Here are my three criteria for a successful race. If I pull these off, I drive home with a smile on my face even if I've watched the whole thing from the middle of the pack and finished ten minutes behind the leaders (once again, how can they be that fast?).
1. Beat the guy in front of me. If you're an Everyman Racer like me, there will always be somebody in front of you. I make it my goal to pass at least one person in front of me. I try to gauge when to make my move and I try to keep something in reserve for that final push. When the time comes, I sell out and give it my all to catch and pass that paddler.
Frequently, I'm the one who gets left behind. At the Hennessey's International Championships I was following an older gentleman on a custom Hobie, carbon fiber raceboard. It was one of those Darth Vader looking race-needles with the weird looking canoe bow (yeah, the high end board should have been the first indication that this guy was no chump). I was thinking, I'll just hang out here ten yards back and then pass him around the next bend. Wrong. That guy, who was paddling so casually it looked like he was falling asleep, kicked it into another gear and just smoked me.
When that happens, I just find the closest pack of paddlers, fall in with them and look for the guy paddling the inflatable pool toy.
2. Finish exhausted (give it your full effort). I don't want to finish the race feeling good- I want to feel like I've given it my all. I want to do the best I can. This Saturday, at the Becky Stuart Memorial in Oceanside I almost blew groceries onto my feet trying to pass the guy in front of me. He was wickedly fast, phenomenally strong and had an iron will- he would not break. He was also sixty five years old. He just laughed when I found out he was more than twenty years older than me. He said, "Now I don't feel so bad". I may have crossed the line thirty seconds before him- but he definitely won.
3. Learn something. I always try to stay alert, to look around, to notice things. I want to learn and I want to improve while I'm out there. At the Battle of the Paddle, I learned something about my stroke (heck no, I'm not going to tell you... get out and do your Homework!) that's made me faster. It was an eye-opener. I watched a guy go by me- saw what he was doing, copied it and like that I was catching and passing people. Unfortunately, I possess a little bit more than the 3% body fat of my unwitting teacher and I couldn't maintain the stroke but, still, I learned from it. At the King's Race, I learned that drinking a bottle of Pinot the night before a race is not carbo-loading. I am now certain that it does not make you faster. In fact, you pretty much just want to die.
These are my three criteria and they've served me well. I've had a great time at every event I've entered. What do you strive to accomplish?