"Racing needs to become methodical without becoming maniacal." -- Gerardo Barrios
My Fortius Racing coach, Gerardo Barrios, texted the above to me last week after asking if I had finished my Bandit 30k Ultra Trail Run race report. I hadn't started it yet. It's easy to go with the "I'm busy" excuse even if it's true. But it's not like I didn't know what happened in my race. As I posted on social media in the hours following my end-of-race implosion, I made a ton of stupid mistakes. Among them (in chronological order):
- Skimped on breakfast the day before the race, knowing I'd be having brunch with my parents at noon that day.
- Slept in late on race morning because I picked up my bib the day before.
- Got out of the house late, didn't eat enough breakfast because the race start was in an hour (race destination was 20 minutes away).
- Waited in my car too long at the race course before using the restroom.
- Cut my warm-up time to a quick three-minute jog. Five minutes before the race start.
- Didn't bring salt tablets even though race directors said it would be hot outside. I grew up in Simi Valley (race site) and had been training on the race course for weeks. It hadn't been hot once. Why would it be hot today?!
- Wore new trail shoes even though they were replicas of my current pair, the Newton BoCo AT. Even my wife told me this was a bad idea beforehand. I ignored her. I love these shoes, I thought. I'll be fine. Wrong.
- I let my excitement about racing in my hometown, in front of my parents and wife, get the better of me. I was too jacked up.
- As a result, the same sound planning that led to my best-race ever at Ironman Arizona gave in to emotion. Fear, specifically. Fear of a congested single-track climb or descent where I'd get stuck behind slow people and lose precious time. Fear of not performing up to my own expectations. Fear of missing a critical time checkpoint my coach provided. Fear of being judged as not "elite" nor "fast" now that I'm part of Wattie Ink's Triathlon team in addition to Fortius. Fear of being embarrassed by my good friend, teammate and race-day competitor, Jason. (Incidentally, there's no shame in that. He finished third overall and we shared the podium in our age group.)
The last bullet point hurt the most to write. The truth hurts. I ran scared. Even if I didn't know it at the time.
However, fear is a powerful motivator. I punched it hard. Right from the starting gun. In fact, I literally raced harder than I ever had before. I know this because my Strava Suffer Score --a heart-rate algorithmic calculation that tells you how hard you worked in a training session -- was 200 points higher than my previous hardest effort. I also hit my goal of a podium finish in my age group and top 10 overall. I was third in the 30-39 age group, and sixth overall. I ran parts of the Bandit 30k race course faster than I ever had, and I've been training in the hills above my childhood home for several weekends this winter.
After five years of competitive racing, four of them coached, I should have known better though. It's a small miracle I reached two of my three goals despite myself. My third goal was to finish the 20-mile course in three hours or less. I staggered across the line in 3:11:42, and was promptly dragged to the med tent by two very gracious teammates.
Was my approach the right one? I mean, I reached my goals. But at what price?
After almost two weeks, I still quite don't know the right answer to that question. Even after my Wattie Ink Triathlon Team training camp where I learned all about staying within myself, I'm torn. On one hand, we're talking about racing, right?! To me, that means go all out, and leave no ounce of unused energy on the course when you cross the finish line. On the other hand, the "smart" way to race is to pace yourself so you can cross the finish line faster than if you had gone all-out, yet with more energy still left in the tank.
The gap between both methods is trust. Trust within your own abilities. Trust in your coach. Trust in your knowledge of the course. Trust in your plan. Trust in your nutrition quality and intake.
The way to build trust is through experience. I have accumulated enough experience in all the areas above to know better than how I raced at Bandit.
So what will I do different in future races? What am I going to take away leading into Oceanside 70.3 and Wildflower Long Course this spring? I know both courses well enough. I'm racing with and against many of my same friends at Bandit, along with new friends on the Wattie Ink squad. I have to pretend they're not there. It's just me, the course...and a plan. The plan can involve time checkpoints as goals, but not demands. The plan can involve family and friends attending the race to support me, but not a fear of letting them down. Then plan can involve testing myself, and ONLY myself.
My focus for the next several weeks is to focus on formulating sound racing...make that PACING plans with Gerardo. And to stop worrying so much about what others think or how they're training.
The video above is a recap of the event from my friend and Fortius teammate Ariel at OneThirtyOne Productions.