Windshield vs. rear view mirror

 

rear-view-mirror

After getting an inspired message at a men’s group meeting this week, I came home and measured the size of the windshield in a car.  I then compared it to the corresponding rear view mirror in the car.

The front window average 54” across and 36” top to bottom. That is a total surface area of 1944 square inches.  The rear-view mirror measured 9” by 3”, a total of 27 square inches of mirror.

To put into perspective, only 1.3% of the total area to stare at is for looking backwards.  The remaining 98.7% of space in front of me is meant to see forward.

The forward direction represents where we should be looking nearly all the time.  That is why it represents such a large portion of the field of view.

This applies to nutrition and fitness.

When we seek to change to healthier eating patterns, nearly all of our efforts should be focused on what is ahead of us-the next meal or snack, the next day, etc.  Too often we find ourselves consumed by thoughts about what certain foods from the past we are craving, instead of being focused on the task at hand.

Nats3With athletics, it is important to review efforts from the past.  But once we have reviewed those lessons, discussed and learned from them, we must move forward with the next workout/training cycle to get better at our craft.

This last weekend, and Duathlon Nationals, my bike broke on the 2nd climb up a mountain.  I was stuck in 15th gear for the entire climb….my cadence during that climb was 31 rpm.  That hurts!  Might as well have pushed a wheel barrow up that mountain.  Fortunately, when I crested at the top of the climb, I jumped off my bike and successfully fixed the issue before getting on my bike and descending back to transition.  My placement in the race dropped a couple of spaces since last year, but it was still a good day, and I earned a TeamUSA slot for 2018.

Nats7My son saw a young man in front of him fall.  His emotional response to the accident caused him to forget to take off his helmet.  He did run 2 wearing his helmet.  That cost him a few seconds, but he also did well enough to finish in the top 6 and get a TeamUSA slot for the Sprint distance.

The windshield for both of us is large now.  Alex begins Cross Country season, and will not see nor wear a cycling helmet until the fall, at our next race.  I have ITU Worlds in Penticton in 8 weeks, and my focus is on preparing for an even greater challenge than Nationals.

We have no time for the rear view mirror.

Rednecks and Cherries…they have a lot in common!

During my stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I lived in a remote village in the Kingdom of Nepal.  Sure, the scenery of the surrounding Himalaya was great, but it wasn’t nearly as memorable as the people whom I lived with for 2 years.  I remember how some villagers would put fresh manure in their wounds, claiming that it helped to stop the spread of pain.  Two weeks later, when they still had festering wounds and were confronted (by me!) about how stupid that cow-shit-on-a-cut idea really was, they said that it was part of the process called life.  It was a rite of passage to be able to live through the cut and the corresponding recovery.  Lastly, they just got used to it.

Sure, they didn’t know any differently, as science was not a mainstream idea used in decision making, as it is in the West.  That said, it pointed out some fundamental flaws that all of us have when it comes to enduring something that hurts us.  It is called Redneck Thinking (with Capital Letters).

  • We believe that the way we have been doing things is an effective way. It may or may not be the best way, but it is a safe way, because we survived it.
  • When confronted with better ways, we will occasionally change. Most of the time, though, we don’t.
  • When our ways cause us to suffer, we look to make sense of it all, saying that it is good for us…we say that it builds character and toughness.
  • Here is the real kicker. The older we get, the more we fall victim to the “old ways work, why change it?” sort of thinking.
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Redneck dogs even have fewer teeth that regular ones…

No place does this happen more that during conversations with people who are interesting and show leadership.  I can’t count the number of times someone has said, “this is a great recipe.  You ought to try it!”  I agree with them, both in heart and in mind.  The conversation ends, often with a recipe in my inbox, only to sit there until I delete the idea.  I redneck it.

I KNOW that if I had just cooked it and tried it, there is a good chance that the dish would have likely to make it to our dinner table repeatedly.  I KNOW that I would be better off for trying something new.  But, more often than not, I don’t.

Truth is, we are all rednecks.  We generally do what we did the last time, even if it wasn’t that great of an idea.  What really seals the deal with our hard-earned title of redneck is how we view our poor results as “part of life.”

As an athlete, this is measurably true!  Often, I reject good ideas backed with good science.  Yet, this last weekend, I went out on a limb and tried a new idea to address an anticipated pain from an upcoming event.

Last weekend’s event was a 103-mile bike ride up Mt. Mitchell, NC.  The ride is much like a day in the Pyrenees in France, with a bit more climbing.  Like most bike rides that include both more volume and more intensity that I am used to, the expectation was that I would be both tired before I was done and I would HURT the day (or two) following the event.

Science has a name for this hurt phenomena-Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS.  You know what it is-that feeling you get the first time you play basketball as the start of a new season that makes you think that in the two days afterwards it would have been more pleasant to have been hit by a truck.

Part of the dread of DOMS is knowing that it is coming.  Knowing that you will be hurting the next day.  It is not just a physical phenomenon; it is also mental.  Knowing that what you are about to do is going to hurt will prevent people from trying.

A few days before the Mt. Mitchell ride, I heard an episode of The People’s Pharmacy, a syndicated radio show where a married couple helps take complicated medical studies and learnings and simplifies the learnings so folks like me can understand them.

This episode currently on the radio as I drove down the road was titled “What is the science behind fabulous foods for health?”  The first segment of the show was about the effects of foods on either delaying or eliminating DOMS.   The researcher being interviewed took a very complicated question and simplified it. He had heard that cherries and cherry juice (but not cherries from concentrate, mind you), could reduce if not eliminate DOMS if eaten in correct volumes, over the right period.  The science sounded solid, and he had enough unanswered questions to convince me that he was still humble enough to do more good science.

cherriesWanting to tackle my Redneck crown and take it off, I decided to try out his idea.  Cherries and cherry juice, 2 days before the event. Cherry juice the day of and 2 days after.  I hit the grocery store and bought both fresh cherries and juice.

The big day came.  103 miles of riding later, no pain.  The next day, no pain.  The following day, 80 minutes of running and still no pain.  I am currently on Day 4 after the event, I haven’t had to miss a workout.  I never felt the slightest bit of pain (although I was tired after expending 8000 calories in about 7 ½ hours). Last year, after this same event, I was fighting to reach down far enough to tie my shoes.  This AM (day 4), I woke up early and did a 10K run as if the event had never happened.

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Climbing all day hurts!

Just this AM, I thought, “what other clever ideas have I rejected that have led to a pain that I just didn’t need to experience?”  What other cherry juice alternatives are out there that could give me power, speed, endurance, flexibility and strength that I have been missing?”

The only thing that has prevented me from learning them is my addiction to redneck thinking.  I suspect that I have already either read or heard many great ideas that could help me perform at higher levels, but I have rejected them in favor of the items that I perceive as my source of comfort.

Getting used to pain is often deemed a rite of passage for an athlete.  Push through the discomfort and you get better is the mantra.  So, so glad to learn that isn’t the truth.

And one day soon, I hope to get this redneck hat off of my head!

Ecclesiastes and the Green Jersey

King Solomon is considered in the Bible to be the wisest man that has ever lived. He had more wealth and more leisure time than not only any man of his time, but our time as well.  Solomon used his time to rule a kingdom and write down words of wisdom.  He often wrote about what is meaningless and what is good. In the end of his lament, he concluded that undertaking great projects, building parks and reservoirs, amassing wealth, and any delight of a man’s heart proves to be meaningless.  Yet, he doesn’t stop there.  He gives guidance for all of us as to how to live our lives.  In Ecclesiastes 2:24 he states, “a person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their toil.”

Today while riding in the virtual world within the software program of Zwift, I earned the coveted green jersey. For those non-cyclists here, let me explain. In each of the worlds grand cycling tours (Giro D’Italia, Vuelta Espana, Tour de France, Tour of California, etc.) there are classifications for the top riders.  This is no different than how we in America claim which quarterback or which linebacker is the best, on any given Sunday, using statistics.   Using an example from the cycling world (Tour of France), the best overall rider wears a yellow jersey; the best mountain climber wears a polka dot jersey; and the best sprinter wears a green jersey. Normally each of these is a different rider with different skills.  I have never considered myself to be a strong sprinter.  Climber?  Yes!  Sprinter?  No way-there are too many young guns out there with fast twitch muscles that I just don’t have.

In front of signParticipating in this virtual training has some requirements.  You must attach your bicycle to a stationary trainer that creates resistance as if you were riding on the road.  You sit on it and pedal as if you were outdoors, riding on a brisk spring day.  Since you aren’t outside, we rely on electronics attached both to the bicycle that measures power and cadence, as well as a heart rate monitor to measure aerobic effort. Each persons’ efforts are run through an algorithm to determine the equivalent speed as if we were outdoors.  It isn’t exact, but the calculation is within a percent or two.  Today, during my ride, I passed under a banner that indicated my speed during a specific interval was being calculated and ran through this algorithm.  I have passed under those blow-up markers a hundred times, and nothing ever happened.  This time, though, my jersey changed to green and the icon representing me changed to green as well, indicating that I now had more Sprint points than any current rider. I had never seen this before and quickly glanced at the statistics screen on the right. It showed that there were currently 1042 riders all participating in the same event that I was.

Holy screaming pedals, Bat Man   Woo hoo!  My mind immediately shifted to Ecclesiastes 2:24. I had most certainly been toiling during the last 45 minutes as my heart rate was near threshold and I was pouring sweat, even with the doors open in the basement the ambient temperature in the room in the low 40s. Out loud I stated, “I shall now find satisfaction in my toil. Thank you, King Solomon, for your help today.”

It is commonplace for people who do not understand holy Scripture to ask simplistic questions such as does that stuff really apply today? Today I was reminded of the importance of enjoying my toils while I still could have them. There will be a day when I can no longer ride a bicycle. I do not know when that day is. However, if at 51 years old I can be the fastest sprinter in a group of 1000, I will take it and celebrate!

Time for some yogurt, blueberries, and granola, and maybe I will do it again soon!

Joyous Ordeal: Du Nationals 2016 Recap

During a recent 8-day stretch, I participated in three duathlons…and none of them were easy.  As I sit down back home, I now view those 8 days as a joyous ordeal.  During the moment, though, it was anything but joyous.

Like most trained athletes, every event as an A, B and C goal associated with it. Typical “A” goals include winning the race/game or setting a personal best.  My “B” goals include doing well in my age category and seeing a reflection between my training goals and my race results.  “C” goals would be to cross the finish line in one piece.  Each of these last three races had different grade and outcome.  Even as I type this, it is hard to believe that all of them happened in such a short window of time.

Duathlon #1: Powerman West Virginia.

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Setting up at the start of Powerman West Virginia

I didn’t reach my C goal.  During the cycling portion of the event, one of the spectators walked across the race course during the race and stepped in front of my bike path.  My efforts to follow cycling etiquette and rules for safe riding were not enough.  Upon impact, I went over my handlebars and slid on the pavement.  I limped my bike into transition and abandoned the race.  I was sore and bloody, and I began to question my ability to compete the following weekend.  After counsel, I decided to talk to a lawyer, see a doctor and spend some time healing and while getting my bike shipped out for repair.  Seven days later, I was still struggling with a sense of anger that someone would decide to walk across the race course and not apologize for their actions, and I felt pain, as my back was deemed to be burned by the abrasions from the road and was still bleeding when I got on the plane two days before Nationals in Bend, OR.

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Finger to the sky at the end of the USAT Duathlon National Championships in Bend, OR.

Duathlon #2:   USAT National Championship, Standard Length.  Grade B.  It was a good performance, all things considered!  Going into Nationals, I was physically unable to go at 100%.  My left hip flexor did not have a full range of motion, and I could not rest my full weight on my left elbow while on my tri-bars.  As such, I took off all of my electronic gizmos that measured my bike and run metrics and decided to race by feel.  To my surprise, event timing chips showed that my bike splits were way ahead of what I thought they might be, considering I couldn’t put much weight on my left forearm.  In addition, my runs were as good as a training run, and I was pleased with that, as I couldn’t kick hard as I normally do.  During the last 3 minutes of the final run, I passed 3 others guys in my age category, all of whom were suffering more than I was, and I confirmed my TeamUSA slot for 2017.  That all said, I laid down on the grass after the race was over and had a tough time trying to stand up 15 minutes later.

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Walking across the finish line, ITU style.

Duathlon #3:  Pacific Crest Olympic Duathlon (even though there is no such thing as an Olympic Duathlon!)  Grade of A!  Going into that event, I knew that I wouldn’t be recovered from the previous day’s race, but I knew it would be great training effort to get ready for Zofingen.  Between races, I spent as much time resting and hydrating as I could stand but as late as Saturday night before the Sunday am race, I am almost cancelled, as I didn’t see how I was going to get up and complete for two more hours.  When I finally decided to look beyond my muscle soreness, I decided to race with electronics measuring my efforts, and I did the race with my best effort.  My Garmin showed that my cycling average reached nearly 22 mph on a hilly course.  I was amazed that I was able to sustain the speed on the bike for 28 miles, knowing my limitations. When I got on the 10k run at the end, I was unable to sustain even what I did the day before.  I went with best effort, watching my heart rate to make sure that it was high enough to be in its upper limits but not at threshold.  I held back until the last mile, which I ran about 30 seconds faster than any of the first 5 miles.

Seeing all the people that I had passed on the race, I had an idea that I had done well, and that knowledge gave me a confidence that I can’t always count on.  When I saw the finish line, I knew that my 8 day ordeal was about to be done, and I decided to savor the moment the way that the elite ITU athletes do on TV. I walked across the finish line knowing my ordeal was over and that I was a better athlete for trying to do three races in 8 days.  Although the race management’s timing chip didn’t record my numbers, I reviewed my Garmin data afterwards.  I came in first place out of 91 athletes!

Did I get better through the races?  Depends on what better means.  I was most ready for the 1st race, but I couldn’t even finish it.  I was least ready for the last race, but I raced within my limits and had my best result.  The middle race had me most concerned, as there was more on the line during that race than any of the others.

I conclude that I mentally improved.  Physical improvements are more difficult to evaluate.  Every run in every race was slower than the previous event.  Ugh.  Yet, every bike was faster than the previous event.  I now feel more comfortable competing successfully while injured, and that mental strength only came to me from experiencing adversity.

Jeff Gaura, racing against Europeans at the Powerman World Championships
The final run, against my peers from Europe.

My body is now in need of healing and recovery.  I have no more competitions until ITU Worlds.  For the next 9 weeks, I am preparing to go back to Zofingen.

Thank God for flat tires.

After the first three events of the year, I am convinced more than ever that bad luck can lead to good things.

At the first event of the year, the Albany Half Marathon, I got 34th out of 728 competitors.  That is a top 5% finish.  The second event, I got 33rd out of 74 competitors, putting me somewhere in the middle.  In the third event, I got first place in my age group and 24th out of 280+ entrants. 20160326_113014

In college, our teachers graded us on a curve.  They claimed it best represented how the real world would judge us once we left the ivory towers.  Grading on a curve means there is no set number that equals excellence.  Your grade comes from how well you did in comparison to everyone else.  The class average is deemed a C+ or B-.  If you do better than the average, you get a better grade than the average.  On some exams, a grade of 70 might earn you a mark of A, whereas on other days, that same score might be a grade of D.  Throughout my brief athletic career, I have very much adopted that same style of grading my results.  Once I cross the finish line, the first grade I seek is my position in regards to everyone else…not what my times were.

Applying that method to these first three races would mean a grade of A for race one and three and a grade of B- for the middle event.  Indeed, in the last event, I was barely in the top half.

I am most proud of my efforts in the 2nd race.  This crazy sort of claim deserves some explanation.

The first event was a half-marathon.  I most certainly didn’t push myself to the limit, and I was able to talk with others after finishing and was driving home after the event within an hour.

Two weeks later, I entered the Hagan Stone duathlon.  I finished in the middle of the crowd and can’t be prouder.

Huh?

The unexpected reset my thinking.  During the bike portion of the event, my front tire went flat.  Before the race, I decided not to carry a spare tube with me…I decided that two 8-mile loops didn’t warrant a spare tire.  I equated carrying a spare tube for that short of an event like taking 4 pairs of underwear for an overnight sleepover when you are already constipated.

UCD Jeff dismounting
Off the bike, running in socks.

Dumb thinking…I am good at this.

Once I noticed that the front was flat, I gave up racing.  I pulled over and paused for a few moments to ponder my bad luck.  Throughout the race, there were only a handful of people in front of me.  After I stopped and putting my feet on the ground,  I watched those who were behind me proceed ahead.  Nearly all held grimacing looks on their face as the powered up a hill that was biting into their legs.  As the athletes passed, one by one, I shook my head and bummed out.  After a few moments of this, I got up off my pity potty, and pedaled back to the start of the race, about a mile and a half away.  I turned the bike around and went as slowly as I could back to the transition area.  I most certainly didn’t want to damage my wheels, and riding on the road with uninflated tires can ruin a carbon wheel in a heartbeat.  I tried to convince myself that this wasn’t a big deal, as this was intended to be a training event for the big races coming up later in the year…that is what I was telling myself.

The new plan was to push the bike into transition, put on my shoes and do the final run, for the training effect.  This new plan lasted exactly 12 minutes.  Once I got back to the race start, Rich, the race director saw my predicament and ran towards me offering the wheel off of his bike.  I felt like the prodigal son returning home with the father running down the road, offering me a fattened calf that I did not deserve.  Within literally a few seconds of saying, “OK,” his wheel was on my bike and I was heading back onto the course.

“Thank you, God,” was all I could come up with to express my gratitude for the assistance.  Moments earlier, I was all but resigned to stop trying.  In the next moment, I found myself riding literally at 100+% for my 2nd lap.   Mid lap, it dawned on me that I haven’t gone 100+% since the start of the year.  I most certainly wasn’t at 100+% during the first half-marathon, nor have I trained at 100+% for more than a handful of minutes all year.

It took a flat tire for me to recognize that I wasn’t really trying to get better in the off season.  I had gotten complacent, blaming my “take it easy” approach to a lack of daylight, colder outside temperatures and who knows what else.

During the 2nd bike loop, I got to overtake many of the people that passed me when I down and out.  Many of those that I didn’t catch on the bike I caught on the run.  After the race was over, I was sore.  This pain was a good pain.  It came from pushing hard, and it felt distant, as it had been a while since I had given World Championship-level effort.

For the next few weeks, I decided that complacency was over.  I have since upped my effort on my stationary bike workouts – I can now sustain 30 more watts than I last year…and I probably have been able to do it all year, but never had tried and didn’t know.  I took this “try harder” thinking to the weight room.  I have added plates and reps across all machines.  A few months ago, I could only do 4 chin-ups before starting to fatigue.  This week, I did 10 chin ups, twice in a 90-second window.  I don’t think I have ever been able to do that.

Fast forward to yesterday.  I ran a half marathon trail race and came in 1st place.  During the final mile, I knew I had 10 minutes on the next guy in my group.  My response was to push hard at the end of the trail race, and I achieved a sub 6-minute mile.  That speed for one mile, on a road, would normally make anyone proud, as the half marathon is considered a distance event that includes pacing and strategy.  A sub 6-minute mile, after running 12 miles, on a trail…well, of course I was sore!

And to think it took a flat tire, deflated confidence and unanticipated help to get to me try hard again. flat_bicycle_tire_950x425

Thank God for flat tires.

 

No longer waiting for weights!

Throughout my whopping three of years of endurance training and competition, the areas where I have knowledge deficiencies continue to show up.  The moments are humbling.  Here is my “latest” discovery that I put in the category of dumb moves.

My “solid” logic has been to skip weight training.  My reasons were “thoughtful.”

  • I need long twitch muscles to be an excellent endurance athlete, and that is where I put my focus. Weight training builds up fast twitch, and I don’t use many of those during a race.
  • I continue to improve my outcomes by training more in running, biking and nutrition.
  • I only have so much time during the day (I have a full-time job, a ministry, a family, a scout troop, etc.), and it was easy to cut out the weight room.

I had the equivalent of a flat earth argument perfected.  However, my thinking was missing one element, namely, it lacked evidence that this was the best way to go.

As I took a look at my performances, I saw that I wasn’t getting exceptional results most of the time.  No podium finishes at Worlds.  Sure, there was King of the Mountain at Nationals, but no first place overall finishes in any of the events around here… just first in my age group from time to time.

As always, my learning began with a moment when I start wondering if my strategy may be wrong.  Oh, how my wife loves it when I start with that word “wrong” and refer to myself…Despite never having an “in your face” moment that pointed out what was missing, there was a moment. I came in several minutes behind a guy at Long Course Nationals who weighed 25 pounds or so more than me.  He was the same age…so I started reading more, and I challenged by assumptions. Listening to stories and reading provokes some questions regarding my ideas regarding effective training.  The more I read from folks whom our community deem to be knowledgeable, the more I concluded that my formula left room for improvement.

In my mind, there existed a disconnect when it came to weight training/resistance training and long-distance endurance training. I believed that weight training was not necessary as an endurance athlete.  I most certainly didn’t want to become bulky and thereby slow down while going uphill.  Climbing mountains is an art that also doubles as a balancing act.  As one gains mass, there is more weight to pull uphill. All things equal, the lighter cyclist goes up the hill faster than the heavier cyclist.  Climbing is about maximizing my power to weight ratio…so my conclusion was that a bigger me is a slower me, especially on hills, right?

I have had weight training on my workout schedule in the past, but it used to get very low priority. High-volume endurance training without strength training can easily lead to the wasting of muscle and a much “softer” physique…and I certainly had that after Switzerland last fall.

So, now the evidence is coming back in that all physiques are not equal.  Recent learnings now teach me that If I want a lean and powerful physique, weight training is a must. Not only that, I need to treat my time in the weight room with the intensity that I treat my hard bike rides or tempo runs.  I got a blessing when I learned that weight training does not have to be a long duration activity; I can knock out a great session in 45 minutes.  Now, I attack the weight training with some of the same intensity that I see in my oldest son who loves hard workouts in the gym.

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My oldest son knows something about weight lifting…

So far, I have seen my weight go up (7%), but I have also seen my running pace sped up, while my heart rate and perceived effort have not.  At a recent 10-mile race, my average heart rate was the same as it was a year ago, but my pace was 45 seconds faster per mile than a year ago.  That is a big jump!  Yesterday’s long bike ride averaged 22 mph for the first 20 miles.  I am sure that I was not at 100%, either.  The course was hilly (1300 feet of elevation during that first part).  Weight is up, but power is up more!

It required a bit of courage to put research to the test, especially research that may prove me wrong.  Now that I have put it to the test and am seeing results, I am glad that I was wrong.   Sure, the research overwhelmingly claims that vigorous weight training builds lean muscle and significantly increases metabolism, but I didn’t know what how this would manifest in duathlon.

Since starting this experiment, I have found that my pants and shirts are tighter, but my waist has only gained ½ of an inch.  I don’t want new clothes.  However, running faster makes the idea of getting a few pieces of clothing all worth it.

I encourage everyone to examine their fundamental beliefs.  Learning requires the rejection of previous hypotheses!

 

12 Tips and Tricks for a successful Duathlon

Truth be told, there are no “tricks” in duathlon.  Indeed, there is no substitute for practicing and mastering the three disciplines that make or break world-class duathletes:  running, cycling and nutrition.  Great habits in those three disciplines are more important than what is listed below.  That said, I have found that doing these 12 learning make a world of difference.

  • Check out your gear the night before. No marine goes into battle without going over his gear, piece by piece, and confirming that it is working, at specifications, before using it in a combat situation. Steal from the Marine’s discipline and go over all parts of your gear and plan.  Confirm all your bike screws and tight and that your shoes, socks and racing kit are laid out, ready to go in the morning.  Have spares.  Don’t wake up wondering where your stuff is or if it is ready for the big event.
  • Vet your nutrition plan with someone else. I ask Susan Kitchen to review my nutrition plan for all long course events to make sure I have the right formula of energy, hydration, and salt to sustain the distance about to be raced.  More often than not, my plan is wrong on at least one of those three items…if not all of them!
  • Tape nutrition to the frame. I race with gels or pineapple chunks.  71n2ftEither way, I want the food where I want it, and most certainly, I don’t want to deal with packaging.  I saw a woman tape a cliff bar, no packaging, directly to her frame.  Grab, pull and eat.  No ripping or tearing of a package required.  If I could get it injected into my arms on the aero bars via an IV, I would.
  • Race with a different pair of running shoes on each run. When I get off the bike in transition 2, my first pair of shoes may be ready to put right back on, or they might not.  I have found my shoes knocked  into other people’s bike rack space.  I have even found a bike on top of my shoes.  The value of having a 2nd pair of shoes, right where you left them at the start of the race, laces how and where you want them, assures that my time in transition is as short as possible.   I do the first run in Hoka One One’s and I do the second run, based on conditions (trail shoes or racing flats).
  • Put your spare tube and tools in a tennis ball case. Tennis ball caseThe case fits perfectly in your spare water bottle slot on your frame. The little pouches that sit under the seat don’t really lend themselves to easy in and out use.  A tennis ball case is large and in an easy to get to place.  It is aerodynamic enough to justify the placement location.  There is no zipper to deal with, and stuffing the old tube back in after your procedure is faster than the little behind-the-seat pouch.
  • Eat a normal breakfast in the am. Race morning is the wrong time to be trying that new beet juice your heard about that might increase endurance.  Your training plan is testing on race day, not intercepted and altered.
  • Run in and out transition efficiently. No one is effective at running in bike shoes.  They aren’t meant for that.  Yet, at every race, someone is clopping along slower than an opossum crossing the road.  We can, though, run in socks, if the ground conditions allow for it.  I use rubber bands to hold my cycling shoes in position so they don’t scrape on the ground as I push my bike through transition.  When I leave transition, I hop on my bike, put my foot in my shoe and pedal half a turn, until I can comfortably put on my other shoe.  Keep in mind, this is not a natural effort.  To be good at this function requires practice.  For those who comment that this is not for them, I wonder how much they have practiced, if any.
  • Practice transition. Take some time at either the start or the end of one of your outdoor training events to practice going quickly and smoothly from bike to run to bike.  Note what muscles you are engaging, and spend some time working them out.  I quickly discovered that it was my core that made the difference between a 30-seconds and a 1-minute transition.  My practice of Pilates helps me feel confident switching between disciplines.
  • Use the mechanic, if it is provided. He really does want you to do the best you can.  I do lots of my own maintenance and upgrade work, with no help.  That said, I overlook things.  Having the mechanic do a once over can help expose loose spokes, loose screws, and make sure that the tire pressure is correct, for conditions.  TeamUSA provides mechanics, and I use them!  It hurts no one to give them a tip for their time, too.
  • Dress and race as if it was 10 degrees warmer than perceived temps. During long course nationals a few years ago, I put on a base layer, as I was cold before race start.  Before the end of run 1, I had taken off my uniform and base layer and put back on my uniform.  I ran the last 2 miles carrying my base layer in my hands.  Not efficient nor smart.  Now, I wear arm warmers that I can slide down, as I warm up.  In addition, as the day rolls by, the outdoor temperatures increase while you heat up.  Stand around at the start a little bit cold…it will be OK once the race starts.
  • Interact with others before the race to assist. Isolating before a race is selfish on a couple of fronts.  There may be a chance for you to encourage someone else who is really nervous.  You miss that chance by separating from everyone else, claiming it is part of your race prep.  God calls us sheep and not goats for a reason-we need others to be healthy.   We marry and pair up to do everything of importance.  Extend our genetically social tendency to race day.  Talking with or listening to others can help you and others.  I spend time in prayer, and I pray for others.
  • Celebrate everyone’s success. Clap for everyone at awards ceremony, even if they are from another country.  Verbally approach those who beat you and tell them, “good effort,” even if they don’t speak English.   I have sadly watched more than one great athlete fail to enjoy an event that they prepared for and did well at because they hadn’t practiced or learned how to celebrate.  Happiness is in what you give, not what you get.  Tell first timers to keep coming back.  At worlds, I stop to let kids take pictures.  At local events, I talk to volunteers and thank them for their sacrifice.  Life is a beautiful thing.  Race day is a unique celebration to be shared.