The Woodlands, TX ★ 2017.04.22
You always have the opportunity to repent of an earlier bad decision – Dan Empfield (talking about bike fit…)
Don’t just do something; stand there – Dwight Eisenhower / Clint Eastwood / The White Rabbit / etc (aka, nobody really knows…)
Some or all of you may have read about the legal issues that I was faced with starting roughly 10 days out from the race. I had quite a few sleepless nights a result. That certainly did not help matters. However, since, “do get sued right before your Ironman” is not particularly helpful advice, I wanted to write something that was hopefully more constructive for the average triathlete.
If you’re a super-duper fan, you also may have read that I had some issues with my seatpost slipping during the race. This is also true, for reasons I still haven’t figured out. The seatpost on my Andean held fine before and after. And I believed that I applied the same procedure and torque. Perhaps I just under-torqued it thanks to nervousness before the race. I don’t know. It worked fine before. And, with a bit more torque, held tight on a long ride the day after the race.
Regardless, this was not why I did not finish. This was just the punctuation mark on a race that had disappointment written all over it from the get-go.
So I’m taking a mulligan on this one. Early season races – especially long ones – are tough to prepare for correctly. And the earlier they are, the tougher they are to get right. When I won this race in 2012, it was four weeks later than it was this year. I’d very much have liked to have had those four weeks.
After Kona 2016, I needed – and took – one of the longest breaks of my career. After a disappointing season spent chasing Kona, I needed to reset. I’d needed to do this at other points in my career, and I’d lacked the courage to do so. It was unquestionably the right decision. But what that meant was that instead of what I typically do – race IMAZ at the end of November and then take two weeks off, I replaced the IMAZ build-and-race cycle with rest-and-recover.
I believed then – and believe now – that I had plenty of time to prepare for the race in Texas, but what I didn’t fully appreciate was how a shorter build was going to be less forgiving of marginal mistakes in timing. Historically, my results in spring races have been mixed. Sometimes – like 2012, I’ve gotten it right. Other times – 2011 and, especially, 2014 come to mind, I’ve not.
The hardest part about trying to figure out what to do is that the early season – typically – varies a lot. Some years I’ve come off a strong end of season. Other years, I’ve come off a big break. There are just a lot more variables than there are in the summer and fall, where I – like most athletes – pretty much always have a big base of training behind me.
There are a handful of past races that come to mind when I think about what unfolded in Texas this year. Most of them are half-Ironmans, which is good because the penalty for flubbing the taper of a half is way less than it is for flubbing the taper for an Ironman, which is why I have relatively few early season DNFs. I’ve mostly been smart enough to not put races early in the year that I can’t finish if something goes sideways. But not this year. But thankfully, in spite of being dumb enough to try to do this race, I wasn’t dumb enough to try to finish it.
Basically, I believe I didn’t know how much rest I really needed, especially with everything that was going on. I think I just needed a few more days. Maybe a week. The big tell, for me, is that I swam poorly. I came out of the water 2-4min behind athletes I come out of the water with all the time. Bad swims – especially bad swim starts – are indicative that I’m still carrying too much fatigue (see Kona 2012).
Out on the bike, especially after a poor swim, it was clear that I was just not ready to tackle an Ironman on April 22. I’ve finished races in this state before. In some cases, I’m glad that I did. Though I’d say whenever I’ve done so, both finishing and DNFing were both bad options. In this case, I know had outstanding training leading in. I just likely – and perhaps understandably – misjudged how much time I needed to unload with a new baby in the house, with three other young kids besides that baby, and after a long break to end last year.
So I called it early. In hindsight (of course), Texas was probably never the right race. Too early. And too flat. The change in the bike course and the time of year just make this a race that no longer suits me. So I’m taking a mulligan here. Unfortunately, there were not clearly any other races I should have done instead. There are just fewer Ironman races for pros, especially in North America. And fewer and fewer Ironman races with really hard bike courses that suit me.
When I botched my race at Wildflower in 2011, and allowed Jesse Thomas to start on his unchecked path of Wildflower dominance (sorry…), I made the right decision. I got right back on the horse and went and had one of my all time best ever performances at Leadman Las Vegas. In 2014, after I botched Oceanside, I made the wrong decision. I abandoned virtually everything that had worked for me in the past, and I ended up wasting what should have been some of the best years of my career wandering around in the proverbial desert for a very long time.
I am not going to repeat that. I’m going to repeat what I did in 2011. I’m looking forward to racing 70.3 Santa Rosa in a couple weeks. I’ve got the fitness I built for Texas, and I’m going to use it. Texas was never the right race for me. I’m glad I realized that quickly and acted on it. Now I just need to put it in the rearview and go race.