When I met Karel in 2006, I knew him as a corner hoping, crash dodging, race in the hurt-box type of guy. In other words, I feel in love with a cyclist.
For a little over 6 years, I watched Karel race all over the east coast as a cat 1 cyclist. There were times when he would be on the podium, other times when he would just be happy he hung on to finish the race. There would be times when he missed a break and would have to settle for a sprint in the mid pack and times when he would be stuck behind a crash and his race would be over. No matter how good he felt going into his races, the tactics of cycling can be just as exciting as they are frustrating.
Karel's transition to triathlons in the summer of 2012 meant that Karel was embarking on a new challenge. Not only with his fitness but also with learning about the sport of triathlons.
Karel brings a very interesting thought-process to the sport of triathlons and he owes a lot of it to his 20+ career of racing bikes and following the careers of professional cyclists.
In cycling, you do not chase a finishing time. You don't need a computer to tell you to go faster. It's good to have gadgets to review training files in order to know how you squared up to the other rides but no one focuses on how fast they rode and in how quick of time. If a race is 60 or 90 minutes, that is how long you ride and you better be on your A game in order to see how long you can survive and still put out a strong sprint at the end for a possible podium finish.
Unlike triathlons, in cycling racing it doesn't matter how fast you are or how quick you can cover x-miles. There are no PR's but instead, races that you finish and races that you don't finish. In cycling racing, your best fitness shape ever may be overshadowed by someone who is just in a little better shape...or perhaps a person who responded to an attack before you or someone else who could stay in the hurt box just a little longer than you.
Karel has taught me well over the years and now that he has transitioned to a triathlete, I really embrace Karel's mentality toward racing.
Although there is nothing wrong with shooting for a PR or qualifying time, it's almost to a fault that an athlete who has a goal time in mind can very well put him/herself at a disadvantage compared to others. For you are chasing a time and others are chasing competition, the playing field becomes more of who's the smartest athlete instead of who's the fittest athlete. Many times, athletes who use competition as a positive, end up pushing their limits naturally...often with a faster time than what was planned for the day.
As I mentioned before, in cycling, there are no guarantees that you will finish a race. You may in the best shape ever and finish 20th and other times, depending on who shows up for the race, you may end up on the podium because of good tactics. In cycling you need skills and a bit of luck on your side.
In triathlons and running races, there's more to a successful racing performance than how fast you have trained to swim, bike or run in x-amount of time coming into the race. Instead of luck, you just need to know how to pace yourself to slow down the least amount possible with whatever is in your way - terrain or weather included.
In the Dec. issue of Runner's World Magazine (be sure to check out pg 44 for a few of my quotes on food pairings), there was an article called "BREAKING BAD RACES".
Even though cyclist don't like to fail, it's inevitable that at some time in a racing career, there will be a race that a cyclist does not finish - for whatever reason. Unlike cycling, failing in triathlons and running races is not as accepted by the athlete her/himself. I don't think anyone likes to fail but when a race is mostly within your control, it is up to only you to figure out a way to get from the start to finish line. And when you don't chase a time, this effort becomes a lot more manageable depending on how you handle the course, weather and your current level of fitness.
One of the side effects of chasing a PR, specific time or a person in front of you is the risk of not finishing a race or not having the outcome that you worked so hard for and dreamed about for months, if not years.
Perhaps for many people, the worst outcome is bonking or slowing down but for other athletes, a DNF can be one of the hardest things for an athlete to handle. Even worse for an athlete's ego is finishing a race slower than expected and feeling like he/she let other people down (family, friends, coaches). Oddly enough, I started this blog in 2007 after I DNF my first and only race (Miami Marathon). But, as an athlete and coach, I really enjoy learning from my mistakes.
If you know how to move on, better times are to come.
Here is a little bit from the article (pg 51-52) that I thought would be valuable for any athlete and fitness enthusiast who has struggled in a race, especially when chasing a time or place (or, those who are nervous about their first race or a first-ever distance):
"A bad race is an opportunity to gather information, learn and improve. You need to embrace failure as part of the process." - Ralph Heath
"Turning a negative into a positive may seem impossible, especially when your war wounds still sting. But the sooner you accept the past and learn from it, the faster you can move on to a PR-filed future." - Bob Cooper (author)
"If you're invested in your running and don't get the expected return, these feelings of disappointment are natural and healthy to express. It shows your commitment and passion" - Gloria Balague
"Prolonged grieving lowers self-confidence and motivation. When you are unable to constructively evaluate what happened and point to a solution, it may signal some underlying emotional issues. Pinpoint the source of your anguish. Are you embarrassed by how others view your performance, ashamed that shortcuts in your training caused it or upset with Mother Nature for unleashing a heat wave? Whatever it is, isolating the source will help you work through your feelings and regain your emotional balance." - Balague
"Every race is a learning experience, so whatever happened is really ok. The first step is to separate what you couldn't control (poor weather, illness, a devious pothole) from what you could (uneven pacing, inadequate training, unrealistic goal) and make peace with the first and focus on rectifying the second." - Cory Nyamora
"Writing about the experience in a journal or blog can also be helpful. Your internal thoughts can be overly critical but when you write about an experience, you tend to be less negative and more objective" - Nyamora
"Think of the next race as separate and independent from the first - and not as a "do over". That mindset will make you feel extra pressure at your next event and that could hurt your performance. Space out events, don't rush to race again. You might be eager to redeem yourself, but if your muscles aren't fully recovered, you could be setting yourself up for another bad experience." - Nyamora
"Consider the emotional toll the bad race took on you. If you're feeling desperate to prove something to yourself or others, or you're still angry about the last race, wait. It might be best to take a break from racing until you feel emotionally recovered and really miss it. " - Nyamora
Sometimes the best successes come after initial failures. After you accept your failure, it's time to move on.
See you at the next starting line....