The Non-Race Race

By Cami Gage | Jan. 25, 2019, 2:26 p.m. (ET)
Sean Racing Offroad 

Sometimes, all you need to renew your love of multisport is an out-of-the-box win with an invisible finish line. To that end, I’d like to share a story of one of my athletes who took an atypical adventure idea and springboarded into the winter training season.

Recently, one of my athletes, a collegiate swimmer-turned-cyclist and triathlete, started dabbling in gravel racing in the offseason. It was a natural progression for him; after tri and cycling season, he would ride his off-road steed to keep things fresh, and he gradually fell in love with the uniqueness found off the beaten path.

Like so many of my athletes over the years, I marvel at how he (and they) get it all in—most with a healthy perspective on where sport fits into the picture. He’s hungry for it, but not at the expense of other things. For him, this includes an awesome family, full-time job, and safe management of his Type 1 diabetes. He also races for the Team Type One Foundation (http://teamtype1.org/), a team dedicated to educating, inspiring, and empowering people affected by diabetes and showing that elite and professional-level sports are possible for athletes with the disease. He’s able to shoot for remarkable goals while not getting too wrapped around the axle.

So when we started kicking around this “race” he had in mind, I was ecstatic for him.

Generally a short-course guy, Sean wanted to do a gravel ride that left from his front door and went out and back for a total of 134 miles (the C&O Canal towpath starting in Washington, D.C.). Sean said he “just looked at the map and picked the furthest point on the trail [he] could (hopefully) get to and back in a day.” It would be self-supported and wife-supported with a few meetups along the trail for fueling and, if needed, more warm gear. He selected the winter solstice, an auspicious date which meant little daylight, but the challenge invigorated and excited him.

Training went great, and honestly, I really enjoyed witnessing the journey. He texted me pictures of his son competing in a kids’ cyclocross race after his own race. Another day, he texted me while taking refuge under an awning when the weather had betrayed him, awaiting his aforementioned awesome wife’s car rescue to bring him home, laughing that the hilarity of it all. He found joy in the journey, and relished the out-of-the-box adventure that would yield neither medals nor points, and yet the anticipation of the event was rich with excitement. In the week leading up to the race, he said, “The planning for this thing was half the fun.” As it should be!

It made me think a lot about my athletes over the years, and about all of us in general in this human experience. How often do we get hung up on that finish time, that medal, or that ranking? Somewhere along the journey of that A race (and thereafter), it is vital to savor that training journey. And sometimes, an out-of-the-box goal that shakes things up can help with perseverance, perspective, and sheer enjoyment. It teaches us what we’re made of when no one’s watching, which can help with confidence later in the season when the rubber meets the road.

Sean’s day did not go as planned, and in that way, it was perfect. He had to move the date due to atypically torrential downpours, and the course was cut a little short due to unexpected trail maintenance. He embraced the uncontrollables, relishing in the new adventure. And despite the shorter distance, he walked away fulfilled and excited to head into a new season.

When I asked Sean about the experience, particularly with regard to a sense of accomplishment without a “race day” finish, he said, “I liked that I wasn't forced to compare myself to previous races. No matter what happened, it was going to be my best effort. I judged my results on how big a story I got to tell at the end!” He cited increased mental toughness of a self-supported goal enhancing his confidence heading into a race scenario, with a greater appreciation of that piece already taken care of for him.

The longer event emboldened him to pursue longer distance races, knowing that his body could handle the mileage in more difficult conditions. As a Type 1 diabetic, cycling a longer event meant uncharted territory for insulin and blood sugar management; finishing while staying within his goal blood sugar gave him increased his confidence to conquer even longer challenges. In short, the Non-Race Race allowed him to dig, plan, navigate, and demonstrate flexibility in a new adventure all its own.

SO, give it a go (safely, of course!). What have you been itching to do? Perhaps it’s an atypical training day that dovetails with what you have on the schedule but is a LOT more fun. Perhaps in the offseason you try a class you’ve been interested in. Or maybe there’s that less-traveled road you’ve been hankering to explore. Whatever you decide to pursue, enjoy it. Here’s to the Non-Race Race!

 Cyclist Sean smiling Garmin Bike Ride Details  Bike in the Snow 

Tips for the Non-Race Race

  • Pick something challenging, NOT TERRIFYING. This shouldn’t be something that gives you nightmares. This should be something that gives you butterflies. It should be complimentary to your season, not counterproductive. This journey in sport should be fun, remember? The Non-Race Race should be no different.

  • Daunted by the details? Then go ahead and pick a race—just keep it out of the box! If a new adventure sounds GREAT to you, but you don’t have time (or enjoy, for that matter) deciding on your self-support plan, then consider picking a race that is outside your normal discipline. Perhaps a local (or destination!) open-water swim can help you hone those skills in a different, fun way without worrying about the other disciplines. For me, it was the Grand Traverse, a 40-mile trail run from Crested Butte to Aspen, Colorado…a supported run in an incredible venue with some awe-inspiring training. The key is finding something fresh, challenging, and far enough away from your normal racing fare that you won’t be comparing it to previous results.
     
  • Embrace the training. I have most of my athletes do a workout at least once every two weeks that is a “zen workout.” No gizmos, no gear (except a watch, because hey, I don’t want you to get TOO lost in your thoughts). Pick some fun workouts whose challenge is the terrain, or a new location, or a new group of people. Keep it safe, but freshen it up. These days, personally, I choose races solely for a) a fun venue, b) adventurous training, or c) a great post-race meal. I’m only half-kidding here—my point being, enjoying the journey is as important as the event itself.

 

Cami Gage is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach and owner of Wild Blue Racing. A former Air Force officer and pro triathlete, Cami has over 15 years of coaching experience of athletes from beginners to elite age groupers, sprints to IRONMANs, XTERRA, and wounded veterans and paratriathletes. She’s grateful for the variety, heart, and grit of athletes she’s been able to witness overcoming obstacles. Her favorite non-race race was running Rim to Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon with her husband, and her bucket list non-race item is a multi-day bike-packing trip to a secret location this fall. She can be reached at cami@wildblueracing.com.


The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.