade – I kept the competitive drive on high, and the pressure on my pedals equal stout. I rode hard and I very seldom allowed any other rider to sit on the front for long. I closed the significant gap that had opened on me at mile 25, and charged right back to the front of the chase group. While Chris, Trevor and Pat gave a concerted chase to TJ and Tom, I somehow felt the need to dominate my group at every given moment. Why, looking back, did I not allow myself more time at the back or middle of the group? Knowing my running is quite strong right now, I should have had the patience and wherewithal to sit back and share the workload.
With 10 miles to go, Richie put some pressure on the pedals. We finally had a glorious tailwind, and his move to distance himself from the pack was strong and decisive. I kept him within 20 or 30 seconds and followed his lead to drop the chasers.
Entering T2, however, I knew I had done something wrong. My calves and quads – in both legs – were cramping. Not good. Clearly I had overextended my efforts, and a combination of the humidity and the high battle-driven effort had left me a bit tapped. My chance to light up the run was going to have to wait.
I started the half marathon with some cautious strides and a moderate pace. I knew that I could turn the cramping around, if only I took in some fluid and adapted slowly to race pace. While I did manage to beat off the cramps within the first mile, my arrival at race pace was stubborn to come. I was not running badly, in fact, I was pushing some decent miles, but I was a far cry from the necessary foot speed that goes with a competitive run split.
I kept the faith, and kept a fueling plan in action. While the temperature was very mild, the humidity levels were high enough that I knew my fluid loss would continue to play a role. Oddly, I made my way through the first 9 miles of the race waiting and waiting for my legs and my race mojo to switch into pounce mode. I knew there was still room to find a top five spot, if only I could drop the hammer. The race ahead was looking exciting, and I know that excitement could possibly cause folks to be vulnerable within the final 5K.
Finally at around mile 10, I found my stride. My closing miles were all near the competitive range they needed to be in from the get-go (5:35-5:42). It was, however, too little, too late. I kept the gas pedal down, and chased my way through the final bit of the run. I was very disappointed to have raced myself out of contention, and I was humbled by the walloping I had received; however, I was pleased to have walked away from the race having learned first-hand a valuable lesson in racing tactics: a well executed strategy – either pre-planned or developed on-the-fly – is essential to success. I’m not sure how I did not know that…
I was also quite pleased to see the breakout performance of Trevor Wurtele, an athlete who has long been on the verge of realizing his strong athletic potential. He raced hard and smart and took home the win – a feat I have no doubt Heather was more proud of than had she won the race herself.
Looking forward to the next race, I can truly say that I will aim to place myself in the category of athlete who raced a more strategic and effective race. Battling it out for GC is always a better goal then notching sprint points en route to a Green Jersey.
Onward and upward!