Mind Body Fitness

 Detaching from the Outcome

– By Ricardo Gonzalez


An ancient Buddhist quote says, “As soon as the desire to win emerges one loses perspective and attempts to force the issue, which can result in defeat”

(Ancient Budo Wisdom; see the Budo Secrets)

This wisdom hit home for me at the XTerra West Championships last April 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is one of eight regional championships held across the U.S.A., where winning your age group qualifies you to participate in the World Championships in Maui, Hawaii. This is the off-road equivalent of the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon. The regional, national, and World Tour Championship races allow amateurs like me race on the same course and at the same time as professionals from all over the world. It is a very unique and exciting format.

I had been focused on having a perfect race at the XTerra West Championships in Las Vegas. Just before boarding my flight for the race, my girlfriend leaned over, gave me a kiss and whispered in my ear to “have a good race”. I distinctly noticed that, she didn’t say to win, or to have a perfect race, but   to have a good race. This comment set in motion a   course of events that might not have taken place had I not taken her comment to heart. Here’s what unfolded:

The race consisted of a 1.5 K (1640 yards) swim immediately followed by  30 K (18.6 miles) of mountain biking and then is finished off with a 10K (6.2 mile) run in the hot desert hills.  There is plenty of opportunity for disaster to pay a visit.    The previous year it did so in the form of three flat tires.  I ended up in third place by a margin of time equivalent to what it took me to change tires three times.

The water felt a bit cold but as I stood on the shore following my swim warm-up the sun felt comforting.  It was a beautiful day.  “60 seconds!”   These words from the announcer jolted me toward the start line.  I didn’t want to sprint and I knew the gun would go off before I got to the start line.  And it did.  That’s okay, I thought, it’s a long race.

So there went the perfect race.

I knew I’d be really upset if someone in my age group beat me by less than the 10 seconds, the time that it took me to reach the start line …  after the gun went off.  I kept thinking I was racing for third place because there on the pre- race listing of competitors I found two guys that always beat me.  In a way, this relaxed me and helped me dismiss thoughts of having to win.  I focused on having a “good” race.

What is a good race? In every sport it’s different, but for endurance events it boils down to: luck, pacing, and identifying the critical point in time when circumstances require an extraordinary effort.  And so I settled into my swim.  Swimming is about good form, staying relaxed, and synchronizing breathing to motion.  Other than the start, the swim went well.  I came out of the water and ran to my bike, stripped off the goggles and wetsuit, strapped on my helmet and jumped on the bike, (Yes, we wear triathlon shorts under the wetsuit).  As in everyday life, preparation counts.  I knew that the exit from transition (where you get on the bike) was smooth and flat, so I could steer with one hand and use the other to help get my feet into the biking shoes that I had previously attached to the pedals.  Every second counts.

About 40 minutes after starting the bike section, luck ran out and it was time to change the rear tire.  I told myself to stay calm, be efficient, take deep breaths, and forget about that guy in my age group (Jim) that just went by.  (You see, in triathlon races, your age is marked on your calf before the race starts.)   That way during the race you can see who is in your age group.  I released the initial desperation of thinking I was at best in fourth place, and quickly got back on the bike and into race focus.  Preparation allows me to plan and that in turn relaxes me.  I called to mind the technical sections of the bike course and chose the sections where I would take risks.  I pushed the limit on every hill climb except the two worst ones where I chose to conserve energy.  Elation swept over me as I pulled off my helmet and slipped on running shoes. Jim was leaving transition less than a minute ahead of me.  My first thought was to catch up to him. But how? It’s a delicate balance between reacting to your competition and doing what you know works best for you under the specific race conditions.

I heard the words “Have a good race”.  Okay, I know what that meant:  extra hydration before returning to the hot desert, take some nutrition-keep sugars under 7% dilution, wear a hat, let the legs adapt during the first 2K, pace myself to negative split (do the second half slightly faster than the first half).  Pacing on trails is very difficult because the effort is not uniform.  I want my average speed high but if I sustain maximum effort for more than a handful of seconds it takes me minutes to recover, and that means the average speed gets worse.  And so I was focusing on these good thoughts and only assessing the pain level when I had to fit it into the pace equation.  Suddenly, Jim was just in front of me.  I had become detached from the obsession to catch up to him and had been able to race more efficiently.  But happiness quickly subsided as he started the next climb and steadily pulled away from me.  I caught him on the descent.  This back and forth went on for 20 min., until we hit a really big hill.  That was the critical point of the race: I had to let him go or else I would blow up, red-line, overcook it-any way you choose to express going too hard for too long there is only one result: you will REALLY slow down and impact your average speed.  Seems I did a bit of red-lining, because Jim gradually left my sight.  It was so hard to just focus on racing smart and ignore what Jim was doing.  A good race means being efficient and not blowing up.

Gradually, I felt able to increase my pace again-but we only had 2K to get to the finish.  It was a “good news/bad news” moment when I saw Jim again; just before the last hill to climb before heading down to the finish line.  It was crystal clear to me: this was the point in the race that required an extraordinary effort.  I had to catch him before he got to the top of the hill.  It was a wide gravel trail lined with short grass.  It didn’t bother my pride to run on the grass so that he couldn’t hear me getting closer.  By the time he heard me panting behind him it was too late for him to accelerate away from me.  I was able to stay by his side and recovered on the downhill.  Then luck smiled at me.  With 300 m to go to the finish line we were side-by-side in a dry twisting creek bed.  It was time to finish off the big effort.  I took the inside line on a turn and risked losing speed in what looked like soft sand, but it turned out to be hard pack.  As I went by him I heard “you got me”.  All I could do was grunt.  No looking back, just go as hard as possible until the finish.  Once there I finally experienced that exquisite feeling of knowing you’ve done your best.  Jim crossed the finish line a few seconds later.  We congratulated each other and I mentioned it was a tough race for third place on the podium.  That’s when Jim mentioned that he had seen one of the two top guys in our group with a broken down bike.  I didn’t give it much thought.  With electronic timing we get immediate race results as we finish the race, but I had not bothered to get my results yet.  So it was a huge surprise when Jim came over as I was packing my gear in the transition area and said: “I came in second, that means you won”!   I couldn’t believe it until I saw my own results.  The other fast guy never made it to the starting line, WOW!  I had finally qualified for Xterra World’s; thanks to having had a good race and detaching from the outcome…. Oh yeah, and a lot of hard training.