Santa Barbara Triathlon Race Report
I had a feeling that I would pull some good learning lessons out of the Santa Barbara Triathlon this year because it was a unique time for me between some training and racing. One of the things I am always looking for is a new experience or to see how I can handle a change. I enjoy the process of asking the questions, checking my feelings (or in this case checking them at the door) and holding on for the ride. Last year, I decided to start training to race an Ironman and so I just started adding more… more volume, more intensity, more miles and of course…more fun! Thankfully, this was under the watchful eye of a coach and training partners but just adding “more” looked like it was getting me in the right direction but it also lead to more questions. How much is too much and is more always better?
In July, I decided to try something new and chase some numbers to bring my running up to what I was doing when running the 30/30 but not back off on the bike or run this time. This was my (bad) idea and secret mission. I cant blame my coach or friends for any of my volume lust. Lesson number one…Don’t chase numbers! I got away with some bigger training and backed off just in time to race the Gold Rush Adventure Race. While the pace of the AR was not always at a “hard” effort, the strength requirements of the terrain, lack of sleep (before and after the race) and mental mojo of chasing the lead team for nearly 27 hours left me pretty tired. …but I learned something!
“One of the things that enabled me to continually progress was a willingness to change my approach. It didn’t always work but I sure learned a lot!” Gordo Byrn
I learned to trust and not test. I had just under two weeks before the Santa Barbara race and I was not in the position to “test” my fitness or even know how I would feel on race day. I was not so worried about how I would do because this was not a major priority race for me but I was on “the edge” and I didn’t want to get injured or dig a bigger hole 6 weeks out from Kona. I continued to take extra rest going into the race and just trusted I was better off doing less. Not easy for me to do. I decided ahead of time that if I could not do this race I would just pull the plug. No worries.
This race showed me that it is not all about feelings. I felt horrible going into the race. I was trying to play catch up at work, had gnarly work meetings the day before the race and the normal travel left me high on the life stress and feeling behind. My mind was telling me I was not ready and I did not feel like I could race. I did not have everything the way I like it before a race and lost any routine and warm up options that were available. I realized after we started the race that it is not always how you FEEL but what you can DO. It was time to DO WORK! This was the best thing about this race and what I learned.
The swim was rough. I got out front with the lead 4 guys in our wave as we rounded the first buoy but we were all over the place. I tried to get on one of their feet but kept loosing him quickly. I was to the right, way to the left in front or behind. What was going on? I took a few strokes heads up and noticed that we were highly unorganized and all over the place. That is when I noticed the chop and side currents would make it a strength swim.
I started thinking about all the things you can control like your choices and there are things you cannot like the mighty ocean. I settled in and just resolved to DO what I can at the moment. I would be happy if I could just focus on what I could do. Simple. I swam the rest of the way (like most everyone else) all by myself and just tried to keep a hard effort to the shore.
I got on the bike and started riding catching a few people here and there… The bike was 34 miles and I was in the 2nd wave (Elites 3min ahead). About 40 minutes into the bike I saw two packs of 3 riders each working together and used them as my carrot to try and catch them. As I got close I realized how tight the pack was and that the guy in the back was not even pedaling! I never have much emotion during a race but for some reason this got me pissed! They are elites and should know better. This was exactly what i needed. I woke up and hammered as hard as I could to catch them and then passed them. I was out of the saddle until I caught them and then rode by giving them stink eye and shaking my head while I kept my mouth closed. I got past them and was out of the saddle to catch the next group. Completely anaerobic/redline/blowing up but I got to the next group right at the top of the climb and did the same thing (except I could not keep my mouth closed this time!). I was not thinking about my pacing or how I felt…I was doing. I was RACING.
As my good friend James reminded me after the race, “racing is for racing”! I also realized that by me racing often I may get me content with “race pace”. I am not looking to get pissed but man that was some rad power for the moment. There comes a time in every race when you need to make that decision to step out of training mode and take a chance, step it up and RACE. My friend Art was racing Ironman Canada the same day and his race report made it clear. He later wrote “Art this is a race not a training day, you need to get on it if you want a chance at a Kona Slot.” He was getting out of his comfort zone and doing what he trained to do. Race. . . and he did get his Kona slot too!
I also wanted to see how I felt on the run and after completely letting go of any expectation that I had because of the lead up to the race I figured this would be a good time to experiment. I kept hammering until the run. That was FUN!
I realize I probably got away with it because it was a shorter race but I felt just the same as always on the run. The run was a 10 mile out and back with a climb until the turn around. The first 5 miles I went pretty hard again thinking about DOING. The scramble before the race left me racing without a power meter, gps or heart rate monitor. I removed the negotiation about what I felt like and focused on the simple of what I could control. If I was not going to blow up or get injured, I was doing what I could to do. I love it! After I hit the turn around I saw a couple of elite men and the lead two girls and it was almost 2 miles before I saw then next dude that may have been in my AG. This is the first time I started thinking about the race and competition. It was one of those “how did I get here moments”. I was not sure where I was in the race but I was pretty sure I had a good gap so I stated to think about the big picture.
I had to make another decision. Do I push for a pace PR and crush my dreams trying to run as fast as I can back to the finish and DO everything I can to be fast or do I look at the bigger picture and finish strong enough to secure my spot and ensure I can get back to normal training asap. I had to race with the big picture in mind. This race after all was training and when I started the day I was not even sure if I was going to do the entire race. Normally, I just hit it as hard as I can in the last few miles but this time I focused on good form and I did not “sprint finish” or dig super deep in the last few miles. I kept telling myself it was HIM pace at 10 mile distance. I finished strong and was out for a long run the next day. Perfect!
In the end, I realized that you need to trust your training even when it FEELS like it is not present or below par. You can only DO what you can do on race day so it is best to store the mojo in trust and save the stress for the muscles. Finding the balance of pushing it beyond how you feel and crushing it to the very last step while keeping the big picture of pacing on race day or the big goals in focus is a very fine line…and it’s always moving. That is what I love about racing!