Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How to Race Even Faster

There are several ways to become faster in racing.
  • You could use performance enhancing drugs. But, with the legality, ethics, and cost involved, this is not the best decision. Plus, you could get banned from sport and shunned by your friends/ colleagues. Avoid this option.
  • You could buy better equipment. A lighter bike, fancy wheels, better clothes, will indeed increase your speed (to some extent). This may be cost limited and once you start down this path, you are destined to continue it until someone throws an intervention.
  • You could lose weight. And by weight, I mean fat (and sometimes muscle). A lighter you has less to haul around. Your same muscles have to do less work to cover the same distance. You go faster. But, this system takes time, patience, and commitment. Happily, it will probably save you money in reduced grocery bills and less visits to the doctors.
  • You could train better. Doing intervals, hill repeats, and speed work will train you body to operate at faster speeds. This is the most painful option. But with high risk comes high reward. Your muscles will provide themselves with the necessary adaptations allowing you to move faster on race day.
  • You could hire a coach, who can help analyze your training and technique. Coach can help fix flaws in your methodology and technique and provide you with accountability.
All of these are valid methods of improving your race day performance. Except for the first one, should you cherish going faster, you could do them all concurrently. But, once race day arrives, then what?

Coming off my most recent success at the Summer Sizzler, I learned one amazing, magical tip to help you go even faster. It requires no additional work from you. In fact, it actually requires less work from you than you would normally expend before a race. You won't find this tip in any book, magazine, or elsewhere on the planet. But, it worked for me and I, in my generous state of being, am willing to share it with you, free of charge.

Bit of Background
So, before I tell you how to get faster with this one magical piece of advice, the one that may change your race day forever, I must tell you how I narrowed it down to this 1, purely genius aspect of race preparation. I, like many before me, are quite methodical in getting ready for a race. (Hint, that was not the tip.) I get things ready the night before. I have the bags packed. I have the car ready. I have the bike(s) on the rack. I have water bottles in the fridge. I have the espresso machine prepped. Everything is exactly where it needs to be. That way, when I do to sleep, I have nothing to think about. I only have the race and sleep. All other worries have already been addressed.

I choose, on purpose, races that are within the 2-hour driving distance limit. I am too poor to constantly be spending the night in hotels. I am not popular enough to have many friends in other towns. I am too lazy to drive further or make new friends. The best reason I don't travel longer than 2 hours- I don't need to. There are lots of good races in the area within that radius, assuming that I am racing between June and mid-September.

This makes my morning routine, well, a routine. I change nothing. This is mostly because I am uncreative and boring. So, when something unexpected happens, I can look back and figure out what was different about the pre-race stuff. This is a foundation of scientific inquiry. Keep everything the same save one. If the results show improvement, you have a winner. If there is something substantial, this strongly correlates to causation. On the morning of the Summer Sizzler, there was something distinct. Something was wrong. The routine was off in one clear, distinct manner. And, as a result, I had a great performance. I am a better man for this event and I have the race results to prove it.

What Did NOT Happen
Research says that tapering and relaxing on the days prior to a race will yield strong results. As your body recovers from hard efforts, your muscles repair any damage, glycogen returns to the muscle cells, and your body adapts to the stress coming back even stronger. What did I do? I upped my training and worked out hard the days before the race in all 3 disciplines. Scratch that.

Caffeine is reported to have an ergonomic effect. The current line of thinking is that caffeine enhances fat burning capabilities while simultaneously blocking pain receptors. There is an upper limit to caffeine consumption and your body develops a resistance to caffeination. But, for this race, I was under caffeinated as compared to the norm. No research has yet proven (to the best of my knowledge) that a lack of caffeine is better. That idea is out.

Other Research
I know, get on with it, what actually makes you race even faster? Patience. I will get there. But, I want to make it abundantly clear that this is the reason, beyond any doubt, that caused my great race. And, I am certain, it will work for you.

Maslow- Most important on bottom
If you want to win, you will work at winning to the best of your ability. This can oft be cited as a 'need to win.' According to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, certain needs trump others in a list of priority. For example, when you are hungry (such as starving), the need to be liked by your friends seems unimportant. Hunger trumps friendship. But, it you are hungry and drowning, the need for air wins. Breathing trumps hunger. Winning is on the list found at the top in the self-actualization area. Winning gets trumped by many other things, everything below it on the pyramid.

So, here I am at a sprint triathlon, and there is one aspect of the race that is different. This was the single, most important reason I was able to push the envelope and achieve a level never before seen by the Banter in a race. Pure Zen as I reflect back.

The Secret Happens Just Before the Race
The swim start was a run-from-the-shore time trial start. Here's where life got different and the big event was about to occur. We lined up on the beach and they sent us off in groups of three. But, in doing so, I didn't get a chance to warm up (Hint, the advise is not 'don't warm up'). This shouldn't matter anyway as I never actually warm up in the traditional sense of the word. I do tend to get in the water before the start. I get in the water mostly because they force us to start there. Otherwise, I'd probably stand on shore until the last possible moment then work my way to the front right before the gun.

Starting from the water has it's advantages. First, you get a chance to get used to the temperature. Now, if you're in a wetsuit, temperature acclimation is probably moot in all but the coldest of conditions. However, if you are going in your skivvies, knowing the temperature of the water is beneficial. I have a gasp reflex in cold water. Upon submerging my chest and head in chilly water, breathing becomes difficult. Picture a fish out of water, that's me in cold water. Unlike the fish, I get better after a brief period of time. The water temperature for this race had to be in the 70ºs, negating my reflex arc.

Something else happens when you enter warm water. You desire to, um, heed the call of the wild takes over. Triathletes are notorious for marking the swimming territory like a hound at a fire hydrant (some can even be caught lifting their legs). The lake, or in this case river, masks the pungent liquid in volume. Stop wrinkling your nose. This is a fact of life and a fact of racing. Get over it. When you think about it logically, the volume of urea produced by all of the athletes in a given race pales in comparison to the volume of water. There are more fish and other animals in the exact same area producing a higher amount of more concentrated waste than the racers could ever hope to supply. Further, many of the aquatic flora thrive on the gifts you have just given them (as evidenced by the amount of sea weed present in this specific race). So, you make think this habit is gross, when in reality, it is all in your mind.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that seconds before the race is the most satisfying time to release. You start the race with less pressure, at least in the bladder sense of the word. You also start a few ounces lighter. Yes, I am getting there. I know that this post is supposed to be about racing faster and somehow it's turned into a gross lecture on the benefits of leaving human waste for others to swim through.

Racing Under Pressure
In all honesty, I did not participate in this defiling of the Niagara River. We started from shore and I have enough humility not to pee myself on a beach in front of a few hundred racers and spectators. I prefer to pee myself in the relative anonymity of hiding in the water. From the moment I entered the water, I was in race mode. Urination requires relaxation. After the initial jog, I was racing hard and the furthest thing from my mind was relaxing. This is not to say that I didn't want to go. Just the opposite... before the swim start, I really wanted to go. Any practical joker can tell you that entering luke warm water, submerging your head and hands into what felt like a bath, served only to intensify the desire. It was hard to think of much else. Stroke, breath, God I have to pee. Stroke, breath, please let me go pee. Etcetera.

Once the swim was done, I frantically looked for a place to go. We jogged up the beach to transition. There were some scattered trees but the route took us next to a park. Several kids and moms were playing on the swings. Call it performance anxiety or call it a refusal to expose myself to women and children, I just couldn't do it.

While biking, I was hammering at the pedals. All the while, I was thinking, "Hmm, that tree looks like a good spot." Or, "I wonder how much time I'll lose if I duck in there." At the same time, I was passing people left and right. Alright, I was passing mostly left because passing on the right is an illegal pass according to USAT rules. I was stuck between 2 of Maslow's needs: winning versus peeing and peeing was winning. Then, a thought occurred to me. I thought, they have bathrooms at the bike area! This intensified my spirit. No longer was winning important to me. I had to get back to transition as quickly as possible. I hammered on.

Upon arriving to transition, I did a flying dismount and frantically searched for a port-a-potty. I couldn't find it. I was hurting and gasping for air from my bike effort. I donned my shoes, ran to the nearest volunteer and in broken breaths asked, "Which...<breath>...way...<breath>..." The volunteer cut me off.  "to... the... bathroom?" never escaped my lips. The man seemed to know what I was asking and pointed to the east. I ran hard. Yet, I did not see it. He definitely said it was this direction. About a quarter mile later, there was another volunteer pointing. I followed. I was on autopilot now. They could have steered me into an incinerator for all I cared. Winning was being trumped by bladder pressure. More volunteers. More pointing. Some actually wanted to give me water. I was trying to get rid of water. "No thanks," I gasped and grimaced.

As the pressure intensified, so did my heart rate. Here's my HR profile for the run portion of the race.
As you can see, by the end, I really had to go. My only thoughts were on the bathroom. I surged. I sprinted into the finish line. And I finally made it! I put an end to both the race and my misery.

Conventional wisdom says to take care of business before the race starts. But, based on the evidence and success at the Summer Sizzler, conventional wisdom has just been disproven. Do all the things I suggested at the beginning of this post (minus the drugs). But, come race day, do not relieve yourself. Let Maslow take over and I will personally guarantee success. You won't thank me for it. You'll probably curse me should you even attempt it. Not that I care. I am only interested in your success. Good luck and race under pressure. You will go faster than you ever thought possible.

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