My new 2015 kit from Louis Garneau
Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs Lake
Lubbock, TX ★ 2015.06.28
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” – Ernest Hemingway
There’s a common disclaimer in the financial industry, “Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.” This appends basically any advertisement for any sort of financial product – mutual funds, etc. This same thing applies equally well – if not better – to sports. The major league drafts are perhaps the greatest evidence of this – LeBron James was 1st OA pick in 2003; Greg Oden was 1st OA pick in 2007. Countless other examples abound. Even within my own career – especially lately – I feel like I ought to put this rider somewhere on my kit. It’s also true in training. Like any athlete, training and preparation always involves some risk, often with the potential for no reward. One of the most frustrating parts of this year is that I’ve done probably the best training I’ve ever done, and I’ve not really seen anything come of it. But that happens. That’s the risk. It was this particular risk – inherent in high performance sport – that was Joel’s biggest concern about winding things back up after Texas to make a push for Kona. What if this failed too? Could I handle that? Once you can’t deal with that risk anymore, it’s time to find a new goal.
Long term, I made a concerted effort to really become a better swimmer, and I’d say it was largely a failed experiment. But, it might have worked. There are several examples of guys who have improved a lot more as a swimmer than I have managed to. I do feel like I lost a step at the start of the race that I’ve never really regained since my accident. All of my best swims came before my wreck, in spite of the fact that I’m clearly a better swimmer – overall – than I was then. I think I just had better start speed. I have some ideas about why this is, but the practical takeaway is largely irrelevant since immersing myself full-time in a competitive tri-focused group that does bi-weekly open water swims is neither practical nor feasible for me at this point in my life and career. I need to figure out a new way to get faster at the start of races, though I will admit that I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I will likely win any future races on the bike and/or run, just like I did in the past. Though, of course, “past performance is not necessarily…” and all that.
Going into the race in Buffalo Springs, it was hard to be as relaxed as before Eagleman, since I had “precedence” in Lubbock which I did not have in Cambridge. I had what I think was likely my best overall race of the year in 2014 in Lubbock last year. I had an average swim, crushed the bike, and ran pretty well on a brutal course. It was as good a half-Ironman performance as I’ve ever had. Despite the fact that I had done well last year under quite different circumstances, I still put some level of burden of expectation on myself going into the race. But I think I did a good job of managing those expectations. Unfortunately, that didn’t mean that everything went smoothly. In fact, quite the opposite. Travel to Lubbock is never simple because it’s a small airport. Due to the whole “shit happens” aspect of travel, I arrived at my awesome homestay at 2:00AM instead of 6:00PM. Given that lack of sleep has been my achilles heel this year, this was not ideal. But here’s the thing, life is rarely ideal.
Waiting in the airport for my bags, which were supposed to arrive two hours before me so I could just grab them and go but instead arrived an hour after I did, I started having a rather surprising talk with my host for the weekend, Andy Wilson. Andy and Heidi Wilson are pretty incredible folks, and not just because they gave me a bed. Andy commented that one of the things that he loves about endurance athletes is that they tend to make the best of what life serves up, because that’s the attitude you need to be successful as an endurance athlete. Andy and Heidi have a challenge that is staggering, and yet they have found a way to turn it into something incredibly rewarding. The details are not important. If you know them, you know what I am talking about. If you don’t, I hope you get to meet them at a race some time. Andy’s insight made me realize that I could either dwell on the fact that I had pretty much the exact opposite of the sort of day I’d hope for a couple days out from a race, or I could just make the best of it. I chose the latter. I slept in a bit later than I would have and went to sleep earlier than normal the next night. Was it ideal? No. Did it affect my placing in the race? Maybe. But I’d bet that every other athlete ahead of me – and behind me – probably had something they had to overcome at some point before or during the race. Perhaps it was worse. Perhaps not. Doesn’t matter. And if they didn’t this time, they will. I’ve had those races where everything went right. And I’ve had races where it didn’t. I’ve won or lost those races more based on how I dealt with stuff rather than what did or didn’t go wrong.
Generally speaking, I had the same race in Buffalo Springs this year that I did at Eagleman two weeks ago (not really surprising). I swam a bit better, rode a bit better, and ran a bit worse. My margin to the winner was roughly equivalent. But in Buffalo Springs, a bunch of guys had better races (relatively) than at Eagleman and so that performance netted me a fifth instead of a second. But it was basically an honest effort and a representative reflection of where I was at. This was a good thing as it gave some clarity about what to do going forward. I had been on the fence about betting my fitness would come around in time to have a good race at Ironman Whistler or taking a longer build to Ironman Mont Tremblant with the goal of making the August KPR cut and carrying that momentum into Kona. After the race in Lubbock, it became clear that the Tremblant option was the better choice. When I’ve had my best races, it’s always been the result of a focused build (one exception – Leadman 2011). It’s been clear before the race that things are on track. I’ve had hiccups in the final period before, notably Ironman Canada 2009 where I got sick two weeks out from the race (though that might have been a blessing in disguise). But I’ve always raced best off a solid foundation in training, something that I do think is as much mental as it is physical. I derive my confidence from what I’ve done. I wish I just “had” confidence, but that is not me. Best just to make the best of it.
I still feel like there was a chance that I could have had a great race in Whistler, but really I was tired of racing as I did at Wildflower, IMTX, Eagleman, and Lubbock – “Maybe I’ll have a good race. My fitness might come around. Perhaps everything will just click.” Ironically, once I gave up that, things started to come together quite nicely in training. Typical… To me, this really emphasizes the importance of having a good support structure. I had a lot of talks with Joel. Really, I talked a lot at Joel for a while before he basically said, “yeah, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Which was what I needed to hear. A lot of times the best advice you need is what not to do. And this idea is really what inspired me to write about these topics in this post.
My race in Lubbock was my first in my new monochromatic kit from Louis Garneau (yes, the whole black/white theme was intentional, and yes I’m sure it says something about me). Valerie at Louis Garneau did an incredible job with the design, and it’s easily my most favorite racing outfit of my career. It also has a new logo that you can see in the pic above, that of Raymond James. If you follow that link, you will see all sort of phrases that I love – “don’t just expect the unexpected, PLAN FOR IT.” And that sort of thing. What’s noteworthy is that in my experience, this is a firm that actually abides by these phrases. I feel lucky and fortunate that Jill and I have some savings. And we have a great friend – who was our friend before he was our FA – at Raymond James who manages it for us. Why? Because sometimes you need someone to tell you what not to do.
Raymond James really impressed me when they stepped up to support my World Bicycle Relief fundraiser in 2014 by offering a free financial analysis by a CFP to anyone who donated. It was a great perk that a few people took advantage of – all really thought it was valuable, and it’s one we are offering again this year. I expect many more people to take advantage of it now that people actually (sort of) know what it is. And we also plan to do a better job explaining it. It really was an incredible gesture. And I feel really proud to represent this firm through my racing. Just as with racing, there’s never a guarantee when you make plans for the future financially. But having someone you can lean on and trust is huge. Just like in sport. I rely on my coach Joel to help me make good decisions about racing and training. Sometimes those decisions don’t work out. I rely on my friend Mark to make sure I can provide for my wife and my kids. Again, sometimes those decisions don’t work out. This is the nature of anything that’s important.
As Andy said, the skills required to be good at endurance sport are the same as those required to handle life. Take some risks. Know what you do well. Know what you don’t. Listen to someone you trust. Simple. Now time to go do it.
In spite of the fact that you don’t have a guarantee that what was successful in the past will work again or that your plan will survive at all intact, you need to start with something. In my last post, I quoted the famous Eisenhower maxim, “Rely on planning but never on plans.” Having kids is a daily lesson in applying this practically. And I suppose that being a good athlete is a lot like being a good parent. It requires daily commitment. There are a lot of unknowns. There’s not a manual though there are a lot of good books and good advice. There’s also a lot of bad books and bad advice. Don’t ever give up. Do the best you can. Good luck is important.
I’m fond of another maxim – “Hope is not a strategy.” And I do still believe that to be true. Hope, in and of itself, is not a strategy. But there’s a ton of hope involved in even the best laid plans. And while I may race in a black and white kit, that’s only because the journey to – and on – the race course never is. Even if I wish it was.