Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Lead or follow? The best advice for endurance sport success

I was able to successfully implement a bit more value shopping as part of my endurance sport lifestyle. Found an individual on Craigslist who was selling a hardly-used pair of Bontrager mountain bike shoes. I picked them up for about 1/3 of retail, then proceeded to enjoy them during a long ride in Oak Mountain State Park.

I was unstrapping the shoes after my outing and noted a strange edict embedded in my shoe. Look closely and note the verbiage imprinted on the strap guide.

Nothing personal against the Bontrager folks - I really do like your products - but I'll respectfully take issues with the "Always Lead, Never Follow" mantra. On many occasions it just doesn't work and I'll tell you why.

1) There have been more than several ultra events, where the jack rabbits go off the front at the start. Sometimes it has been naval cadets, on other occasions ripped and shredded 20-somethings all full of yellow stuff and vinegar. A few miles from the finish, I'll spot these same individuals hugging a tree, turning their guts inside out, while I shuffle by. The race doesn't always go to the swift, so in that sense, always follow (off the start) and never lead.

2) I can remember another occasion where 4-5 of us were looking down off the precipice of a nasty drop off at our local mountain bike park, followed by a steep descent down a rutted, rooted single track. We call looked down the trail, then at each other. Finally a guy I didn't know very well said "I'm going!" Yes he did...he was going right to emergency room for that shattered collarbone and later he was going right to the bike shop to replace his pretzeled front wheel.  Go ahead pal, lead all day long. I'll follow later, on the easy meandering trail we found just to the right of that crash fest you attempted.

3) Leading is also very stressful. Every time I make the attempt, I know within seconds everyone behind me on the single track is riding at a faster pace and wants to get by. Why lead when the outcome is getting ditched into the bushes through every turn?

I'll admit I'm coming at this from the long perspective of 30 years in the sport, but the type of athletes who must always lead and never follow aren't the type of dude(ettes) I want to hang with. So the next time you see me, I'll have that shoe strap snugly fastened over Mr. Bontrager's trail advice and I'll let you take the lead and race into the sunset.

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