Both of them know the feeling of being hunted. It’s when they’ve been in first place, and there’s a pack of wolves at their heels.
“When you are leading a race you often feel like a hunted animal,” Ryan says. “You are always looking behind you, are you going too fast, are you going slow enough, are the guys catching you? Mentally, that is super draining. Sometimes hunting is better than being hunted.”
Ryan, an ultra running champion, has felt invincible during some races, and that his competitors were “dead and buried”, only for them to suddenly catch up and pass him. Mel has literally run shoulder to shoulder against another triathlete for 15 km, in what she says “felt like an eternity”. In the last three kilometers she turned it on and left her rival in the dust.
“I started sprinting and not looking back,” Mel says. “It turns out she didn’t even try to come with me, but I didn’t turn around to check. I just kept pushing right to the line.
“The smarter and easier move would have been to sit in (behind) and wear my competitor down that way, but for some reason we both thought we needed the mental battle of running side by side for most of the run. Not a single word was spoken between us during this hour long battle. After the race, we both shared a laugh and commented on how much we made each other suffer out there. “
Here are Mel and Ryan’s seven tips for victory.
© Kelvin Trautman / Red Bull Content Pool
Keep a poker face
Both of them recommend putting on a brave face. Show your rivals nothing. “Control your breathing and keep good form at least when they can see you,” Mel says. “Make it look easy. Don’t make eye contact with your rivals.”
Stay to your strengths
Don’t try to run your rival’s race. “The key strategy is to run to your strength,” Ryan says. “If you're slightly better on the climbs, push them a little bit, so then your competitor has to push the downhills to catch up, smashing his legs in the process. It's all about trying to feel your competitor out, seeing what their weaknesses are, compared to your strengths.”
Remember, they hurt too
Feeling the pain? Quads burning? That’s because you’re human, and your rivals are, too. “I know if I’m hurting so are my competitors so I stay focused and imagine them struggling and working hard,” Mel says. “That gives me a little confidence boost.”
Mind game your rival
Watch your rival closely. If he or she is struggling, accelerate. “When you think they’re feeling bad, start talking to him or her with your poker face on, pretending you’re feeling good,” Ryan suggests. “It’s a bit of a game of roulette; sometimes it pays off, other times it doesn’t.”
Training is your dojo
Training is when you test your mettle. It’s when you develop the tenacity and forbearance you’ll need to survive your race battles. “Never give up in training,” Mel says. “When I’m really hurting in training, I imagine I’m in a race situation and that if I back off now or give up, I’ve just lost the race. The more times you throw in the towel in training the harder it will be to push through the pain in a race.”
Ryan recommends working on your weaknesses in training. “If descending isn’t a strength for you, work on it,” he says. And when you’re training, run at different intensities.”
Learn to adapt
While it’s necessary to have a race plan, remember whatever your plan is, no matter how slick it is, on race day it will probably go out the window. “It’s so important to keep your mental focus and stay calm and collected,” Ryan says. “The person who is the most successful in a race is the one who can think the best on his or her feet and go with the flow.”
Kindness can pay off
Yes, racing is about winning. But that doesn’t always demand a ruthless attempt to crush the opposition. Sometimes a little camaraderie and kindness can go a long way. “If a competitor is struggling, for example when they need nutrition or a cold sponge, if I have the energy to help out I will because this not only helps them, but it also helps me,” Mel explains. “Helping someone makes you feel good and when you feel good you race better. This is a great way to get a little lift.”
© Craig Kolesky / Red Bull Content Pool
© Kelvin Trautman / Red Bull Content Pool