Ironman 70.3 World Championships
Mont-Tremblant, QC, Canada ✮ 2014.09.07
Down like dirt man we dusted
Down like dirt man we dusted
Dusted by Leftfield from the album, Rhythm & Stealth
Disappointment. Frustration. Confusion – How can my body – and/or brain – be doing this to me? I wouldn’t typically write about a race where those were the prevailing sentiments immediately after. To be sure, there were some bright spots – I led that second group on the swim at 24 minutes, less than two minutes behind some of the best swimmers in the sport and am steadily getting closer to being able to hang into that main group at the front that came out in 23 minutes. Okay, so maybe that was the only real bright spot…
On Twitter, I was able to sum up my race easily in 140 characters without even having to leave out basic punctuation and articles – “For my part, a hard effort. An honest effort. Couple good takeaways. Some weaknesses exposed. Rebuilding takes time. Another step forward.” That’s rare. I tend to write a lot, and Twitter constantly confounds me with its character limit. I had a lot more conversations with my coach, Joel Filliol, after the race that took a lot more than 140 characters (sorry JF), and in having those, I was compelled to share some of my assessments of my race. I think that those sentiments of disappointment, frustration, and confusion are sadly more – rather than less – common in triathlon. And the thing that makes triathlon so special as a sport is the shared experience of pros and age-groupers being. So, accordingly, I wanted to share my dissection of a less-than-optimal experience. My “AMA” (Ask Me Anything) posts on Slowtwitch after big wins always got a lot of feedback, and while I don’t really want to do an AMA on this race, I actually think that you (I… we…) can learn a lot from a bad race as well.
In almost every case, the factors that led to a bad race were the result of conscious, intended decisions. Most of them were just decisions about what – long-term – was most important to work on, especially with a near-term focus on a great performance at Ironman Arizona in November and a longer-term focus on a return to world class Ironman racing and having a long view on building the foundation for that. None of them were really the sort of strategic-type training decisions where you think that some aspect of the race is going to be critical but then it turns out not to be. A common example of this would be preparing for a race that is traditionally very hot with heat-specific training and then having it be unseasonably cool (or vice-versa, not preparing for a race that typically has mild weather and then being confronted with record breaking temperatures). I did very little training designed to do well on the specific Tremblant course or to prepare for the specific demands on this race, mostly because I think covering that final 1% is good only when you have taken care of the 99%. Simon Whitfield did work on his finishing kick for Beijing because he’d also done everything that he needed to do in order to know that he could be in a position to use it – and he did. I’m not there yet. I’m still focused on that 99%.
I knew going in that I wasn’t going to be in contention to win it. Looking at how the race played out and how competitive it was, my primary goal of top-10 was not even realistic and my back-up goal of top-15 was likely a stretch. It would have been a fantastic race for me to finish near Jesse Thomas, who came 12th after a stellar bike and strong run, two minutes faster than his course record performance in June. Could I have changed how I trained to maybe have been in a bit of a better position to execute that sort of race? Maybe. A bit more of a focus on short, very intense efforts on the bike. A bit more of a focus on short hills – up and down – on the run. But I don’t actually think I’d change anything about how I prepared, except maybe – as I’ve said before about this season – getting started on it a few months earlier. I needed to do the work I did – the big long rides in the mountains, the work on getting foot speed going again – to rebuild the foundation that it’s best to lay those specific skills on top of.
Looking at the podium for this race, those guys have no weaknesses. I have quite a few. I have less now than I had six weeks ago, but training takes time, and it’s generally best done in a particular order – general leading to specific. And I needed general work. And success at a world championship requires specific work, and I’m definitely further behind on the specific part than I needed to be to do really well. The race in Tremblant definitely confirmed my decision to not pursue Kona. I have a natural bias towards Ironman racing versus 70.3 racing, which has become more like “long Olympic distance” racing, but still, Kona requires specific training, and I’m not in a position to do that yet. A race like Arizona is more like most Ironmans. It requires what I like to call “barn door” fitness (meaning it’s about as easy to get it right as it is to hit a barn door) – swim a lot, bike a lot, run a lot; do some hard stuff in all three sports; rest leading into the race. 70.3s are a bit tougher in general – and are more dependent on both the course and the field; a course like Buffalo Springs is more like an Ironman, it’s hot and windy and hard and just requires you to be fit. A course like Vineman that also tends to be competitive skews a bit more towards specific skills. And then a World Championship, on a “punchy” course like Tremblant in a venue with mild temperatures, with the best ever field assembled at the distance requires even more specific skills. But specific skills need to lay on a strong foundation, and Joel and I decided to work on the foundation.
If anything, seeing the sort of performance it took to win justified the decisions that we made in training, because to think I could shortchange any part of my fitness and expect to do well is ludicrous. I wasn’t happy to come 32nd, but it was also an honest reminder about where I’m at.
With that said, had I been able to execute a race that simply reflected my fitness at the time, I don’t think that I would have been frustrated or confused. I probably still would have been disappointed, but not to the same degree. I think I had the fitness to come top-20, and I didn’t show that, and that left me feeling confused and frustrated and disappointed, much as I felt in Oceanside. The difference is that after Oceanside, I ended up concluding that I just hadn’t prepared appropriately. After this race, I think I made some mistakes that kept me from at least being able to have my own best performance, even if that performance was never going to be quite as good as I thought leading into the race.
One of the decisions was a decision made, to a certain extent, out of “fear.” I flew to the East Coast on Sunday, wrapping up my fourth week of build with speedwork on Saturday. I was reeling a bit from the three big weeks prior to that, and so I also took some extra rest on the Friday before I flew. Compared to the three previous weeks, I rode my bike about seven hours less that week. When I booked my travel, I knew I was going to do a big build, and I was nervous about my ability to bounce back from that, and so I decided to fly on a day when I would otherwise have done a long ride. It was somewhat complicated by the fact that I find the West Coast -> East Coast time change to be particularly challenging, but I’ve dealt well with that before with much less time to do so. Ultimately, I think I was scared of “overcooking” myself leading into the race, and I think that was a mistake. I think it would have been a positive to have done another long ride – maybe not another kill-myself-in-the-mountains ride – but I think if I’d spent Sunday on my bike instead of on a plane, I would have been better off.
I also think I did too little during the week leading into the race. Tuesday before the race – after travel on Sunday and an easy day on Monday – I felt great. Really great. I felt like I was going to have a great race. And that was the best I felt all week. That short rest recharged me, and I think I could have re-caught my rhythm again there, but I think again, fear of doing too much – especially after IMTX where I actually do think I did too much leading into the race – made me more cautious. On Thursday, I traveled up to Tremblant, an easy trip from New York (I flew) and did some light training, but I think that I’d have been better off doing less that day, especially if I’d done more the two days prior. Friday, I felt quite good again, a good swim, a good ride, and my initial instincts were that I should – as Joel said – “ride it out.” I think my mistake was in thinking that feeling pretty good was a reason to be more cautious. I wished I’d done more Friday. I had three weeks of great workouts where I’d had a hard Friday and had come back even stronger on Saturday and then strongest on Sunday.
So, do I think I did too much or too little? The answer is, “Yes.” I did both too much and too little. A lot of times, the best approach to a race – especially a race that you haven’t done a really long build (to me, that’s six or more weeks of preparation) for is to just treat it like another workout. A lot of us know how much training and how much recovery we need to have a good, predictable workout. And a lot of times, that’s a much more surefire way to have a good race than to try a big taper where you MIGHT have a great race, but you also might have a shitty one. I’ve made that mistake before – too much rest leading into a race – most notably at Wildflower in 2011. I’ve also done too much – most notably before Ironman Arizona 2011 and IMTX this year. 2011, I did it in reverse order – too much rest so that later in the year I took too little. This year, I did the opposite, too little rest so that this time I took too much.
The too much rest is most common when you are nervous and afraid and still finding your fitness, as I was in 2011 after my crash and this year after a disastrous year in 2013. I had a good rhythm. I think if I’d just trusted in that and kept it going, I think I would have had a better race in Tremblant. My power numbers on the bike were roughly the same as the best 2:00 chunk of a five hour ride in the mountains… at altitude… in weather that was about 30°F warmer. So I know have better fitness than I showed. But I think while I have always known that consistency in the larger macro-sense is important, I think I more easily lose sight of the fact that consistency on the smaller micro-sense is also equally important.
I don’t intend this as an excuse. I made these decisions. Nor do I really intend it as a, “well, I won’t do THAT again!” story, except in the more general sense, mostly because I have no intent of ending up in a situation where I’m “rebuilding.” Really, it’s just another chapter in the book on, “More is more. Less is less.” Sometimes you need more. Sometimes you need less. Sometimes you need both. People do all kinds of really crazy stuff leading into races – drinking gallons of water, getting bodywork from someone who they’ve never had a bodywork from before (NOTE: this is NOT directed at Melissa Hauschildt; it’s directed at all those people at the expo who decide to get ART or massage the day or two before the race.), trying all manner of “new” stuff. Most often – especially with long course racing – the safest, most predictable, most reliable way to have a good race is to just treat the race the way you’d treat a big training day. If you want to have a great race, then, yes, you more often need to take some risks, though the vast majority of those risks will be in training, not in the taper/recovery, though I suppose there’s some crossover in terms of “risking” that you’ll be able to recover and bounce back during taper. But for where I’m at, all I really wanted was to have a good race in Tremblant, and I deprived myself of that.
Failure is when expectations does not meet reality. I was never going to win this race. But that needn’t have been a failure. The failure was in not racing to the level of my preparation. But I feel encouraged that Joel and I have some ideas about why.
One last note, after struggling a bit more than I expected to bounce back from last year, I’m also pursuing getting some help and guidance on some basic blood work from people who have experience with that specifically with elite athletes. Joel doesn’t plan on doing any so-called “longitudinal” observation (where you try to match blood markers to performance and use it to tune performance). But I do figure I should at least check to make sure I don’t have any glaringly obvious “issues.” I am fairly certain that I don’t, because my performances in training don’t indicate that, but I thought it best to check that off the list. I mention this both as a somewhat preemptive answer to the question, “have you checked your X levels?” and also as a guide along the lines of the rest of this post to folks who may also be struggling with the, “why am I not racing as well as I’m training?” dilemma.
Next up is the race in Princeton, where my goal is to at least show the fitness I have. After that I’m passing on Silverman so as to focus on a longer, more predictable, less interrupted build for Arizona. Thanks to all who have supported me during the ups and down of the past two years. I’m looking forward to writing something a bit simpler after one of these races. Something more like, Veni. Vidi. Vici. That’s Latin for, “I just kicked some ass.”