By Bill Plock
Sept. 30, 2019–303 had a chance to catch up with Sam today and talk about his win at IRONMAN Chattanooga. Sam has had a very busy race season with mixed results–mostly good but some not as good. Yesterday he tried something new–and it worked, and he won.
He started the year out winning the Napa Marathon and then raced Oceanside 70.3, St. George 70.3, Chattanooga 70.3 (winning it), Victoria 70.3, Boulder 140.6, Lake Placid 140.6, Boulder 70.3, 70.3 IRONMAN World Championship in Nice and now IRONMAN Chattanooga. Exhausting!
But in Chattanooga he tried something different. He rode his bike without a computer. And he rode a new bike, not having had a professional fit and only having ridden it about 500 miles. He had the bike shipped from Nice directly to Chattanooga, only having put a few miles on it the week of the race yesterday. And he also discovered something about his bike that explained his slower than expected time in Nice.
In August he switched from a Trek to a Cervelo P5 Disc, fitted himself as best he could, put in less than 500 miles (about a weeks worth of riding for “Go Long’ Sam Long”) and shipped the bike to France for the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship.
In Nice, Sam said, “I did ok and I did use a computer and I was disappointed in my speed because my watts were actually pretty high.” Not understanding the weird correlation to his speed and watts, when he got to Chattanooga and when reunited with his new P5, he noticed his brake was slightly rubbing—ah ha, that explains it!
Thinking back to recent races Sam said, “I kept getting discouraged on the bike and too focused on watts and speed and all that overthinking sabotaged my last two races. So I decided to change it all up and race without a computer. In recent training rides, I started putting the computer in my pocket trying to get more in tune with my perceived exertion. Then when I got home I would look at the files and I started to teach myself how I felt versus how I was actually doing.”
Yesterday in Chattanooga, Sam’s strategy was two fold and simplified on the bike; to focus on how fast I was going but making sure I felt fresh and not worry about stats, just ride feeling good and taking measures to come off the bike feeling fresh for the run. For example he says, “when I got to downhill, rather than keep pedaling to maintain watts, I simply coasted, enjoying the break and knowing it would help me on the run.”
The strategy clearly worked and he came off the bike nine minutes in front of Matt Russell. When asked how he got such a lead, Sam said, “I don’t like riding in a big group (not drafting, but pacing) so about mile 40 I decided to try to break it up figuring a couple of guys would go with me. And feeling fresh, I simply pushed a bit more and in about five minutes I looked back and noticed nobody responded, so I just said to heck with it, and kept on going!”
Getting off the bike nine minutes ahead also affected his pre-race run strategy. “Originally I was going to take the first lap conservatively and then push on the second. But when I realized I had a sizable gap off the bike, I pushed more than I planned on the first lap and figured to hang on for the second.”
13 miles in, Sam had a 13 minute lead having completed the first loop in 1 hour and 26 minutes, putting him on pace for a 2:52 marathon. He knew that was pretty much impossible to maintain in the heat and humidity. But he kept pushing trying to do the math at how fast his competitors would have to run to catch him. Still worried, they could be doing at least one minute per mile faster motivated him to keep that gap and keep pushing.
“At about mile 22, when I finally realized I was likely to win. My first thought was don’t screw this up and thinking that at my current 7:30/mile pace I was running, if Matt started running a 5:30/mile pace he might still catch me! I wasn’t thinking straight clearly, but I started having doubt if you can believe that!”
Of course nobody caught him nor was going to run that pace late in the race in the very hot weather and Sam crossed the line almost ten minutes before Matt did.
What a day!