In endurance sports, there is a difference between "going hard", whether it's training or in a race, and "pushing it". I didn't really understand it until after I left high school (and athletics). Looking back, I saw that I went hard plenty. I swam mainly shorter distances so going as hard as you could was easy. But longer distances and training, and even my short time on the cross country team, I saw that I didn't push it. It's not something you can necessarily do in something like an Ironman but sprint and even olympic triathlons are a great place to push it. That's my goal for my next triathlon: pushing it.
Imagine you're in a sprint triathlon. The bike course is ten miles and you're flying. You're passing people. You're pedaling at the right cadence and in the best gear for it. You are going hard and feel great. Tired but great.
Now go faster. That's pushing it.
Now you spin even faster or go up a gear and try to keep the same cadence. You now really feel it in your legs. Not like sprinting, where you know you can't keep it up for long. This is different. This is painful. Doable but it's going to hurt. Not so fun anymore, either. But you can do it.
I had forgotten all about this until recently. I was reflecting on my last triathlon. I was really happy about the bike but I started wondering, "Could I have gone faster if I had pushed it?" This past weekend I did my old faithful 29-mile loop but this time I wanted to push it--just a bit. Not really race pace but harder than usual and not always comfortable hard, either. The result was that I knocked four minutes off of my previous 110-minute PB on that route (and when I rode that I was trying to go fast). I even hit more stoplights than I usually do.
Of course I'm not planning on pushing it on every swim/bike/run workout. However, there are going to be workouts where I need to and the trick will be remembering to push it. And definitely during a race. Definitely on the 16th. At least on the swim and the bike. Just getting through the run at my current pace is all I can handle right now. The run, too, will come along in time. Then I will have to push it in all parts of the triathlon. Doesn't that sound like fun?