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Gathering Numbers Then Throwing Them Out

If there was one key that I went by during my career to achieve great racing it was to gather numbers then throw them out. You are probably wondering what the heck that means!

Gathering numbers is a call to make sure every single training target has been hit or exceeded. This means having solid consistent training over a long period of time. Those numbers represent the core base of training that gives you fitness. Spotty training numbers just don’t do it. Consistency is the key.

Gathering numbers is also about the actual times I hit in key sessions. Clearly if some personal bests were hit during key periods of training those were great numbers to gather. Another number that I always strived to gather was big sleep numbers. Logging lots and lots of good quality sleep was what enabled me to recovery, rebuild, then train at a very high level the next day.

But unfortunately, gathering impressive training numbers was never a guarantee that my race performances would match. They certainly made the big goals more probable. Yet, I always knew that on race day I had to just throw them out. None of my competitors were going to stop during the race to read my logbook and be impressed by it. They might even know what my training had been and that theirs was short of that. But that didn’t matter. A race was the time to throw the numbers out and go beyond the numbers.

Gathering numbers never propped me up on race day for one simple reason.

Another day in Kona that fell short of what the numbers I’d gathered had predicted was possible.

Those numbers were done in a very controlled way. Racing is completely chaotic and uncontrolled. There are other competitors who are in no way going to follow my ideal race day pacing strategy. They will try to break me. The course profile combined with the weather conditions could make things tougher than anything I encountered at home in training.

When I was gathering numbers if I was having a bad day I would just take it a bit easier. Taking it easy on race day would get me nothing. The race didn’t care if I was in the mood to dig deep or not. No number could prop me up if I was low on calories and running out of gas right at the point when I needed to accelerate for the win. All the numbers would be meaningless unless I could rise up to the demand of the day within myself and pull a world-class performance out.

Dave Scott doing his October hat trick winning the IRONMAN World Championship.

Dave Scott taught me this lesson. He could go an entire season without a win, but then show up in Kona for the IRONMAN and teach us all about how it was to be done.

He’d rise up above the numbers we thought he had missed gathering all season long. The gun would go off, he’d win and we’d all go scrambling back to our logbooks afterwards to figure out what we’d done wrong. Yes it’s important to go about the task of gathering the numbers, but then it’s essential to throw them out on race day.

You see, there is so much about athletic performance that is not measurable. How do you measure commitment? What number could ever represent passion? Is there really any way to quantify a person’s readiness to stay fully engaged even when faced with impossibility?

Yet all of these qualities that we can’t total up in a column on a spreadsheet are essential to having the race of our life on the day that counts most. Yes, peak performance is indeed about gathering the numbers, and then throwing them out on race day.

That is about the only way I found to be able to actually access all the intangibles. Steadiness, quiet, internal peace and heightened awareness never bubbled to the surface when I was trying to figure out pace and how many miles I had left. Gathering the numbers is linear and what got me to the start line with a fighting chance to have a great day. Throwing them out is nonlinear and was what enabled me to have breakthroughs when it counted most.

Making that shift took me years to figure out.

I threw away the numbers going into the 1989 IRONMAN World Championship and raced with a clean slate knowing it all had to be earned on race day. Photo courtesy of Rich Cruse.

I’ve highlighted that journey in my newly redesigned website in the section titled IM12: My Stories From Kona. These are in-depth accounts of each of my twelve IRONMAN World Championship races. I talk about the numbers as well as highlight the human side of each race. You’ll see how I fought throwing away those numbers. But doing just that was what tipped the scales in my favor and set me on a winning course at the IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii.

I’ve also shared a lot of thoughts about these two important sides of athletic performance in my new blog: Stories From The Road. There are certainly thoughts on all things concrete, like how to gather the best numbers.  There’s even more in there about the emotion of sport, the experience it can bring and the depth of how it can touch us as people if indeed we are willing to throw the numbers out!

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