What I’m normally like…
How I aspired to be in Maryland…
Cambridge, MD ★ 2015.06.14
This post started out as a lie. It started out where I basically talked about how things came together for me through getting back to work, nose to the grindstone, and things like that. That’s not really true. However, I also was putting in some stuff about being rather laissez faire about the whole thing, which isn’t really true either. I aspired to simply not care. But I did care, though I think I cared a lot – too much – about the wrong things. And what did work out was when I only cared about the right stuff. For a profanity-laden version of what I’m driving at, Mark Manson’s piece is awesome. It does, however, use the word “fuck” 127 times. I will endeavor to have that be the lone usage in this piece. Simply because I think Mark used it enough for both of us.
The genesis of this amended post came from two really awesome conversations I had with Simon Whitfield today. Simon called me – our kids share a birthday – which is a rare thing. Simon is basically impossible to get on the phone. He will text me. I will text him back. He’ll text me back. And then I’ll need to tell him something that’s too long to type, so I’ll call him. And he will not answer the phone 9 times out of 10. But he will text me back. He just doesn’t care. And I mean that in the best possible way. He is a massively frustrating friend at times, but I don’t care. I decided a long time ago that I like him for who he is, and I don’t waste time worrying about who he isn’t. So Simon called me. And he asked me how I was doing. And, because I’ve known him long enough that I don’t bother with the pleasantries that we all bandy about with people we don’t know all that well, I simply told him, “I don’t know. I’m struggling a bit. I had a rough go of it around Texas, and since then, the more I train, the slower I seem to get.” The rest of the conversation is something that I need more time to process before I can put it down into something that might make sense to anyone else, but the gist of the suggestion ties back to the post I wrote about “crooked timber” and sort of trying to define what exactly it meant to “recommit to triathlon.”
One way in which I’d committed in a new way was that Quentin came with me to Eagleman. We went and stayed with my parents for the week leading up to the race, then drove down to Baltimore to visit my sister, and then I went down on Saturday to Cambridge for the race. My parents brought Quentin on race morning. I got to hug him before I crossed the finish. It was awesome. Last time I did that, I won Ironman Texas in dominant fashion. This race was not quite so good, but seeing him was even more awesome because he is more awesome. Jill and I talked after Texas this year about needing to find a way to race for something bigger than just myself. Having Quentin with me played a huge role in that. I didn’t want to “win” for him. But I wanted him to see me give my best effort. I wanted him to see something that I’d want him to emulate as a person.
On the swim, I had a good swim, and I swam on Cody Beals’ feet for most of the race. But overwhelmingly my goal was to stay on his feet mostly because it is easier to swim on someone’s feet than it is to swim alone. Swimming alone is awful. Once on the bike, I simply tried to hold a reasonable pace (though I actually wagered high and couldn’t keep it together) for the ride, without really caring much about how I was doing. On the run, Barrett Brandon passed pretty early into the run, and I decided to just follow close to him mostly because it’s easier to let someone else set the pace. Then, in the last mile or so, I decided that I actually cared about something subjective, and I managed to pass Barrett back to take second because second is better than third.
It was not a great performance. I finished 10 minutes behind Cody. In a half-Ironman. I’ve won full Ironman’s by that margin and considered them to be an ass-kicking by me of the rest of the field. In a half? We weren’t even really in the same race. But honestly, I was happy. I didn’t really care, because I thought, well, I still came second, which is good. And I finished the race, which is good. And there were some bright moments, which is good. And a lot of the race was pretty fun, which was good. And it was really hot out but I didn’t think it was that hot out, which is especially good. And Quentin was there, which was awesome. And after the race we went swimming in the Choptank and then I washed him off with a hose that was set up to spray athletes coming out of transition. (We made sure to only use it when there were no athletes in need of it.)
In the lead up to the race, most of the training I did, I just did by feel. My parents live on this great network of trails, but the trails are very rolling, and there are a LOT of trees, all of which conspire to make GPS unreliable. So I just ran pretty much how I felt. I didn’t actually care how fast I ran. And that was good. The best training I had was training where I just did as much as I wanted to do. I think that perhaps the worst mistake(s) I made was that I probably didn’t let go enough about what I had planned. I did some sessions that I didn’t really want to do. I went a bit longer in some than I wanted to. But the best stuff – what I think got me second in Eagleman – was the stuff where I went more by feel. I did what felt “right.” I cared about how I felt. And that was pretty much it. The run was the best part of Eagleman, and that was the training where I was the most subjective.
There were some obstacles. Parts of my training were better than the week before. But a lot of it – from a strict quality standpoint – was not. Overall, I’d say that three weeks ago was better than the week before the race. And the week before the race was better than this week. I’d also say that each week I cared – objectively – more which resulted in subjectively caring less. Three weeks ago, I was more hesitant. I was just getting back into it. And I didn’t know how I’d respond. And, in a number of cases, I really surprised myself in a positive way. This week, I had more expectations, and I was let down more times as a result.
I think that’s part of why I hesitated to write about Eagleman. The same feelings I had about training were also true about the race. I wanted to write a post about getting back in the game. But that wasn’t really true. And I also wanted to write a post about being totally laid back. But that wasn’t really true either. So I didn’t write anything.
But the conversations with Simon made me want to write something. And then as I was writing this, my friend Mark sent me this – “Swimming for Your Own Reasons.” While I don’t believe that “everything happens for a reason” – in many ways, I don’t really believe that ANYTHING happens for a “reason,” unless of course you want to say that certain things happen because of of decisions you did or did not make – I do feel like there’s a reason. I know I basically just contradicted myself, but whatever. I have to deal with that so so do you.
I remember after Paula Findlay returned to sport after the London Olympics, one of the things that she talked about was – in some fashion – comparing herself to what she had been. And I told her that she should forget about that, and just focus on being the best she could be now. I should have – could have – been talking to myself. One of the reasons that I think I had success coming back from my wreck is that I had no expectations, and I also didn’t really hold myself to what I had been able to do, because for a long time, it was so far away it wasn’t relevant. I found myself exceeding it. This year, when my training was going well, I found myself exceeding my expectations. But then, of course, as we are all wont to do, that created expectations. Early in the year, I found myself being surprised by my body. “Whoa, where did that come from?” Lately, there’s been less and less of that. Though it still sneaks up often enough that I know it’s there. I just can’t seem to grab it. So I try harder, which doesn’t seem to be working all that well.
It is my goal this week to care not at all. I love the race in Buffalo Springs. I fell in love with it last year the first time I did it. The race is brutal. It is hot. It is dry. It is windy. It is awful. And it is awesome. I had a great race there last year – honestly, I think it was my best of the entire year – because I tweaked my groin the week before in Syracuse. I had no expectations leading into the race. And it was awesome. I just enjoyed being out there in conditions that were truly terrible. Because I actually think that’s fun.
And I suppose that’s what matters to me right now. I want to enjoy what I do. That’s a lot harder to do now. There’s way more pressure on me now. I have a family. I have a “career.” I have responsibilities. It is a job. That’s amazing. But it’s also a challenge. And it’s one that I have yet to master. In many ways, the best parts of my race Eagleman came from doing lots of things that you don’t do when it’s your job. But I think there’s a lesson here.
This post feels very incomplete, but I think that’s okay, because I don’t really have a plan for what I’m going to do. I talked a bit about needing to have concrete goals so that you don’t define success simply as what ended up happening. At the same time, sometimes goals are abstract enough that it is hard to really define them until you look back and can see where you started and whether or not you’re where you want to be.
I believe I have the drive and the discipline to make hard choices. I am going to try to trust that through Buffalo Springs and see what it gets me. Realizing that sometimes that harder (or hardest) choice may not be what it seems. I don’t think that doing that would have gotten me any better a finish at Eagleman. But I do think that the extent that I was able to do that at Eagleman is why I had as good a race as I did.
Shout out for the title of this blog goes to my good friend Brandon Marsh. Brandon introduced me to the acronym form of the phrase. And talking about Brandon is a good way to conclude this. Brandon and his wife Amy were both fantastic pros. Amy, especially, was really one of the very best female professional triathletes in the world. She was diagnosed late last year with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. She just received a stem cell transplant that, ideally, is the start of her “new” (cancer-free) life. For the past two weeks, her WBC (White Blood Cell) count has been 0.0. Yes, ZERO-POINT-ZERO. On June 17th, 13 days after her stem cell transplant, her WBC was 0.1. Last year, I raced with Brandon and Amy a bunch of times, including at Buffalo Springs. This year, I won’t get to see them, because they are hunkered down at MD Anderson in the oncology ward.
The thing about coming back from being “mostly dead” is that you take whatever positive life gives you. 1/10th of a point? You bet. I cheered hard for Amy when I read that. Because she deserves to have that come to her. I don’t know that I deserve anything more than what I’ve already gotten from this sport. But I think I’ve got more left to give back. But you can’t force it. I tried. Many times. But my best days were those days when I started to run again and stopped feeling like I could do more. It is my goal to find that feeling again. At Eagleman, I felt I could have done more. And I think, in many ways, that is what made me happiest.