I was looking at pictures of hurricanes at lunch (‘cuz that’s what we do) and seeing the eye in a perfect storm reminded me of triathlon. If you have lived in the south for any length of time you know what a hurricane is like. When it hits there is a lot of wind which can have, or not have, rain with it. As it moves through there is a spot that everything is calm, the wind dies down, the rain stops, and you can see blue skies overhead, and then the storm picks up again. If you’re lucky and it’s a fast-moving storm this passes quickly. If it is slow-moving, as Katrina was, it can cause a great deal of damage and pain. Most training and racing is like fighting through the worst part of the hurricane. The battle through the mass wave start in the swim to find a clear spot where you are not being kicked and battered, or getting out of the water onto the bike, and then the run, legs burning, lungs burning, hot spots on the feet. It’s a constant battle with your body, your mind, and the elements.
But then something happens. Where you have been fighting sore feet and shins for miles the pain suddenly lets up and you’re running with ease. You found the eye of the hurricane … the sweet spot in the storm where everything feels good and you feel you could go forever. It feels like it could last the rest of the way, but mostly it is fleeting because once you start feeling good you push harder, and then you re-enter the storm on the other side … and now you can’t slow up enough to get back to that spot because the hurricane traps you in the winds, battering you with everything it can throw at you. The trick is to not only find that eye, but to stay there for the whole race, and not be suckered into pushing harder while it is calm.
I was talking about this last night with Mary as we rode around Flatwoods. She completed her first Ironman 140.6 last year (the same race I had to pull out of) and we had not had the chance yet to talk about it. As she was filling me in on the details of the race she mentioned a talk she attended where the facilitator was going over race day strategies. The one that stood out for her was when they said “prepare for mile 18”. What this means is that during the race you are going to have moments when you feel very good and very strong, but to fight the temptation to push harder. Their advice was to always go slower than your best. If you run, normally, a 12:30 pace, and you looked down and you are running an 11:00, force yourself to slow to a 13:00. Resist the temptation to burn your legs going up that first climb, especially since there may be 5 more before you are done.
This can be hard to do, especially among new triathletes, but even with runners. The adrenaline of racing takes over and you push too hard, too soon, and crash and burn well before your capabilities. We feel great and the easiest thing to do is to start thinking you need to take advantage of this window and go as hard as possible. I think most of us have fallen into this trap. We start out on a ride and feel so good when we can easily hit 18-20 mph during the first ten miles, but then the other 40 starts hitting, or we get into a harder climbing section, and all that energy we wasted when we were feeling good is spent and we struggle through the rest of the training. My running is a struggle, and it is rare that I ever feel “good”, but there is usually a sweet spot I find, normally around mile 2, where the body becomes loose and the legs feel strong, and my heart rate has settled in, so I start pushing harder. As most know I adhere to a Galloway run-walk strategy right from the start, but what happens is instead of running at my normal pace during that split I start sprinting, thinking (wrongly), that I can take advantage of the window now so when my arthritis kicks in, as it always does, I will have some time in the bank. Never works, and usually results in the PSA flaring up before it normally would. This happened during the Space Coast Half Marathon back in November, and the wall crashed into me at mile 10.5. The frustrating thing is that my aerobic capacity is fine. It’s my body that gives out. The pain hits my feet ferociously and there si nothing, and I mean nothing, I can do once it happens.
So next time your training, find the eye, and when you do, remember what it feels like … and strive for it each time. The more you live in Florida, the more used to the hurricanes you become, until they become less of a threat and more of a nuisance. Use that same theory in racing. Battle through the beginning of the storm to find the calm spot, and STAY there.
I need to heed my own advice.