Last Saturday, Jim, Allie, and coach Robbie went to Panama City to crush Gulf Coast. The following is a race recap from Robbie who continually inspires me with his words and actions.
He takes us through his preparation, his game plan, and how it all played out in the race. It’s a great read that’s loaded with helpful triathlon strategy.
GCT Recap- Freedom to find my Edge – Robbie Bruce
There is a certain freedom that comes with going into a race without real knowledge or data of your current fitness level. The last 4-6 weeks have been both frustrating and enlightening. Battling and nursing a nagging Achilles injury leading up to Country Music Marathon was frustrating. But my result, and what I learned about myself and my fitness at CMM, was enlightening. It will most likely go down as one of the defining moments of my triathlete career.
I spent the majority of the 2 weeks before Gulf Coast Triathlon just trying to recover and get healthy enough to give myself a shot. Not just to “complete” it, but race it. My race week usually goes from ready-confident-relaxed to nervous-anxious. The week before GCT it went in the exact opposite order. Many of my friends asked “how do you feel?” And my response was,” I’m actually pretty confident and I have no reason to be.” It as a weird feeling. One that I have not been accustomed to but will welcome back with open arms if it presents itself again.
I drove to Panama City Beach solo on Thursday. It was actually nice to make the trek alone. It have me plenty of time to think, plan, re-think, and plan again. I was brainstorming a variety of game plans on how to attack GCT. All were quite different but with the same objective. Find out where I am and where I need to be for Kansas 70.3. I shared my options with many close friends and athletes. Having so many people in my life that are involved in the sport, that I coach, or just close friends is so invaluable when it comes to races. They always give great insight and are totally objective and usually in areas that I fail to be. I got into PCB around 3-4. I checked in, grabbed my packet and tried to settle. I was staying by myself and I must say, I enjoyed every minute of it. I got to create my own bubble of focus. Finished the night off having dinner with a few of my athletes and turned in early.
Fri- The Day Before
I woke up with a feeling of freedom. I was loose. I was ready. I had a SBR workout with all of the X3 athletes that morning and told myself I would listen to my gut and decide on a game plan when I got done. It was so great to have my athletes around. They are all so fun, positive and just flat out great people. It’s an easy bunch to stay loose with. I have found over the last 2 yrs that the more athletes I have at a race the better I do. I think it helps relax me as well as view the race much differently. The workouts went off without a hitch and I retreated back to my condo for decision time. It was pretty clear to me as many of my friends had also pointed out the day before. The Final Game Plan I have myself was:
I’m going to play to my current strengths. I will crush the swim. On the bike I’m going to play it conservative. I know I have the short term power but no idea where my bike fitness is so ill play it safe until mile 40ish and listen to my gut. The home stretch will be the hardest and windiest. I’ll count the guys in my age group that pass me on the bike. Then, I’ll get off the bike and run like hell for as long as I can and as fast as I can. Steady in the first 5-6 then negative split the back half. That’s it.
Swim- My ability.
Run- like hell
I was confident with that plan. Now it was time to prepare for it. Spent the rest of the morning getting everything ready for Sat. Grabbed a quick lunch with Allie and Jim and then back to the condo for more rest and preparation. Bike was checked in at 4 and then Jim and Allie and I hit up a steakhouse like true snowbirds at freakin’ 5pm. I got back to the condo around 6:30. Again. More relax and prep time. I was getting impatient. I was just ready to race. When I get to that point I just get bored. Bored. Bored. Nothing to do but sit and think. Think. Think.
Within about a 15 minute span I got 3 messages all from 3 different people that really put my focus for the race into overdrive. One was the photo you see below about “The Edge,” and then a text and Facebook message both centered around my epic debacle at Ironman Louisville. Both, in a light -hearted banter of seriousness, the theme was . . . “Don’t let that happen again.” It wasn’t “don’t fail.” It was more, “Just do it.” I had my plan and now it was to execute that plan all the way to the edge. Stay on the edge for as long as I can and when it’s time to go over, just make sure you’re falling forward and not backwards. Test yourself. It was time. I was ready to race. Hit the sack around 9 and slept like a baby.
I often wake up on race morning in a massive hurry. Hurry to get ready. Hurry to war. Hurry to get to transition. This morning I was calm, focused and relaxed. Got my stuff together. Checked in with my athletes and walked out of my condo for the short walk to transition. Headphones in. Music flowing. An easy stroll. Totally relaxed. No expectations. No “I should be able to do this today.” Instead it was, “Today I will give my absolute best effort and empty whatever “fitness” tank Ive created.” I can control that. Everything else is out of my control. Meandered my way into transition to prep my area. A friend from Nashville spotted me walking into transition and said “Man, you’re cutting it close huh. There gonna close it in a minute.” I didn’t seem to care. I was just relaxed.
I prepped my area and as I was about to walk to the swim 2 guys on my rack stopped me and asked if I had ever done this race before. I responded with “Yes, this is actually my 5th straight year.” They predictably countered with “Do you have any tips for first timers.” I said “Yea. Just have fun man. That’s it. Just enjoy it and have fun. Too many people take themselves to seriously. Especially on race day.”
As I heard myself uttering those words I also came to the realization that I’ve come along way since my first race at GCT. I have so much more fun now. The sport is meant to be fun. I made my way to the swim start (had to switch swim caps) and chilled with my athletes before the start. It’s such a cool experience being able to go through a race like this with them. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the right coaching, friend, I’m also racing balance when I’m participating too. But I do the best I can. Everyone seemed loose, which made me relax even more. Grabbed my wetsuit as everyone else made their way to the swim start. Jim and I didn’t start till late so we got to kill sometime hanging out. We shared some laughs. Both of us fairly relaxed.
As my wave crept up I made my way to the starting corral. As all the guys flowed in to the corral, looking around, sizing up the competition, nervously chatting I made my way to the front corner. Quiet. It was game time. The calmness, relaxed, laid back feeling vanishes when I put my goggles on. It’s a different view. It’s what racing looks like. The feeling presumably comes from all my years swimming. Goggles on. Step on the block. GO! I went over my game plan in my head. Pressed my goggles against my face. Shook the hands of both the gentlemen on my right and left, wished them good luck and set my line to the first buoy. 5-4-3-2-1 BAM!
As the gun goes off my first thought is, lets see if someone jumps out hard in front. I’ll hop on their feet and let them pull me. Some guy started like a bat out of hell. I made my way across the water to try and get his feet. Held it for a minute. Damn. This guy is in a WHOLE other league than me. I could prob hang but I’d be toast. I fell off his feet and began to cruise with another guy. We stayed side by side. Both waiting for the other to make a move. I was probably about :2-3 faster per 100 than he was so it was decision time. Work with him, or drop him and go solo. I felt great in the water and decided go on my own.
There wasn’t much current so sighting was easy. As I hit the first turn buoy the NASCAR game started. I began to catch the waves in front of me and the ocean became a congested highway of slower swimmers, people floating in their damn back, breast stroking . . . Come on people. Move!
I spent the cross section weaving in and out, hit the final turn buoy, and headed home. I picked up pace and sighted off the hotel. Weave. Move. Go around. Sight. A lot of the same. I sighted the finishing chute and picked up my kicking. As I streamlined it towards the chute I had no idea what my time was or if others in my age group were ahead of me. Got out of the water. Looked at my watch. 28 mins? Man. Nice swim, Robbie.
I was pumped. As I ran up to T1 a guy yelled “2nd blue cap out of the water. Two minutes down.” I thought “Man, that dude was flying.” He ended up with the fastest swim of the day and it was obvious my choice not to go with him was a smart one.
Same stuff as usual. Helmet, shoes, blah blah. I hate talking about transitions. So I’m not.
Heading out on to S. Thomas Dr and settled in. I was preparing for 56 miles of NO IDEA what I’m capable of. I knew I would get passed but also knew I could catch some on the run. I kept telling myself to relax. Be patient. It’s all about the run. The forecast called for storms and wind rolling in and if it was anything like last year the last 16 miles would be hell.
I went by feel. Left my heart rate monitor at home in purpose. Just thought to myself “I can hold this for X duration.” Vroom. Vroom. Vroom. One after another. Passed. Passed. Passed. Dropping . . . 3, 4, 5 in my age group.
As disheartening as it was. It is what is. I could’ve gone with and then walked the run. Just stick it to the game plan. Be patient.
The next 30 miles was more of the same. It was nice to see my athletes on the course. Give an encouraging word and get one in return. Don’t know why. But it makes the ride always seem shorter.
The rain and wind began to come it about mile 50ish. As I hit the coastline I was averaging 22mph. I wasn’t going under that. Nope. I had plenty in the tank and was realizing I may have held back too much. But who knows. Vroom. Vroom. Vroom. Vroom. 6-7-8-9. I got passed by 4 guys in my AG in the last 15 minutes of the ride. Every ounce of my competitive valor screamed GOOOOOOOO! Go with them. My mind. My confidence. “Robbie. Chill. They can’t run with you. You’ll pick them off one by one. Just wait. ” I had absolutely no idea if they could or could not run with me. But I told myself they couldn’t. Cruised the rest of the way into T2. Time 2:32. 22MPH.
T2- strip down. Load up. That’s it. Now we race.
Simple. Negative split. Run like hell. Pick them off.
I came FLYING out of T2 like I was shot out of a cannon. I was a little too amped. About a 1/2 mile in I had already caught one guy. Mile 1 — 5:48.
Ummmmmmmm. Robbie. Cool it. You’re not Crowie. Relax unless you wanna do a 10k recovery walk back to the finish. I still had 12 miles to go and plenty of time to catch people.
Pace slowed to a 6:40 for mile 2. Another one bit the dust. I passed 1 guy in my age group every mile for the first 5 miles. I was feeling solid. Smooth. Like a runner. The rain began to fall and helped cool me off. Every time I would come up behind someone I’d make an effort to pick it up and blow past them. Bye. Break them. Leave them with no inclination they could stay with me. The pass was permanent. The one on your bike was not. As I rounded out of the park I was done seeing people in front of me. I couldn’t see anyone to catch. I was also creeping towards my “edge.”
The first 2 miles were a mistake. I went to fast. Legs were hardening. Pace was slowing . Body was heating up. I was on the edge. I hit about mile 7 and it became “you can hold this “feeling” for 6 more miles.” Had no idea of my pace, but figured I could teeter on the edge for that long.
In a focused haze I mustered a few hand signaled “Hey, thanks,” to friends as they passed. Remembering some. Not others. I was red lining. Came around a corner and saw Allie, and remember her saying “finish.” That’s what I was going to do. She also informed me later that it looked like I had fallen on my face when she saw me because of how red my face was.
Miles 10-13 were a blur. A lot of the same. I wanted to walk so bad. I looked at my watch and new getting in under 4:40 was a shot. I’ve done this GCT so many times so I knew the run course was long. So I couldn’t go by pace, time, calculations. I just had to go. I was hurting bad. I turned the corner down S. Thomas for the home stretch. I could see the finish line. I was still a ways away. 500-600 meters maybe. Looked at my watch. 4:47…. Not going to lie. For a moment I thought “it’s long. So of you just cruise it in no shame in not going under 4:40. ” No. Not today. The old me would’ve taken that route. But I’ve changed. It was go for broke. Empty the tank. All of it. Head down and give it hell. Fall over the edge. I sprinted with all I had. I crossed the line. 4:39:52………. My hands on my knees. Legs wobbling. Chills from overheating. Red faced. Tank emptied. I couldn’t quite muster a physical smile but was smiling inside.
1:33:56 for 13.41 miles to finish. I was helped out of the finishing chute where I was asked if I needed to go to the medical tent. “No mam. I always look this bad when I empty the tank. ” I was happy with my time but more so bc I wasnt so afraid to fail that I didn’t give myself the opportunity to win. I don’t mean “win” an award or getting 1st place. Giving 100% of your effort now matter the time is a win. I gave it all I had. I left every ounce of the athlete I brought to GCT on that course. Now. Recover. Reload. Do it again at Kansas 70.3 in June.
Swim- 10 OV
Only out swam by 2 people in front of me and I ran faster than both
Run- 13 OV
Of the 13 that beat me. I out swam them all by more than 2:00