(The head-to-head duel continues from Part 1)
We headed out of the transition area together. I have no idea how long he had been waiting for me. But he seemed to think it better to lose a minute or two lollygaging around so he could run with me than to completely blow apart if he paced it too fast.
It was a brilliant strategy actually. He was confident in his running, but knew I had the experience in Nice. And if he could stick with me until the finish came into sight, he could likely win with what we both knew was his superior top end speed.
In that race we did the duel side by side. Lessing had a very different approach. He tucked in directly behind me and just slightly off to the side to get the greatest draft possible.
I tested him. I accelerated. But there was no separation. So I weaved to the other side of the road. My shadow from South Africa held his position with precision, right on my tail. Now what? I slowed to barely a jog. Simon didn’t come around.
Finally, I yelled at him to get off me. He briefly accommodated my rant and pulled even with me. But after only a few hundred meters he repositioned himself just behind and partially to the side.
I accelerated again. Still no change. Lessing was an expert at getting into the heads of his competitors. He usually did it before the race with words. He’d tried a bit with me as well. But for me his barbs were just entertainment with no bite. They were clearly his nerves trying to hide.
So I tried something that no one had ever seen in this type of head-to-head race. I completely stopped in the middle of the road and stood there until he finally came around me and moved ahead by a few inches. I started up again sitting right on his shoulder.
He would have none of that. Lessing slowed until I came even with him. Then he dropped back even more and sat on my shoulder…again. This went on the entire run. I knew I needed to do something to shake him off. I could see how the the end game would play out if I didn’t. If Lessing was with me in the closing moments of the run he’d out-sprint me for the victory. I was not in the mood to lose like that!
His weapon was pure speed. Mine was a high tolerance for sustaining a pace just slightly below complete anaerobic meltdown. I needed to ratchet up the pace slowly, gradually, so that he wouldn’t sense it was a surge that would end, but rather a pace that he was finding harder and harder to match.
The trick was that it couldn’t be sudden. That would feel like just attempt to drop him quickly. That would only serve to activate the ruthless competitor inside of Lessing that holds on to a short fast burst knowing it would only be temporary. Every one of those i tried failed. He’d stuck with me until I slowed then he’d just settle back in on my shoulder I had to start tightening the screws without him knowing that was what I was doing. It had to feel like it was getting harder and harder to stick with me and that there was no end in sight, no letting off the gas from my end.
So I went to 90%, then 91%, and then a half a kilometer later 92%. I’d keep upping my speed so that I would eventually hit 99% of maximum capacity right at the point where if we were still together a sprint would start. I knew I needed to save that last 1% for a showdown if that’s what it came to.
Fortunately for me, the rubber band stretched then broke just as I was heading up to about 94%. It was with 5km to go to the finish. Lessing lost a few feet, then a few meters. Then I couldn’t hear his breathing or his feet hitting the ground. I never looked back.
I also never stopped increasing my pace. Never underestimate Simon Lessing. I didn’t want to have him come back on me. When I crossed under the finishers banner I had reached 100%. It was enough for my tenth and final Nice International Triathlon victory.
Lessing and I had an incredible duel that I am sure taught us both valuable lessons. For me the most important is that even if what I am doing doesn’t seem to be working, at some point the real solution is going to present itself. And that solution on this day was one I’d never, ever thought of before in my life. But it was what was required in one of the greatest head-to-head races I ever had!
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Header photo cedit: Richard Holstein
I am the Founder and CEO at Mark Allen Coaching. I am proud to have been voted in an ESPN global poll "The Greatest Endurance Athlete Of All Time." During my multi-sport career I won the Ironman Triathlon World Championship six time, the inaugural Triathlon World Championship at the Olympic Distance in Avignon, France, and at one point in my career I won 21 straight races across every derivation and distance. It was a great career, but that's all it would ever be unless I was able to share all of the experience and methodology we invented long before smart watches, power meters, and flashy uniforms. That's why I started Mark Allen Coaching, as a way to return to others at least the part of the gifts I received.