Formula 1 racing has been described as playing chess while being chased by a tiger. Racing in Rio was more like playing checkers while being eaten: less cerebral, a lot more feeling like my legs were being gnawed off.
After a huge training block following the Huatulco WC, I emerged unscathed into the shining bliss of taper week just in time for the plane ride to Brazil. Although I knew my body was in shape for a great race, Paulo had made sure to remind us that Rio was going to require calm in the face of a lot of excrement hitting the air conditioning. I tried to break down what a good race would require and focusing simple steps helped me stay relaxed. I’ll explain my race in terms of those steps:
Step 1: Arrive ready to do a job:
Racing, while nerve racking, is little more than a job. Everything that I’m going to do in a race I should have practiced 1000 times before I line up. On the start line, I knew that the swim was going to blindingly fast and pretty darn choppy, but it would be nothing more than what I was paid to do. Although competing against the best athletes in the world is never any less difficult, accepting that it must be done makes the job less daunting.
Step 2: Plan your job thoroughly and commit fully:
Every course and level of racing requires different types of execution. While every part of the race is important, the critical parts of each race differs and making decisions on what to do beforehand makes execution easier. At Rio, for example, a basic difference was that the first pontoon was 500m away. This change meant that it was going to be most important to pace things well enough to take a beating at around 500m and still be capable of moving up through the pack.
I also needed to know when people were most likely to crash on the ride (later, I thought, people would be tired. A Frenchie crashed right in front me on the 7th lap), who was likely to make a successful break away, when I should drink, and when I needed to be in the front of the pack or sucking wheel. Even if having a detailed plan didn’t change how I would naturally execute the race, it helped me relax knowing that I’d committed to a plan that had the highest chance of success.
Step 3: Want to do that job more than anything else… in the world.
Sometimes this step is difficult. I mean the Brazilian women aren’t hard to look at and there’s some pretty phenomenal pizza down there, so there were distractions aplenty. But this was the Olympic trials, man, that’s not a hard job to focus on. Wanting to accomplish the specifics of this job and realizing the next steps can still be hard. The swim, for me, always feels terrible and slow and I can’t imagine I’m anywhere but the last pack. Recognizing this and knowing that when the water got choppy and the swim felt really long at around 1000m, I had to make sure to stay calm and confident in my ability to hold feet or move up.
While I’d been able to stay within myself on the climb, 6 laps into the bike, all of a sudden the hill started to look a whole lot bigger and the upcoming run seemed much less of a good time. Despite feeling pretty well nutrified, I realized that in order run well, I needed to promptly devour the rest of my caffeine horde and settle back into the mindset of: “Chill out and know everything is going to feel really crappy, but that’s all part of the plan.”
I exited T2 third out of my pack and then tried to find a sustainably painful rhythm. While it was difficult to let Mola and Murray run away, I could tell that best chance of success would be to hang out at Aloysius Maloy’s pace for the run. Perhaps the most terrifying part of the run was seeing Tommy Zaferes looking ready to pun his way into an auto qualifying spot for over half the race. While he didn’t quite hang on and I came by him after 9k, his awesome performance helped keep me in a good state of mind.
Over the last couple k I made a strong move to try and catch a group of 3 guys who were about 15 seconds ahead of me. While I closed the gap significantly, they picked up their pace with about a k to go and I couldn’t finish the deal. I’d absolutely destroyed my feet during this process (probably the first time I’ve actually felt my feet be destroyed during a race), which was a clear reminder of just how many things lube makes more enjoyable.
I got to spend a couple hours in doping control after the race. Despite how annoying it is to wait for someone to watch me pee, it was kind of nice because it meant I’d had a good enough race for someone to drop a few grand to prove I wasn’t doping.
As this was the first race that counted towards qualifying for the Olympics, having a solid result and finishing as the top US dude means I’ve taken a valuable step towards going to real Rio event next year. There’s a lot of work left to do, though, starting with Stockholm on August 23rd at 3:36pm (6:36am PT). Check it out on www.triathlonlive.tv!
And now for your inspirational quote of the week.