How to Race Faster

09.16.2005 | 7:19 am

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.

Sage Advice
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.


  1. Comment by Born 4Lycra 43 11 N 2 32 W | 02.24.2008 | 1:14 pm

    Mazillion and plentysix the FC Clan are very clever and all knowing around numbers.
    Your admiration for Kenny and his sageness obviously did not take into account he did not wear helmets on accassions. Or maybe he did back then and it was only a recent fad not too. Another fascinating look back in history. The weekends make for good reading as well as the new stuff.

  2. Comment by Born 4Lycra 43 11 N 2 32 W | 02.24.2008 | 1:16 pm

    PS. if you do meet Yoda and maybe you have since you wrote this watch out for the light sabre. He tends to strike low down and dips his shoulder just before he lunges. Obvious it is.

  3. Comment by Andy | 02.24.2008 | 1:54 pm

    maybe they are using the force to keep track of time but know you don’t have, nor ever will have this power so they made up this BS to throw you off their trail.
    Powerful creatures they be, keep eye on them you must.

  4. Comment by Bluenoser | 02.24.2008 | 2:32 pm

    Great. That’s what I’ll do this year fatty, I’ll lose the watch. I could never stand it anyway with Mickey waving his arms at me like that all day.

  5. Comment by Alex Esplin | 02.24.2008 | 3:07 pm

    Speak against Yoda you dare? Brave you are.

    Words of wisdom you (or really Chucky and Kenny) have spoken, remember them when I ride next I will.

  6. Comment by Hamish | 02.24.2008 | 3:24 pm

    I feel the same about my wearing a heart rate monitor at times. If I’m wearing it I can give myself permission to slacken off (“I”m working hard enough..”), if not I’ll just give it everything.

    I’m mostly interested in the stats at the end of the session. Perhaps I should wear it such that I can’t read it during the session. Like your racing, I can’t usually do much about it if I’m not happy along the way.

  7. Comment by Big Mike In Oz | 02.24.2008 | 4:06 pm

    If you need a computer on your bike to keep your head from exploding I’ve got no problem with that. Mostly because my handlebars look like an electronics depot even though pacing myself is a foreign concept due to my 2 pet events lasting 12 and 35 seconds respectively.

  8. Comment by Wonderdyke | 02.24.2008 | 6:37 pm

    Wow – throwing away the clock and speaking out against a space-age muppet. Quite a bit of bravery!! By the way – Grover, I think it is. Not Kermit.

  9. Comment by Chucky | 02.24.2008 | 7:26 pm

    Fatty, this year will be your 11 leadville, right? Please talk about a possible 20 year belt buckle, also 220 x 11 races = 2420.00 usd paid for roughly 104 hours of pain. Would yoda pay money for such suffering?

  10. Comment by Marrock | 02.24.2008 | 8:16 pm

    It’s not Kermit, Yoda sounds like an old, german Fozzy Bear.

  11. Comment by ibisss | 02.24.2008 | 8:35 pm

    Big Mike
    do we want to know what your ‘pet events’ are, and why you only last 12 and 35 seconds?

  12. Comment by Mike Roadie | 02.25.2008 | 3:55 am

    I want the money back for all those cycle computers I wasted MY money on!

  13. Comment by Dave M | 02.25.2008 | 6:46 am

    I thought the same thing last year and didn’t wear a watch for my first Ironman race because I just wanted to finish.

    My time was 15:00:23… yeah, I wish I wore the watch :)

  14. Comment by Tripp | 02.25.2008 | 12:37 pm

    Mountain bike racing, and especially racing of that kind of distances, probably isn’t helped as much by a computer.

    But for time trial efforts on the road, the computer makes all the difference in the world, and here is why:

    The computer tells me when I’m pushing hard enough to make myself hurt a lot but not as hard as I’m capable of pushing given the time remaining.

    For example, I’m doing a 10 mile TT. I’m going fast enough that there is a jolt of pain through my hamstrings everytime the pedal comes around. I’m breathing hard, and I can tell my heart rate is high. I’m content to say this is as hard as I can go. However, my Powertap tells me I’m only putting out 270 watts. I know from my training that I can hold 300 watts for about 45 minutes. It hurts beyond belief to do that, but I’ve done it before. So at 270 watts, I’m 10% below what I’m able to do for a period of time that is 20 minutes longer than my 10 mile TT will last.

  15. Comment by Caloi Rider | 02.25.2008 | 1:51 pm

    I have to agree with Kenny’s method based on my personal experience. I think clocks, HR monitors, etc. are extremely useful in training and practice, as are goals and targets, etc. But in a race, sometimes it’s just about racing. It’s just about enjoying it while you can.
    I did a 5k running race this past fall without more than a few days of running training in my legs (I spend most of my time on the bike). I didn’t set a goal; I just gave it a shot. I managed to finish in just over 20 minutes and have a fun race.
    The only thing worse than finishing a race and knowing you missed your “goal” is finishing a race knowing you didn’t empty your tank completely while you were out there. My solution is this: quit setting goals and just empty the tank. Whatever you do, finish with a smile on your face. Leave goals and times for training. I find that I enjoy races much more when I do.

  16. Comment by Jack | 02.25.2008 | 3:39 pm

    Marrock – the reason that Yoda sounds like an old Fozzie Bear is that they’re both played by Frank Oz (who also played Miss Piggy).

    Anyone else remember the scene in the Great Muppet Caper where all the muppets ride bicycles through the park?

  17. Trackback by Soma. | 02.13.2009 | 12:43 am


    Addiction to soma. Soma cannabis….


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.