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The Race Clock Ain’t The Only Clock

In 2013, I finished my first Ironman race with exactly 16 minutes to spare under the time cut-off.

In 2015, I finished my third Ironman race with exactly 16 minutes to spare under the time cut-off.

This week in CrossFit, I finished the Workout of the Day (“the WOD”) with 16 seconds to spare–under the prescribed time cut-off.

What is with me and these 16 minute/second cut-offs?

I thought about the CrossFit workout – which was three rounds of the following:  800 meter run, 20 wall ball shots, 800 meter row, 20 burpees – all within a 35 minute time.  Doesn’t seem like a lot, but that’s 1.5 miles of running and 1.5 miles of rowing, 60 squats and 60 burpees in 35 minutes.  Trust me – it adds up, and aerobically–it’s a killer.

I have a theory that I will use exactly the amount of time that I am given–in life and in races and in workouts.

The shorter the deadline? The faster I get it done.

The shorter the timeframe? I’ll squeeze myself into it, somehow.  Might not be pretty, but I’ll do it. Somehow.

For example, I went into Ironman Louisville in 2015 a little nervous. I was under-trained because of a bike crash and a car crash. Also, Louisville that year had a cut-off that was 16:30 hours from the first swimmer in the water–so at most I would have 16:30, and it would definitely be less than that because I wouldn’t be the first swimmer in the water.

I finished in 15:28–a PR of Ironman-branded race by an hour and 18 minutes.  Okay, so what gave?

Well, in that instance, I had built a great aerobic base through that year – sure, I missed much of the key work towards the end – but I had raced Placid and all the training leading up to that only twelve weeks prior. I was in good shape.

But also, I think I knew that I had a job to do–that I had less time to do it in–and I needed to move my arse.

There is a certain obsession that comes with looking at our Garmins and timing for pacing during a race, and rightly so.  After all, most races do have a time limit.

As the race progresses, we can get easily disappointed when we see our bike splits, our time out of the water–especially when we are amped up for a “great race” and we “deserve” a great race, but for whatever reason, the times are not reflecting our hard work.

Tough deals, for sure.

I also know that keeping an eye on the time and knowing what you need to do in order to make the dream happen is very valuable information.  Doing math on the fly is a part of the gig of triathlon.  (I am not very math-y – so this always keeps me very occupied during a race.)

Racing without a barometer is risky if you are one of us who races near the cutoffs.

I also think racing without a Garmin/watch is a form of sticking your head in the sand.  Now, before you get all mad, hear me out.

Personally, I believe it’s a good idea to race with the timer / race clock going on your watch (if there’s a time cutoff – if there’s no cutoff, I’m indifferent to this).  Maybe have only two screens going:  your heartrate or power or pace (if that’s a thing you want to know), and the timer.

Why?  Well, I always think knowing that you have X minutes left to grab your dream is valuable information. You can see that your watch says you’ve been racing for 5 hours and 30 minutes.  In a half-iron, you might have exactly 3 hours to get your half marathon done.  That’s GREAT intel.

If you back it up and have pre-written the math for the bike, you know you need to get done with the bike with X time to spare.  That’s also good intel. It pushes you.

And yep, maybe it messes with your head.

Maybe it’s difficult math to do. (But you’re tough.  You can do it!)

I am a proponent of knowing the truth, accepting reality, and dealing with that in whatever way you can.  Especially if it can help push you to make your dream happen.

I spent way too much of my adult life with my head down and not saying what I meant, beating around bushes and such.

Life is too short. Head out of sand! Head up! Eyes on the prize!

Plus, what if we finished (purposely) without the Garmin and were two minutes over the cutoff?  Sure, we can say “time doesn’t matter, I’m an Ironman” and go with that (not arguing that point one way or another).  But… why risk it?  Do you think if we HAD the Garmin we might have found those two minutes?

I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. To me, it’s not worth the gamble.

Truth is truth and it’s better to have one less excuse for yourself after the race is over.  If you knew the time you had, and you pushed the best way you could?  And you didn’t make it?  At least you knew the parameters you had and tried your best.

That is also good intel for your soul.   You really can’t argue with I gave it all I had. That is the final verdict that matters.

Here’s my experience with race-day math.

In Lake Placid, when I found myself on a massive time crunch from a kick/punch to the head during the swim, a slower-than-hoped for bike, and a marathon that I knew I was walking, I had a clear picture of my time.  I had to keep a 16 minute mile to finish that race.  I had to move my butt.  I had to walk fast.  I would not have known how fast I needed to actually walk without a pace number.

Someone could have said “walk fast” and I would have said, “okay” …but I might not have walked that fast. I walked against the clock, doing the math and moving.  It was good info.

After all, we want to finish in the time prescribed. We want to be an “official” finisher.  I don’t care what anyone says.  Everyone wants that. Of course, we make the best of it when we don’t pull it off exactly as hoped BUT but I think it’s safe to say that going into a race, we want to finish in the time prescribed.

I want to give myself the tools to do the best I can.

Finally, just as we are not defined by the scale–we are also not defined by a race clock.

We are not defined by the races we didn’t finish, nor the races we don’t start. 

We are not defined by the title of “Ironman” or “half Ironman” or  even “runner” or “triathlete.”

There is a big difference between owning our athleticism (a good thing!) and letting our accomplishments own us.

It’s great to say “I am a triathlete” – but it’s not so great to say “triathlon is my life.”

In the race world, give yourself the best shot possible for your finish within the time limits.  Why wouldn’t you?  Know your surroundings and your time limits.

At the same time, don’t let it freak you out, and don’t let it define you.

Yes, push the best you can.  Don’t give yourself excuses or an out. Trust your training.  Trust yourself. Know you are amazing. Just keep moving forward, and let that forward motion define you–let your best effort under whatever circumstances race day brings be the proof that you are alive, you are trying and you are showing up to your life.

That is the real win. That is the real clock.

Beginner’s Luck: The Art of the DNS (Did Not Start)

Beginner’s Luck: The Definitive 4-Step Plan for Surviving the DNF

Just Keep Moving Forward: My First Run

One Comment

  • Laura

    April 13, 2018 at 4:07 pm

    Thank you as always for the reminders. I am 29 days from my first full IM and no matter what I need to just move. I hope and plan to finish in the allotted time, but if it doesn’t, does it change who I am.. No.


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