There are certain things you just can't train for without actually getting out there and racing. Even then, sometimes the stars have to align to get the experience you are after. One of the things I try to rehearse in my head and hope to practice in B and C-priority races is how to handle tough competition when someone challenges me late in a race. I try to imagine what it will feel like to be 9 hours into an Ironman, and have someone in my age group challenge me for what might be that last coveted Kona spot. This past weekend, I finally got a chance to experience how I might react to such a situation. Although I learned a lot, I hope I respond to the competition better next time.
I did the Playtri Festival half-ironman this past weekend in Irving, Texas, which is a suburb of Dallas. If you're not familiar with the area, all you need to know is that it is FLAT and WINDY. The bike course is two loops. The first 11 miles of each loop were directly into the wind, and I was not patient at all. I hammered through the wind. By the time I got through it the second time around, I had pretty much trashed my legs. As usual when that happens in a long race, I was cramping on the run. Oh well, get to the finish and recover for next time. But then, with less than two miles to go, a guy from my age group passed me. Here was my chance to see what I'm made of! What did I do? I kept trucking along just trying to finish. I made no attempt to stay with him. I finished right at 5 hours, and he ended up beating me (and taking the last spot on the podium) by about a minute. He told me afterwards that he sped up to go by me because he was worried that I was going to challenge him. In other words, he out smarted me.
This is a trick that I have used countless times, but I don't remember it ever working on me. I just assumed he was too fast, so I didn't even try to keep up. Remember that the next time you're racing. That person that just past you is just as tired as you are, and maybe they are simply trying to intimidate you. Stay with them for a minute, and I bet they slow down. If not, well, there's no other way to practice that than to challenge them. How tough are you?