When I’m in an endurance race, I’m constantly doing math. How much more time do I have if I want to finish in my goal time? How far do I have to go? How fast do I need to be going to complete that distance? I swear, I have been on some of the most beautiful trails, looking over some of the most incredible vistas in the world, yet finished the ride with my odometer as the prevailing image in my mind.
Hey, when you’re racing, you’ve got to keep track of how fast you’re going.
Except, apparently, you don’t.
Back in August, the day before the Leadville 100, Kenny, Chucky, Bry and I were sitting together in the afternoon sun, talking about the next day’s race. Kenny usually finishes in well under nine hours, Chucky is a semi-pro racer, and Bry had been training hard, hoping that on this try (his fourth, I think), he’d break nine hours.
Naturally enough, Bry wanted some advice from the fast guys.
"What do you have targeted for your split times?" asked Bry, who is, by the way, a veteran of the Kona Ironman.
"I don’t have any," said Chucky.
"I don’t check my splits," said Kenny.
Bry was amazed. So, in truth, was I. "How do you know whether you’re on target to finish at your goal time?" Bry asked.
"I don’t have a goal time," Chucky replied. "I just go out riding as hard as I can for as long as I can. If that means I win, cool. If that means I finish fifth, cool."
"I don’t even wear a watch or ride with a bike computer during races," Kenny added. "Just give it everything you’ve got."
Bry said what I was thinking: "But what if you miss your goal time by just a couple minutes? Won’t you wish you had brought a watch?"
Chucky answered with what I see as the crux of the matter: "Look, a watch will never make you race faster. It can only slow you down. If you’ve got a watch and see you’re dropping behind your target, you accelerate for a minute and fry yourself. Then you lose more time than you would have in the first place. Just race as hard as you think you can all the time, and you’ll get the best time you can get. If you think you could go faster to pick up a couple minutes at the end of a race, you should do it whether it gets you in under nine hours or not."
Bry rode with a watch and a bike computer the next day anyway, and he did in fact finish in under nine hours. Chucky, meanwhile, finished fourth overall, moving up four places in the final 20 miles because he stayed on his bike where everyone else got off to push. Kenny finished in 8:08.
I still rode with a bike computer that day, too. It’s hard to let go of the mindset that if you know how fast you’re going, you can go a little faster. But part of me sees a beautiful logic in just pouring everything I’ve got into a race, without knowing the numbers — and then just dealing with the result.
The other part of me, of course, says, "Yeah, but what if you do that and get a 9:01 next year? You’d kill yourself."
PS: Kenny cleared up a point that merits promotion from comment to postscript. if that’s a promotion. Anyway, Kenny said:
"my point was and still is: that when you ride with a clock you demoralize your self emotionally. Let’s say you’re ahead of schedule and you decide to ease up a bit. That’s going to slow you down. If you’re behind schedule, is knowing it going to speed you up? If it does, you weren’t going fast enough in the first place. I have ridden with a clock and missed my goal. 3/4’s into the race I was having this battle inside my head wether I should go hard and try to make my goal or ease up and stop the pain. By not knowing your time or if your making your splits, you just go as hard as you can for as long as you can. You’ll always do your best on that day. Some days your best will be fast. Some days not so fast."
Kenny’s like Yoda. But really fast on a bike. And not as short. And he doesn’t have that annoying 2nd-half of predicate/object/subject/first-half of predicate syntax thing going on. But he is sage, like Yoda. And he’s bald, too.
PPS: Has anyone else ever got really annoyed watching Yoda, thinking, "his sentence forms are uniformly bad (ie always wrong in the same way). Fifteen minutes with a competent English teacher ought to take care of that problem. Except he’s been around for a mazillion years, so by now someone’s bound to have explained his problem to him. Which means he’s unable to fix the problem (making him a dim bulb indeed) or he’s unwilling to fix the problem, making him willfully annoying."
If Yoda and I ever meet, I predict we will exchange harsh words. But my sentences will be easier to understand, and I won’t sound like a really old Kermit the Frog.