The title of this post is a play on the movie “Memento” by Christopher Nolan and the word “momentous” – |mōˈmen(t)əs; məˈ-| adjective (of a decision, event, or change) of great importance or significance, esp. in its bearing on the future. In the movie, the story of the protagonist is told in short vignettes, the ending of each vignette being the point at which the previous vignette began. Guy Pierce’s character has no short term memory, so the story is told in a way that mimics this and unfolds the story in a sort of ending-backwards fashion. It’s a fantastic movie, but the real reason for my homage to the format is that it seems to mimic my life of late. In the same way that the movie’s story is told, I find myself needing to look backwards and follow a story in my own life in order to figure out why I am where I am.
This blog has remained dormant for a while. I hope that in sharing this story, I can explain why. And, in the future, having said what I have to say here, I hope I can resurrect it as a place where I can and do share my thoughts with those of you who care to read them.
I sit here writing now because I cannot sleep. Lately this has been a consistent problem. On Tuesday, Apr 27, it will have been five weeks since I was involved in a hit-and-run collision with a minivan during a bike ride preparing for Ironman 70.3 California. I was doing a race prep workout, and during my last 15minute interval, thanks to a ripping tailwind, I was doing 30mph when a van pulled out in front of me from a side road. The rear driver’s side window shattered, severing two of my jugular veins on the left side of my neck. The force of the impact fractured my left scapula, fractured and displaced my left clavicle, broke several bones in my face, and caused a dissection of the carotid artery on the right side of my nect. This I know because the doctors told me and because my Joule cyclocomputer allowed me to see the sudden stop from 30mph to 0mph in one single second. I remember none of this. My last good memory is telling Jill that I loved her and that I was having a very good ride. Then, two days later, I remember a breathing tube being pulled out of my throat in the ER. The prognosis is that I will make a full recovery and that I can return to racing in somewhere between three and six months, mostly dependent on how long it takes for my carotid artery to heal, as I must be on blood thinners until it does. And so, due to a mix of emotions, discomfort, and general disruption of what was “normal” to me, I find that I have great trouble sleeping. So I am writing.
After Ironman Arizona last year, I did not write my usual race report. Largely, this was because I wasn’t sure what to say. When I won Ironman Canada, that was as far into the future as I had planned. The journey that I had laid out for myself was to win an Ironman. I did that. And so, from Aug 30th onward, I was existing in a bit of a limbo. I raced Ironman Arizona because I said I would and because, to a certain extent, after two disappointing third place finishes, I felt that I had unfinished business. And so I did the race. I prepared for it. I was powered by some additional motivation thanks to World Bicycle Relief, which helped me by allowing me to help them with a fundraiser associated with my racing in Tempe. And then I won. And in that is honestly as much as I have to say about that race. Because it wasn’t a step forward. It was just a moment in time. And it was a fitting end to 2009, the year in which I truly achieved what I had set out for myself. And that’s in many ways where this story begins. At the finish line of that race. As I look back, it was a step forward in that I was expected to do well, and I did. And I expected to do well, and I did. But in the moment, it was not a step towards an end, because I had already realized my goal for the year, and really my goal for my career at that point. I wanted to win an Ironman, and I had. And so I found myself racing in Tempe simply because.
Racing “because” is not a tenable position to hold. It probably should have been obvious to me, but it wasn’t, simply because there is the wonderful period of elation that followed that race, which was extended longer than normal by my marriage to the love of my life, Jill Savege, a week later. And so, eventually, when life truly returned to “normal,” I found myself wondering what was the path that I was on when I set out to train. And I found that I didn’t know. And so I stopped wanting to set out, because it’s no fun not knowing where you are going. But Paulo helped me realize that I needed to figure out where I wanted to go. And Coach Michael helped me realize that I could decide that there was something bigger in my future. And so, I decided that there was a journey beyond winning an Ironman. And that was winning a world championship. I say world championship – rather than Kona – because I think Kona is two steps removed. The journey now could end at ITU long course OR Kona world champs. If it’s the former, then it’s another journey from there to Kona. Rainbow stripes of any sort are as far as I can see. And to do that, the path remains the same as it was before. It just stretches ahead longer than the path than I had been on, and at times it is harder to see the end.
And that is why was I riding my bike on Mar 23rd. The most simple answer is that it is my job to do so. But that is a somewhat simpler answer than perhaps it ought to be in this case. I was at the time of the accident 10 days removed from racing the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon. It was my first race really abroad as a professional. It was my first race against as a truly world class field where I was one of the favorites to do well. And it was also a race where I made tactical errors on the bike and salvaged the race with the second fastest run split of the day – by a mere 8 seconds – to Eneko Llanos, one of the best runners in the sport. So it was a race filled with significant mistakes and also significant positive takeaways. It was a learning experience. And it was, most definitely, a step on the journey towards my ultimate goal of winning a world title in this sport. And that is why I was riding my bike on Mar 23rd. Because that was yet another step towards that goal. It is – as I’ve said more than once – about the process. This I learned from Simon Whitfield and Joel Filliol. The process had begun anew. And I suppose it is the “anew” part that really needed explanation. And that’s where this story begins. And, to a certain extent, it also ends there.
That’s why I was riding my bike that day. And that remains, despite questioning very seriously whether or not I ever wanted to train again, my goal. But there is a new journey now. What happened to me is more serious than a simple hiccup in training. It’s not a pothole in the path. It’s a new path. In “Memento,” Guy Pierce is eventually confronted with the reality that he has been marching down the same path over and over, but he never remembers doing so. And to some extent, I think that is a very safe and comfortable way to exist. And one doesn’t need amnesia to do so. I could just keep racing Ironmans. Each time setting that as the goal. And then forgetting and walking the same path again. Because that’s safe. And predictable. Guy Pierce – when confronted with reality – figures out how to return to his endless loop. And I think I could have done the same. I could have allowed this accident to knock me back onto the same path. And I could look ahead to the same goal I had before. I want to win an Ironman. It will be different, I could say, because I’ll do it with six screws in my collarbone and plates in my face. But that’s not really different.
No, I have the same goal. Just a new starting point. And I know how I got here. But more importantly, I know where I’m going. Maybe now I’ll sleep…