© 2014 Nils Nielsen
The Woodlands, TX ✮ 2014.05.17
I thought this was going to be the race where I finally got to write something other than some variant of, “Well, I thought I had a better race in me.” In this case, the only real variant I can offer is that this time I know I had a better race in me. Over the past seven weeks, I’ve done some of the best training that I can remember. Certainly the best period of work in over a year. But I also had some upheaval. Part of the reason that I had such a good block of training was that I made a hard decision to make a pretty significant change and to decide to work with a new (old) coach. In many ways, that was a hugely liberating and positive experience. But it was not without challenges. But, in many ways, it seemed as if it was. Following the race in Oceanside, I knew I need a change, and after some very good conversations with Joel, we got up to speed very quickly. Training was going well. For the first time in a long time, I really felt great, both mentally and physically. Instead of feeling like I was behind the eight ball, I felt like I was out front again.
But one of the hardest parts about making change is also knowing what not to change. I had a lot of success over the past five years, and even if some of it was by luck or by accident, I’m sure I did some things right on purpose. But it’s unproductive to try and guess what particular things were the “keys” to success. Because it’s very hard to spin things out of the whole program and even more so out of your life as a whole. Two years ago, I had one kid, I was coming off an incredibly successful year in 2011, and I felt like I was on a roll. To try to figure out what particular elements of training led to success in The Woodlands then – without considering the larger details of my life – would be folly. That would not be making a change. That would just be fence-sitting. I need to figure out anew with Joel what translates into success for me now. And, clearly, we haven’t figured it out yet. It’s been seven weeks and two races. So that’s understandable. Still disappointing. But understandable.
Seven weeks after starting with a new coach – albeit one who I had a prior relationship with – is not a long time. There were bound to be both successes and failures. Ultimately, I think the final preparation after St. George and taper for this race was a failure. But I think that, in many ways, it was borne out of the much greater successes. For much of 2013, I was unhappy and unmotivated. I was also very tired. And the two became largely synonymous. When I finally took a big long break after Ironman Arizona – I went six weeks without running or biking – I finally felt rested. But I also felt out of shape, and my return to training was erratic, as evidenced by my lackluster performance in Oceanside. And so I made a change. And since then, I have been motivated, I have been happy, and I have had some of the best training that I’ve ever done. But the training did not become any less taxing. But I don’t think – until I actually asked my body to perform in an Ironman – that I grasped the fatigue I was carrying. But I think I didn’t grasp it because I wanted to be out there training. I felt good getting out there and working. I was happy. And healthy for the first time in a long time. I enjoyed what I was doing. And things were going very well.
Things were going well, at least, until I uncharacteristically faded during the last third of the swim in Texas, struggled to stay consistent through the middle of the bike (though I found a second wind for the last 25 miles or so), and really just hit the wall very early in the run. But I still feel motivated. I still feel good. And while I’m disappointed about the result itself and my performance, I still feel happy about where I’m at. And, if I had to make a tradeoff between knowing that things went right in training and wrong on race day, I’ll take this over a race where things went pretty right on race day despite going wrong in training. In an ideal world, there’s none of those tradeoffs. You have a good race and you feel like you have more to give. The training and the racing are both good. I know what it’s like to feel that way, and I’m working towards getting back there. I’m definitely much closer than I was. But it’s a process. And I feel – on balance – like this was a step in the right direction.
It was not my best performance. But it was an honest performance. I left all that I had – and more – out there on the course. I just didn’t set myself up for that effort to translate into something that was also a best performance.
Now, before any of you folks jump on this as some sort of “less is more” or “rest is best” type of affirmation, it’s not. Should I have done less during the week of the race? I think so. But I think the larger picture is that a big – huge – part of why I ended up in the scenario is that I had been very inconsistent and erratic in my training up until this point. So once I finally “found my rhythm,” I was loathe – mostly unconsciously – to give it up. I didn’t actively think, “I need to train more.” I just enjoyed the process again. And so I did. But had I been more consistent since the start of the year, or, ideally, through last year (or years) – as I was from 2007-2008-2009 and then again in 2011-2012, I would have been better prepared to make the best decisions leading into the race. Six weeks of great training is wonderful. But it’s nothing compared to six, twelve, 18, etc months of consistent training. With depth of fitness comes not only resilience – where doing a bit too much (or too little) is less impactful – but also a better sense of where your body is at. The more often you’ve been more consistent, the more predictable your body becomes. And Ironman – and endurance sport in general – is really about predictability. It’s about expectations and reality coming together. Knowing what to expect of yourself and then executing that.
So did I need to less the week of the race? Yes. But not because “less is more” or any of that nonsense. But because in making changes and finally finding my stride again, I tired myself out more than I realized, both because I had found enjoyment in training again and because it had been quite a while since I’d had that sort of groove, and I didn’t realize just how taxing it can be when things are going well. Ironically, in the flipside of that equation, I feel quite good today. Because I wasn’t able to push my body as hard as I wanted to, I’m not as tired as I’d like to be. It was the opposite of St. George but with the same basic outcome. In St. George, I had better fitness than I showed because mentally I didn’t dig deep enough. In Texas, I had better fitness than I showed because – thanks to a positive mental outlook – I dug too deep, but I did it before the race. But that’s an easy fix. Much easier than “how do I get motivated?” The best sign that I’m on the right track as I sit here today, writing this, I’d rather be out there, getting ready to go win an Ironman.
Change is hard. But when you commit to the entire process, it works. I committed to the entire process, and it’s resulted in both some success and some failure. I remain committed to the process and will hang on to the successes and try to learn from the failures. As I saw it put best on a brilliant sign out on the IMTX run course, “if it was easy, it’d be called your mom.”