I posted this on The Church of the Big Ring site early in the 2010 race season. Re-reading it reminded of the parallels one might draw - and that I did draw - between road racing and alpine climbing. There are universal theses that apply across the board. Climbing is not so unique despite climbers insistence to the contrary.
I ran into Sam Krieg on my way to the start line for the University of Utah Omnium road race. He was just coming off the course and soaring from the effort and the juice of the win. He's a mentor too and said, "all I have to say is be patient, and race your bike." It took a second but the words sank in: racing is different than being in a race. The day turned out all right with Bo Pitkin taking the win, me in 5th and Kracht in 6th. The day afterward I flogged myself with questions, trying to turn the answers into lessons I could use in the future.
1) If you think you can't you are right. Always. In our gym and seminars we discuss the idea of self-imposed limitation, and preach the idea to others. But knowing something and saying it is not the same as practicing it. To prevent thinking and fulfilling those thoughts that prevent us from expressing true potential requires persistent vigilance. If I think I can only go at a particular intensity for two minutes I have already decided that three minutes at that pace is impossible. But is it?
2) Constant self-interrogation and honest answers are essential. When undertaking any difficult task we must ask ourselves, "Am I going hard? Am I doing the maximum possible within this context? Could I push a bit more?" It is easy to unconsciously ease off the gas, and to believe the threshold effort of one minute ago is the same as what is happening right now. So ask yourself the question. Be ruthless and critical in reply. Don't dress up the answer in excuses or half-truths.
3) Training is not racing. No matter how hard one trains it is impossible to go as deep as one will go on the day, racing or fighting, with the chips on the table. And those who only train but never compete or test themselves happily convince themselves that what they are doing is hard, or hard enough. When I am training it is easy to sit up after an interval has been hard for a while. It's easy to say, "that's good enough." On the road, reacting to others, I can't sit up until they decide to do so. And perhaps in so doing I break through my own self-imposed limitations.
4) Racing is racing. In a test of pure fitness pacing strategies affect the outcome but few other tactics carry much weight. On the road, in a group, understanding which attacks to chase and which to let go might be the difference between being there to contest the finishing sprint or blowing up a few miles before the line. Knowing when to sit in and recover, which is directly tied to self-knowledge, and doing so without shirking the responsibility to do one's work on the front, is another key to remaining viable until the finish. Patience is often rewarded. Experience matters. Stubbornness is for mules.
5) The tank is deeper than the conscious thought allows. There is always something left to burn if the fire of one's will is hot enough. Josh went on a break with one other guy. After he cracked and blew up Josh continued on his own, eventually building a lead of over five minutes on the peloton. At one point Josh blew past a friend whose category was on the course at the same time and he later said, "when I saw Josh frothing at the mouth with the pedal buried I knew he is doing damage to whoever was chasing." A long time ago I met someone with a similar disposition, a brilliant climber with a highly evolved pain threshold, for whom standard definitions of effort fell short. He was willing to hurt himself - perhaps permanently - to get what he wanted from the mountains. One day when we were discussing caloric needs he told me that there is always something left to burn, "even if it's brain matter." Back then, his outlook reduced my own ideas about pain and suffering to rubble. These days some things I see on the bike have a similar effect.