It’s been about a month since my last race, Ironman Arizona, and it’s taken that much time to allow emotions to simmer enough to reflect on how that experience went, it’s impact on my 2017 season, and what it means moving forward, looking ahead to 2018.
2017 – A season of up’s and downs
It’s funny how when you look at my performances in 2017, the long season, starting in February and ending in November, looks something of a simultaneous failure and success. It began with perhaps my best career performance at Oceanside and ended with yet another Ironman flop at Arizona, comprised exclusively of very high highs, generally low lows, with little in-between. Qualifying for Worlds, stepping on the podium 7 times (at the top 3 times) and hitting my best 70.3 splits, contrasted heavily with long drives/flights home from letdown performances where the same effort was met by resistance from my body.
I had a particular plan from the start for my 2017 season and in hindsight a clear pattern occurred. The dust-off, stepping-stone races I used as a means to lead me somewhere greater, entering in tired and without pressure I CRUSHED, the one’s I prioritized and placed most value on, entering rested and feeling at the height of my fitness I FLOPPED. Oceanside was supposed to be an early season tune up for my chance to qualify at St George a month later. I hit 30:03 mins on the swim, 265 watts on the bike and ran a 1:23 for a great outcome at a very competitive race then walked the end of a 1:48 at St George a month later. I took Santa Barbara as a training exercise, doing the middle portion of the bike and run at Ironman effort (still placing 2nd in AG) only to set a new PL (Personal Low) on the bike and hobble a 1:44 through the run at Worlds in Chatanooga. And when it came to my final race of the season I stood 2nd on the podium at Arizona 70.3 (4:30), entering in on tired legs through the heaviest portion of my training load only to fall apart, coming in completely rested, at the Full there a month later.
What you might think is “Well it’s obvious, you overshot your means at your goal races having executed better backing off at your set-up races”. To this I could show you my HR/power files where I lowered targets tremendously at both major A races. At Chatanooga with the dreaded first climb I lowered power from 260 to 250 watts planning to build power over the second half of the bike. I watched age groupers fly by me like I wasn’t moving thinking ‘look at those fools, I’ll be passing them before this ride is over’ but by the time I got off the bike I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to run with my legs cramping so badly (average power 239 watts). At Arizona, where I had friends all shooting to go under 5 hours on the bike with intense targets, I stuck to power and fueling as I had in every long training ride, keeping HR under 150 and executing flawlessly on my nutrition plan, leading to a 5:24 split at only 181 watts yet still felt like absolute shit getting off the bike.
The prevailing realization at Arizona was that I wasn’t enjoying myself half way through the bike, and in a 10+ hour race you’ve invested so much time and energy into that shouldn’t be the case. I had the best set up week imaginable from private jet flight in, to super Sherpa helping me along every step of the way, low stress, time off my feet and the most diligent nutrition/fueling I have ever executed against. My fitness was clearly there from my result at the half a month earlier and I set the bar so low with my targets I was certain I’d get off the bike feeling ok for the first time in 8 attempts. Perhaps the harsh truth is Ironman is always going to suck, but then why do I keep signing up?? The top guy in my age group went 8:36 at Arizona this year, 8:36!!!! At my best I would have been happy with adding an hour to that for my time, whereas in the half I can realistically shoot for the podium and enjoy the experience of racing through 4.5 hours regardless of the pain. But that I guess is what makes Ironman so attractive. It’s not the experience like all other races, it’s the immense challenge and rare but immeasurable sense of accomplishment from finally getting it right.
2018 Looking Froward
I find myself at another cross roads. The hardest thing about passion is the desire to give it nothing short of your all. In the past I’ve ballanced racing among career, dating, hobbies and a social life which led to feeling like a jack of all trades but a master of none. In contrast I’ve had years with 1-on-1 coaching, 30 hour training weeks, equipment nutrition and fueling that had me at the top of my game but financially strapped and struggling to hold onto the remaining components of a ballanced life. I started this year with all the pieces to the puzzle, feeling happy, challanged and accomplished all around and now at the end feel like I’m running on empty.
I’m split between the desire to back off from triathlon, focus on accelerating my career, navigating the tumultuous waters of dating in LA to take a more active roll toward seeing if a family is in the cards for my future, designating more time to maintain relationships I’ve neglected in the past from a lack of time or priority, OR continuing on for another year of what I know. Acknowledge that all the above mentioned dissatisfaction is a symptom of not having a coach in my corner and invest back into this sport as far as knowledge, time and resources.
The greater realization that’s I’ve come to understand is that control is an illusion and moderation is the key, meaning (and as I experienced first hand in 2017) if you set out to be the best athlete you can be you mistakenly position yourself for failure and if you go looking for missing pieces to the puzzle they often escape you. Rather if you enjoy the process, look for the best in each opportunity, live within your means from not just a financial but time perspective as well good things tend to happen. If I can hold onto this notion I am confident great opportunities will come my way from life in general.
As far as triathlon is concerned I’m signed up for a handful of races already (Oceanside, Wildflower and Lake Placid). In addition I look forward to doing as many small local races as I can to keep it light and fun. I’m going to talk to a couple close friends and if I can afford it look at getting coached again, and if I can’t no worries either. I hobbled a bike together in the hopes of joining some more social yet challenging group rides, keeping off the trainer as much as my neurotic brain will let me. Train like a beast whenever I can but pass on sessions when more important things come up. And as a north star, look forward to a East coast triathlon reunion in Placid back where it all began as an opportunity to relive my first Ironman among friends rather than limit the experience to another failed opportunity at Kona.
And if they’ve made it this far into the read I’d like to end with my three greatest role models of 2017, the people who I look at their success and think, “wow, it all makes sense!” 1) My old roommate and good friend Kim Stoveld. Like it wasn’t enough for you to dominate the sport of swimming through your young athletic career, seeing you progress through triathlon so quickly, coming back from your bike accident to crush Chattanooga, your die-hard commitment with ability to still have fun has been such a great thing to watch and a personal inspiration to me! 2) Long time teammate Tim Maxon. I probably spend more time on the phone discussing triathlon and life with you than most people do with their entire family combined. The things you’ve accomplished this year, race after race amount to more than I could expect in a lifetime. You’ve found the magic recipe of total commitment while still having fun. Even better things for you ahead! And finally, 3) previous QT2 Teammate Amy Javens. Seeing your win at Los Cabos after all the hard work you’ve put in day after day, year after year shows how commitment and dedication pay off, congrats!!
Here’s to good things ahead in 2018!