Racing or Pacing?
by Chris McDonald
"So, are you really going for it and racing? Or are you pacing things out over the day?"
I get asked this question a lot when chatting with age groupers and particularly from guys and gals looking to make the next step in their racing careers.
There are many answers to this question and I could honestly go on about it all day.
The short answer is yes, I am pacing things out over the day. Hell, it is an 8-or-more-hour day and you really cannot just throw caution to the wind for that long. The long winded answer -- and what I believe is a key to breakthrough performances -- is sometimes you need to race and not pace.
One of the greatest breakthroughs in my career was my last age group race at Ironman New Zealand in 2004. I had a goal of trying to win my age group in the 25-29 category but had decided no matter what I was going to race whoever was nearby. That year I found myself getting off the bike with the lead pack and was leading my age group by more than 20 minutes.
This is were the mentality for breakthrough performance came in (or racing, not pacing). Yes, I was pretty sure I was going to win my age group, but I wanted to see where I could go with the day. I ended up finishing 7th overall that day and broke the 9-hour mark. I could have settled in and run very conservatively and just executed the original goal of winning my age group, but I was looking for a breakthrough performance.
Another example might be Craig Alexander this past year in Hawaii. Craig had won back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009; and then in 2010 his competitors put a plan together to change the race execution and take the race to Craig. That year Craig had his fastest time to date but finished 4th.
Then in 2011 people tried to play the same game and take it to Craig on the bike. However, this time he raced! I am not 100% sure, but I am willing to bet that the decision in Craig's mind when he went for it on the bike heading towards the turn in Hawi in 2011 was, "I am willing to lose this race to win this race".
Keeping these examples in mind, I think if you are looking to take your racing to the next level, you have to have the mindset of, "If you don't push your limits, you set your limits." If you are the guy or gal who has that great rivalry in your local races and has always wanted to win, I think the mindset of, "I am willing to lose if I want to win," is a great place to put yourself.
See you at the next "race."
Chris "Big Sexy" McDonald is a four time Ironman champion. You can follow him on Twitter @bigsexymcdonald and on his blog at Chris-McDonald.net.