I first heard the Prime Race Axiom of Truth (PRAT) many years ago. Never try something new on race day.
Don’t eat anything new. Don’t drink anything new. Don’t use new tires. Don’t run your existing tires at a different pressure than usual. Don’t switch to a different chain lube. Don’t try new shoes, even if they’re the same kind of shoes as your old shoes. Don’t wear new shorts. Don’t wear a new jersey. Don’t even wear new socks.
Oh for the love of all that’s good in the world, don’t wear new socks. That is so important, for some reason.
Don’t even put new music on your iPod’s “Race Mix” playlist, because one of the untested songs my affect you adversely. Indeed, it’s probably best to not put the playlist on Shuffle, because the order of songs is untested.
I could go on. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I already have gone on.
I always accepted this strict prohibition on trying something new on race day as prima facie logic (“prima facie” is Latin for “self-evident,” and is used when you need to sound very authoritative). “Well of course you don’t want to do anything new on race day,” I thought. “Something unanticipated with that new thing could go terribly, horribly wrong and then all your hard work will go down the drain.”
This is, of course, absolute and complete nonsense. Trying something new on race day is a fantastic idea, for several subtle — yet exquisitely valid (“valido”) — reasons I am about to make up.
To Add a Sense of Danger to Your Story
The first — and most crucial reason — for you to try something absolutely and completely different on race day is because you, as a racer, are first and foremost in the business of building an interesting memory. A story to tell to your family and co-workers. A tale of action and adventure, drama and suspense. Success or tragedy in the face of odds that would daunt a lesser person.
Unfortunately, if you stick to the PRAT rule, your story of how your race day went is going to go more or less along the same lines as the story you’ve already told all those people before about your practice efforts of the same distance (and often on the exact same course).
As the guy who’s written the same story about the Leadville 100 around 15 times now, you can trust me: it’s not easy making the same story interesting over and over.
Which means, if you don’t do something new on race day, the only thing that differentiates your race story from your training efforts is that there are more people doing the same thing as you this time.
If, however, you wear — or eat or ride — something different, you’re adding an element of suspense. Or at least what’s going to have to pass for suspense in a race. And that, if you’re lucky, will distract people from the fact that you’re telling them the same story you’ve been telling them after every race, ever.
Possibility 1: The Brilliant Risk-Taker
Suppose, just suppose, that on race day you threw caution to the wind and — based on an interesting article you read recently — switched to 25mm road tires instead of your traditional 23mm tires, and you inflated them to 100psi instead of your traditional 120.
[GEEKY GEAR NOTE: Yes, I am doing both of these things at the St. George Half-Ironman this weekend, but they're no longer new for me; I switched to 25mm tires and lower pressure last season. However, they were part of the exciting story I told to friends and family when I raced in Bend.]
Now, further suppose that you have a great day on your race. In fact, since we’re just fantasizing right now, let’s say you took second in your age group (we’d say first, but we want to keep the fantasy somewhat realistic, as well as give you something to strive for in future fantasy races).
If you’d gone with the old PRAT rule, all you’d have to say about your race would be, “Well, I’ve worked hard and raced smart and everything seemed to click.”
But — but! – since you, being the maverick take-the-bull-by-the-horns do-or-die type that you are, made a bold and risky decision which you almost certainly agonized over (and you absolutely must recount every moment of that agonizing when you tell your story), you’ve got an element of drama to hang your story on. Talk about your concern over your 2mm decision as you stood at the starting line. And then your surprise as you felt like you were shot out of a freaking cannon, riding like an age-grouper possessed. Dropping people as if they were good habits.
(Yes, you should use the “good habits” simile instead of “bad habits,” because that sets you up to explain that good habits are a lot easier to drop than bad habits, and you were dropping people easily.)
Would you have done just as well if you hadn’t made what we have established as a bold and risky decision? Probably. But nobody can prove it. And most people are too nice to (openly) dispute it anyway.
Possibility 2: Unimaginable Tragedy
Sadly, not every race is going to be your best race ever. Sometimes you will be slower than expected. Or you’ll hurt. Or throw up. Or you’ll be slower than usual and start hurting and then throw up.
Sure, you could shrug your shoulders and say, “I just had a bad day,” or “I pushed too hard.”
But why would you when you could blame your tragically-flawed, ill-advised, and impetuous decision to go with a different concentration of your favorite sports drink? Having a reason for why you started to cramp up is so much more satisfying to the people listening to your story than “Oh, I dunno, every athlete cramps once in a while. Just bad luck or maybe I went too hard too soon in the race, I guess.”
This strategy is even more useful if you have an actual accident during the race. If you crash, it is always preferable to blame your (new, untested) equipment instead of your being distracted or tired or just not having fantastic handling skills. “I will never race with ACME Brand Valve Stem Caps again!” sounds so much more interesting than, “I was riding, and then I was sliding; I don’t know what happened in between.”
Possibility 3: Cooler Heads Prevail
It’s always possible — though kind of sad — that things will go pretty much as expected, even with your roguish decision to try something new on race day.
And that’s too bad.
But all is not lost. In this case, it’s best to introduce some vague, previously-unmentioned and unverifiable ailment that had been plaguing you prior to the race. An ailment that would no doubt have slowed you down during the race, and quite likely would have forced you to abandon.
Which — being the steely-eyed competitor that you are — you did not want to do.
Hence, throwing caution to the wind, you adapted by wearing your new Rapha bibs, hoping their extra cushy chamois would compensate for your near-debilitating butt zit. And — lo! — it worked. Even with fate pitted against you, you made the hard decision and pulled out a decent race.
(Calling an expected finish “decent” is a good way to make it sound like you could have done better had the universe not been conspiring against you.)
Here, Let Me Show You What I Mean
Lesser bloggers would present this treasure trove of valuable information in a purely hypothetical sense, and leave you to your own devices as to how to use it.
Not me, though. I’m putting my feet where my shoes are.
Specifically, yesterday as I looked over the Altra shoe site, I saw they now have a shoe designed specifically for tri running:
They call this shoe the 3-Sum. Based on the color scheme, I prefer to call it The Tequila Sunrise. Whatever you call it, it’s made for fast transitions, pulling straight on after yanking off your road shoes, with no socks necessary.
Within an hour or so, I expect to have a pair. (The Hammer is in the area, picking them up for me. It’s nice that Altra’s a local company. It’s also really extra-nice that they’re comping me this pair of shoes.)
And this Saturday, I expect to use them when I race the St. George Half-Ironman. After which, I expect to have a remarkable story to tell, full of drama and suspense, capped off by either by a glowing recounting of my amazingly fast transition and comfortable feet. Or by my complete and utter foolishness in running a half marathon not only in a new pair of shoes, but in a new kind of shoes. Whilst running without socks, for the first time ever.
Races are about drama, and you can’t have drama without dramatic tension. In my case, the dramatic tension will take the form of a new pair of shoes.
I wonder if I’ll even be able to sleep tonight.