I’ve alluded to it before, and I’ve discussed it at length with many people: nothing in racing is predictable. This might be truest of racing in the endurance disciplines, if only because there’s that much more time and distance in which things can happen — or not happen, as the case may be.
Today’s race, the Subaru/Trisport Canada series’ Guelph Lake II Sprint Duathlon, is one I did last year as well. As I prepped for the race this week, I looked at last year’s times — splits for the runs and bike, as well as overall results — and devised a goal to shave a few minutes off that. No goal for placing in my age group, as this race is huge in terms of participants, and I’m am realistic that I’m not that good that I’d place top 3 among 20 to 25 other guys my age. Loosely speaking, I hoped to place a bit better overall than last year, but thinking that I should focus on myself and not the competition, my primary focus was on bettering times.
What I didn’t remember is that any race goal is subject to the whims of Mother Nature, fate, and the race organization.
I woke up this morning, race day, with a grumble in my guts. Not race day nerves, just something not sitting right. After a couple of trips to the loo I took an insurance Immodium, and grabbed a strip of more pills to bring along. Breakfast was a chore to eat, but I choked down most of it, forgoing only my usual banana.
The other thing I woke up with, though, was a serious lack of focus. At my last race, Orillia, I was loose, confident, and focused the day before and the morning of. Today, I couldn’t settle my mind into any sort of groove. Even my hardest hitting psych up songs didn’t get me there in the car on the way.
I won’t bore you with all the race details, but I will say this. Several times during my race, I harkened the blog post of Cody Beals, a fairly new pro triathlete, who shared his coaches’ wisdom that “You don’t have to feel good to race well”. My first run was fine, though it felt slow. Both transitions were pretty slow, due to my own slowness and some funny equipment bobbles, but also, I suspect, some bad luck-of-the-draw on rack placement — affecting all the duathletes. The bike ride, my favourite leg, was slow and arduous, lacking my usual power and completely without my killer instinct. The second run was hot, hard, and a complete uphill mental battle.
Many times today, many times indeed, I reminded myself that I was fit enough to finish. I also channeled memories of my younger brother, to whom I had dedicated this very race last year, as it was the day before what would have been his 30th birthday. With what he endured in his lifetime dealing with serious medical issues, my minor discomforts in a race like this are nothing at all. He couldn’t quit, so why would I?
Cheered on by campers at their campsites, volunteers at aid stations, and onlookers there for their own racers, I both mentally and physically limped my way to the finish line. With my wife and friends cheering so loud I could hear them over everyone else, I could ignore the heat, ignore the pain in my foot, forget that I was out of juice, and power up for a final 250m sprint to the finish.
My first feelings after finishing today were, mistakenly, disappointment. It was a gruelling race, and I did not succeed, I thought, because I hadn’t been able to push myself as hard as I wanted to do. I didn’t beat last year’s race time, my only “hard” goal for the day. And it hadn’t felt anywhere near as good as the last couple of races I did.
But I do see that those were mistaken first impressions.
We can’t compare our races year to year — even the same races — in a clean overlay. While my overall race time was actually a minute slower this year, my run times were better. My bike time was slower by about a half km per hour, but given it’s my fourth race of the year, and last year I capped it on three, I know the legs are tired. While my transitions were slow due to some bobbling of shoes and helmet, it also had to do with rack placement, which I don’t control, and being out of breath, which just points to a need for more training on my part. And I could not have predicted before today that I’d be so seriously lacking energy due to whatever had upset my gut first thing this morning.
I read something pertinent on another endurance athlete’s blog that has stuck with me, but sometimes requires a reminder. You can never, ever count on consistent times, splits, or results between races, even the exact same race year to year. There are too many variables in weather, the field of competitors who do or don’t show up, your own health on race day, and in minor changes to the course.
And today, I admit, was a good reminder of this. So from the initial feelings of disappointment I had upon looking back at my time on the finish line clock, I’ve arrived here.
I placed 25 of 152 registered athletes in this race. That’s no small feat for a guy in his second season of duathlon, a guy who was, four years ago, clinically obese, who even three years ago had never run more than 7km, and had never ridden a road bike.
Despite a foot injury, not to mention the related lack of run training, this year I topped my run splits from last year’s race. And despite not feeling 100%, racing in absurdly hot and humid conditions, I finished, and finished in the top 20% of a big field.
Today, I gave it my all. Just as I have in other races, just as I will continue to do. Sometimes that “all” feels good, and sometimes it feels like “all” isn’t coming as it should. Sometimes it results in better times, and sometimes, in better standings. Sometimes, it’s just what you have to give to finish.
What makes me proud is that I completed my fourth race this year, and damn that goal I had set for beating my time of last year. I should have known better. I realise that 25th overall might, in some sports, be not so much to be proud of. But this year, under these conditions, and in this sport, it’s a tremendous thing to be proud of.
So to the Cody Beals adage above, a slight addition.
You don’t have to feel good to race well, but you damn well ought to feel good about your race afterwards. And if you don’t feel good about your race, despite racing well, do a double-check. There’s probably a lot to feel good about.