A lot of times you hear athletes including myself saying the main goal for a race or the purpose of competing in general is to push the limits. To do what you once thought was impossible. To push your mind and body to another level. Chasing that feeling, and then experiencing it is incredibly addictive. It is really a pure way of going about competing in endurance sport (or life in general) as your not so much comparing yourself to others day in and day out, but instead the focus is entirely intrinsic and you are just trying to get the best out of yourself. For the most part you can't control what another athlete does in the lead up to or on race day, so there is no use stressing about it and worrying about it, instead it's best in my opinion to just focus on what you can do to be the best you can be.
In the days post Marbella 70.3, I was a little disappointed in myself. Why? I had joked about it on social media, but as strange as it sounds, I was disappointed and really wondering why I was able to run so hard to catch a flight, and even the day immediately after the race was able to walk, and go up and down the stairs without getting assistance. In the past, that had been my measuring stick for how hard I pushed myself on race day: whether or not I was able to walk in the days afterwards. So why in Marbella was I not only able to walk, but I was actually able to run. And as I was running part of me was really upset at myself for being able to do so, why did I not collapse in the shower after the race from exhaustion, and why did I not wake up Monday morning planning my day around the task of having to go down a flight of stairs. Why at 19km of the half marathon run, was I thinking about racing another half in 7 days, or a small part of me wishing I had another 21km after to try to make up some more time on the rest of the field.
Well here's my answer. I think in order to really push your limits, you first need to understand them, and get a feel for the task at hand. That comes only with experience. The fact is if you look back on my history in triathlon, up to this point I have not been able to put together a start to finish solid half marathon off the bike. I had run a half (or longer in Penticton) 6 times leading up to Marbella 70.3 and here is the run down of how those went:
Nov 2016 Miami USAT National Champs: Extreme dehydration, and the first time experiencing the hamstring pain took me down to a slow shuffle the final 10km or so. I got to 8km feeling good in around 27minutes, and then everything went kaboom. Is the hamstring any better now, no not really. But at this point this was the first time I had experienced it, and did not know how to deal with it at all (shorten my stride, increase cadence, lean my body weight to the left, and drive my left arm back hard)
June 2017 Wisconsin 70.3: everyone knows the story about this. Again suffering from a combo of heat exhaustion, and then in the midst of a major hip problem forced a 20 minute long stop (about 30 minutes between stop 1 at 2 miles and 2 at 5miles) crying on the curb in pain.
July 2017 Racine 70.3 : Zero kms of running in the 5 weeks post Wisconsin helped solve the hip problems, but it meant by 15km into the run with a lack of any run mileage at all, my muscles started shutting down one at a time. On the downhill leading to the red carpet I seriously considered going down backwards cause my quads were hurting so much. Racine 70.3 is still the most sore I've been post race, unable to walk for 3 days afterwards.
Penticton Worlds: You may look at that run and say that it appeared to be solid start to finish. But again the lack of run mileage meant 24km in my legs felt like I was in quicksand. The only reason I could keep it together was that I was staring down a gold medal, and just willed myself to get to line as quickly as possible without being passed.
Chattanooga: achilles issues hampered my stride in the final 6km.
Miami 70.3: a stress fracture in the lead up to the race meant again zero run mileage. Coupled with 43 degree heat, I felt close to death from 10km on wards.
So leading into Marbella I had never been able to run well start to finish off the bike. Since I never experienced what that would feel like, what that would take, did I not go hard enough in Marbella on the bike. Maybe, I don't know. On the bike, I did push around 25W less power than did in practice when I simulated the race. Yes in the race it was heavily affected by downhills which I didn't properly account for in the simulation. For example, the almost 10 minute long descent back to Marbella my average power was 77W (in aero tuck most of the way spinning out), and there was an almost 5 minute long segment with an average power of 41W on another steep downhill on the course. So yes that tanked the power, but still 25W is 25W. Could I have gone even harder on the climbs? Maybe. But I was already pushing above 330W for the first 10minute climb, and the first 25 minutes of the race had an average power above 300W (which for me was about 5.3W/kg maybe more on race day - I came back and weighed myself to find I lost 3.2lbs while in Spain). Doubting whether I really went as hard as I could've, I starting thinking about workouts in the basement where i've had many times where I've been brought to tears from a set of intervals, absolutely yelling and screaming with my heart rate at 202bpm. Did I have any moment like that in the race? No. I kept it pretty controlled for the most part. Yes breathing hard, and still going quite hard, but not screaming. Why did I not put myself into that same place I've put myself so many times in training. Well the thing is when you have never been able to put together a complete 21.1km run off the bike, you are constantly doubting yourself throughout the race. Maybe doubting is the wrong word, questioning yourself, doing full body assessment every minute, will I be able to run the full 21.1km hard if I continue at this pace, or will I be in a heap at the side of the road at 15km receiving medical attention like in the past. You just don't know how hard is too hard when you haven't yet experienced a complete race. And really I'm not saying the reason I was able to walk post race, was 100% because perhaps I under-biked, no, maybe I was able to walk post race, because my training volume and load over the past 6 months leading into the race, made it so that race day was a relatively normal Sunday in terms of TSS. I have been biking 5 hours every single Sunday for almost 5 months straight, with some of those rides having a TSS above 350, one of them where I did 7x20minute max efforts had a TSS of 372.
Regardless of the why, I am so motivated to build on to this race, because now that I have run a solid start to finish half-marathon off the bike, I have gained a deeper understanding for the task at hand, and by understanding it better can better push my limits in future races. Essentially it is impossible to run at full speed into a pitch dark room, well now we have turned on the light. I better understand my way around, and can step more confidently knowing that I'm not going to bump into things.
Now that I've experienced that, is that lesson learned and move on. No, of course not. With each and every race, heck each and every training session I'm looking to learn and gain insights to be able to better myself in this crazy sport of triathlon. Next up is Ironman 70.3 Victoria, another opportunity to understand my limits more and then push beyond them.