“Why is the third lap in a mile repeat the most important lap?” a reader asked Coach Roy Benson in a recent Runner’s World column.
“It is not just the third lap of mile repeats that is the most important lap,” Coach Benson explains. “It seems that the third quarter of any repeat is where we tend to back off the pace as the fatigue starts to build up.”
My dear old track coach would have agreed. And he trained us accordingly, teaching us to push the third quarter of any race like it’s the last. For in that third lap of the mile, the sixth and seventh lap of the 3200 and the third curve of the 800, the mind tells the body to conserve, to hold back, to save something for the end. Convincing your body that the third quarter is the last, my coach would say, is how you bust your body through old barriers.
In the northern hemisphere, triathlon season runs roughly April to November (give or take a month, depending on how close you live to awesome). Today, that puts us squarely in the third quarter of the season.
My plan was to push my third quarter of the season at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Mont Tremblant, Canada. Even though I am more competitive at the 140.6 distance, there are reasons beyond podiums that I race. I looked forward to meeting this beautiful region of Quebec, to competing in a race (albeit in a different location) for which I was injured last year and therefore never finished, and to sharing it with my dear amiguita who is likely returning to her Guatemalan homeland at the season’s end.
But when amiguita’s Canadian tourist visa didn’t come through, I was facing a 26-hour solo drive, an $800 hotel bill, and (all of a sudden) a dwindling desire to race at 70.3 World Championships at all.
Lukewarm is not how my track coach taught me to race a third quarter.
To be sure, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to race. It was simply that I didn’t want to race this race.
Why? I wondered. Why do some races feel right and some races feel wrong, and how did this race evolve from feeling so right to so wrong so quickly?
Though I generally operate by feel, this quandary called for quantitative reasoning.
I drew up a list of the factors that I weigh in race selection.
I then assigned a weight (1 through 5) to each of these factors.
Finally, I rated the 70.3 World Championship race based on each of the factors in my list, with the understanding that my amiguita would no longer be able to attend.
A score of 86 out of a possible 220 was less than impressive. This is how it would have looked if Canada had more favorable visa policies for Guatemalans, a much stronger 134 compared to the wimpy 86:
The numbers confirmed how entirely the absence of my amiguita had altered the allure of this race. But these numbers also confirmed something I’ve said many times in the past–that racing is about so much more than a finish line.
I started looking for other places to push the most important quarter of the season. With my parents in California and a perfectly timed week-long break in my dad’s chemotherapy, Ironman Lake Tahoe demanded a closer look. This race offers a distance more suited to my strengths and is set in one of my favorite regions of the country. Plus, I have a free place to stay. And while the altitude and severe cold (lows around freezing, literally) will present the hardest racing conditions I’ve ever faced, the rubric confirmed my gut feeling:
A whopping 155!
And so it’s decided. Instead of racing the 70.3 World Championship, I’ll be pushing the third quarter with my third Ironman of the season.
And how about the fourth quarter? What will October and November bring? A half in Maryland? A half in Bahrain? A full in Mexico? A pro card perhaps?
I don’t know what the fourth quarter will bring and my dear old track coach would be proud. I’m focused on kicking the 3rd quarter of this season like he taught me to approach the 3rd quarter of anything. That is, like it’s the last.