- Published: 12 October 2015 12 October 2015
So here I am, wide awake at 3 am, the morning after an Ironman, but not for the usual reason: a sore body that’s autodigesting after 9+ grueling hours on the race course. Instead I’m awake tossing and turning try to deal with too many thoughts about a huge investment with zero return. As I write that, however, I know the “zero return” part is simply not true, and therein lies the key to feeling better.
I had the best IM world champs swim of my life to date (4 min down from the lead) and I felt so strong and so ready to lay it all out there. No matter what happened, I was on a mission to stay positive and stay tough all day. No matter what. Having it all end so early with a bizarre Di2 rear derailer malfunction* was incredibly difficult to deal with. Disbelief, resilience (running up Palani, getting tech support) trying to keep going, taking apart everything I knew how to fix after spinning out of my one gear further down the highway, checking junction boxes, removing the rear wheel and taking the battery completely out... still no rear shifting. I rode back in a fog, to crumple and cry uncontrollably in Trevor’s arms. I envisioned and felt ready to deal with many scenarios on race day, but not this one. Whether I would have had an awesome performance or not, the point is to race, to lay it all on the line and I felt totally ripped off and utterly dejected.
But, I digress. The point of this blog is to reflect on the real value of this whole process. Results are the outward measure of our successes as athletes, but they can’t reflect the depth of our personal growth. And really, that growth is what HAS to matter. Say I had a brilliant day and finished top 5. Quick, can you tell me who finished 4th three years ago in Kona? Last year? Does the fact that very few people could answer this take away from those brilliant performances? Hell no. But if the result and the recognition is all that matters, that’s a pretty poor return on your significant personal investment.
The most important part of this incredibly challenging journey, is all of the stuff I did to get here. I learned SO much about my myself, mentally, physically, emotionally in the lead up to this race. They were hard-learned lessons on a wide range of topics like belief, how to live and perform in the moment, heat acclimation and hydration. Shit mechanical luck cannot take that away.
As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi states nicely in his book Flow – “Goals justify the effort they demand at the outset, but later it is the effort that justifies the goal”
In “The Practicing mind” - Thomas Sterner elaborates: “We have a very unhealthy habit of making the product – or our intended result – the goal, instead of the process of achieving that goal. This is evident in many activities in our everyday lives. We become fixated on our intended goal and completely miss out on the joy present in the process of achieving it. We erroneously think that there is a magical point that we will reach and we will be happy. We look at the process of getting there as almost a necessary nuisance we have to go through in order to get our goal”
I was definitely guilty of that when I first came to Kona for a big training block shortly after 70.3 worlds in Austria. I have big, as of yet unachieved, goals about performing at the World Championships, but there wasn’t much about Kona that I enjoyed. The first week on the island, I mostly thought: "why the fuck am I doing this?" This climate is ridiculous, this course is awful. When you feel like shit, running on a busy highway, on black asphalt, surrounded by black lava, in 90oF conditions, it’s pretty easy to let negative thoughts take over. I knew that I needed time to acclimatize, and that my outlook wasn't helping matters, but the struggle to turn things around was very real. Week two was better, I started getting used to the heat, and I had some really good sessions but I was still on an emotional roller coaster.
I wrote this to my coach, Paulo:
Normally I can roll with the normal ups and downs of bad days, and detach from judging everything: Like “it's okay, you got the work done”, but I am definitely struggling with that here. I've suffered so badly on so many parts of the course here, and certain moments are seared in my brain. Normally, I feel like if I do my best that's pretty damn good, but here my best never seems good enough. I know that I can just choose to view stuff differently but it's hard when you feel awful and remember feeling awful and start being like "what the fuck more can I do to not feel awful here?!". Part of the answer, of course, is not dwelling on feeling awful, nor expecting it. Believing I can race well in Kona, without constantly looking for evidence to shore up my confidence... Easier said than done it seems.
We focused on the process. On the day to day. I could look at my incredibly high sweat rate as an insurmountable obstacle (hell let’s throw in my physiology in general, along with my height, Canadian genes… All the usual narratives that people spit out to tell me I can’t race well in Kona, and I was in real danger of believing) or we can figure out a plan to properly replace all the fluid I lose. I set out bottles in a cooler to drink after every session. Lots of bottles. We had a scale to measure fluid loss. Carbohydrates to replace proper glycogen stores. I had to make myself eat more with a suppressed appetite in the heat… I had to be unafraid to voice my fears to my coach. Proper training is so much more than each session. It’s all the actions you take in between to recover the best you can, and how you talk to yourself everyday. Suspending judgement and simply plugging away, plugging away…
By the end of camp, even with a huge training load, I was killing it. I was so much more aware of my body: Of all the things I needed to watch for to make the right decisions on race day. Perhaps most importantly, I was aware of my mind. No more negative internal dialogue. There was peace there and a calm confidence that I could do it. I have never felt so ready. I believed. It took a shit ton of work to get my head right for this race, but I did it. Of all my accomplishments this year, on the race course and off, this was up there! A facebook friend wrote it perfectly: possibly the most heartbreaking thing about high-level sport that something absolutely arbitrary can go wrong and ruin the most promising day.
The promise and the lessons learned remain, and finding the joy in the process is what will keep me going!
As we said on twitter today:
Onwards to the Island House Invitational race and then Ironman Cozumel. I still get to put all this heat acclimation to good use!!
For some good laughs:
*The good folks from Cervelo and an expert from Shimano took a good look at my bike this afternoon. Turns out the actual Di2 failure was a one in a never seen before problem with the shifting mechanism within the derailer. It had nothing to do with the electronics - the signal was arriving but the worm gear that drives the shifting was somehow broken/shredded (possibly by an impact, loads of riding, then another impact - in transition somehow? A final straw kind of deal, which is why it worked fine the day before and to start on race day, but snapped during the ride). Basically just incredibly unlucky and there was nothing I could do to fix it.