Jonnyo calls an experience like this “a huge confidence” which is a phrase I like. Confidence is a Thing you can Have; you cannot quantify it but you can have a lot or a little of it. When you have A Confidence you keep it until something takes it away, which could be soon or not for a while. I had a Huge Confidence at the Lone Star races, but I spent it trying to get healthy in April and May. When I got to Boston I tested my fitness and health by running – and winning! – races on consecutive days, made the more challenging by having the recovery period between those two races consist of falling asleep at 2 am on the ground with my head on an old, charred campfire log. This was a good confidence for me; the 30 hour training week that followed was testing but also a confidence of its own. It helped during my taper last week when my workouts went progressively better but I felt more or less awful at all other times.But during that taper I knocked out repeat miles in five minutes flat and had life best 1 minute power on my bike and 1500 LCM swim. Those were soft PRs, easy to break, but a PR makes me feel awesome and I wanted to practice feeling awesome. I read Golf is not a Game of Perfect, which made me decide that choosing my mental state wasn’t enough, and that I would have to practice it. So I structured my workouts in such a way to help me practice feeling awesome, to have the confidence going into the race that I would be able to feel awesome.
My Mom and I drove to Maryland on Friday, which took three hundred hours. Saturday morning we went to registration and met George Altieri the pro coordinator and Rob Vigorito the race director, who were both awesome and helpful. Mom took the opportunity to see if I still embarrass as easily as I did when I was 14 by bragging to them about what a Swell Young Man I am turning out to be. Then I took a couple of easy workouts, fussed over my race numbers, mixed a couple of water bottles, and turned in early. The last think I did before bed was try one of those Nuun tablets
Khai St. Khai told me about at camp. Suddenly I had a wild party, right there in my mouth. They are supposed to be dissolved in water, it turns out. I slept well, quietly burping up lime Nuun every couple of hours.
In the morning I had two cans of Red Bull and a bagel with more butter than my Mom eats in a fortnight. Changed into my race kit and the present tense. Racing in the Present is the other thing, along with feeling awesome, that I am learning how to do.
No bike warmup is allowed; in my opinion this is excessive micromanagement but I am not in charge of these things. It does leave me plenty of time for a relaxed run and swim warmup. Half the mens pro field borrows my bike pump and I get in the water for about 800 meters. Thanks to a solid overanalysis of several swim workouts, I have learned that when I swim As Hard As I Can I actually go slower than if I just focus on swimming strong and (you guessed it) feeling awesome. It would be nice to be able to make use of all of my fitness, but I am not a good enough swimmer. Yet. In the meantime I do manage to make the main chase group of swimmers. I am flummoxed to see 22:30 on the clock when I get out of the water but I take it as the awesome gift that it is and get to focus on getting out of my cursed wetsuit.
Onto the bike I am into my zone 3 power, which feels way too hard. I know I can maintain it though so I hold onto it and wait for my hips to stretch out a little bit. After ten miles or so I pass the women’s leader, Pip Taylor, an ITU racer who put all the long coursers to shame in the water. It takes me a 350 watt surge to get around her within the allotted 25 seconds but she – and every one of the other half-dozen or so people I saw during the whole bike ride – is riding very clean. The age-group race might have been too crowded for truly clean riding, but everyone I see is spaced out 20 or 30 meters at least. At one point I space out enough to yell to a bunny by the side of the road: “Bunny!”
Around mile 30 or 35 a widely spaced train with Mike Caiazzo and Pat Evoe goes roaring by me. I work my tail off to keep them in sight, but the gap goes from 50 to 100 meters to 500 meters to Quite A Lot. I start to feel Quite Tired and my thoughts drift to the run and possibly a drink of something other than Gatorade. I have to remind myself to come back into the moment by asking myself, “What are you doing now?” “I am riding my bike, as hard as I can. And I feel awesome. I have practiced feeling awesome while biking as fast as I can, and this is what it feels like.”
After about a year I reach T2. Socks, a cap, a little bag of salt pills, and sunglasses (well, you never know if it might get hot out or something, but in hindsight this was excessive. at least i didn’t stop for a sandwich or something. but the T2 needs work i know) and I am out on the road. Pat Evoe is eighteen seconds ahead of me. He stretches it out to thirty or forty in the first mile while I get my legs underneath me. I have five minutes over Andrew Hodges out of transition, which does not seem like enough. I have biked really hard, and I am not nearly the runner he is even on my best day. But I realize this is a negative thought. I decide that I am going to run 1:17, so he will need a 1:12 to catch me, and if he can run that fast then more power to him. I am running as fast as I can and I feel awesome. What he or anyone else does is not something I can control.
At the turnaround I count that I am in seventh place, with second through sixth pretty close together and not too far ahead. But I am already a bloc and going as fast as I can. I will either catch them or not, but they will have to run fast to stay ahead of me, because as I have mentioned I feel awesome. I have to remind myself of this a lot. Then at mile nine or ten I get some Coke. Actually what I get is some Coke in my mouth, some in my eyes, some up my nose, and some all over my fabulous blue singlet. But it makes me feel briefly like a superhero. I run from mile ten to eleven in 5:35 and then I start to feel like a superhero who has to take a dump real bad. So I run from eleven to twelve in the five thirties including a brief slow-down for a hearty clench. I realize I will probably not catch Pat up ahead of me, but I do not care. I am having the race of my life and I want to enjoy it. The last mile in the 5:30s, some hand slaps in the finish chute – including my Mom, who I am surprised to be able to pick out of the crowd in the confusion – and I am across the line 3:56:58. Andrew does not catch me (my run is actually a 1:16) but with the fastest run of the day he comes real close and is across next after me. In the meantime I fall on the ground in happiness. I am aware of voices above my head: “Is he okay?” “Yes, just happy.”
You’ll have to pardon my coarse language at this point: Holy SHIT. I have never realistically imagined that I might go this fast. Even with a swim that is a couple minutes fast and perfect conditions. I have learned to race happy and it feels awesome. I feel even better when I find a porta toilet a couple minutes later.
For the second time this season I have had the race of my life. I already knew that training works; now I know it works that much better when you learn to feel good. I already train because I love it, and it took me years to learn to suffer. But now I think about it a little differently. Training is not all in your muscles. For sure it is in your muscles, since all the positive thinking in the world won’t get you to the finish line without fitness. But, at least for me, it’s not about learning to love suffering; it’s that part of the suffering is learning to feel awesome when you are working as hard as you can.