Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Coming to Terms with a DNF

This is not the blog post that I intended to be writing two days after Ironman Mont Tremblant.  I drove up to the race in arguably the best aerobic shape of my life and mentally ready to make some waves in my professional IM debut.  Of course I'd been battling bruised/cracked ribs since my Challenge New Albany win and only averaging 1k/workout in the pool, but I figured a bit of race day adrenaline and my immense swim background would carry me through trouble free.  Since the long race really makes the swim a minor factor and since my bike numbers have been pretty unreal in training, I had approximately zero doubt that I would have any problems race day.

To add to my excitement, Wattie Ink sent me a new custom speed suit to really put my mark on the race.  I really appreciate their quick turnaround and ability to get my sponsors on the suit.  When I stopped in Syracuse for the night, it was waiting.
I was READY.

I had a smooth pre-race lead up with a great group of guys from RVA and felt more and more confident that it would be my day on Sunday.  We swam on course Friday and despite a bit of soreness I was able to rev the engine and summon the swim speed I'm used to.  Another 1k swim workout in the books... perfect.  Everything was going well as race day approached with cool weather and a perfect day to race.

So focused... So serious.
Race morning, I had the privilege to have my good friend Adam and his wife Stephanie at the start to take care of last minute sherpa duties.  I was relaxed and confident as I warmed up and when the gun went off I was in the zone... for about 30 seconds.  The swim was actually pretty low key, but I was tense every time someone got close and found that after the first few hundred meters I was losing my stroke pretty regularly.  As I passed the first turn buoy almost a mile in to the swim, I realized I was in trouble.  I was tired, sore, and my stroke felt alien.  I was starting to cramp from holding my body so tensely for the entirety of the swim.  I calmed myself down by reminding myself that the swim only a small part of the race and I was still in the lead group... but I was dying a slow, painful death.  By the time I saw the finish arch and stood up, my body rebelled and cramped down from my ribs down to my toes.  I stood there for close to a minute as I fought with myself to relax and get moving.  Simon Whitfield served as an all-star lifeguard as he paddled over and asked if I was ok... Insult to injury!
Pre-Race...Feeling good.  
I finally made it to transition and realized I had a decision to make.  Would I quit the race less than an hour in?  Was I going to waste all of my fitness and speed by crying Uncle?  How much damage could I do on the bike/run now that the swim was over?  I decided to give the bike a shot and see what I could do.  It's a long day and I've got the legs to make it a good one... or so I thought.  I took off on the bike and put my head down in pursuit of the lead group.  The first 5 miles were very cold and I had trouble settling into my position with the soreness from the swim.  My heart rate wouldn't get up as I stayed tense to fight against the cold and protect my ribs.  Each breath was painful and the cold that I had anticipated dulling the pain turned into my worst enemy.

The next 50 miles were a terrible war between my competitive spirit and my rational mind.  I knew I was doing myself no favors by pushing on as my back and hips started to ache with my altered position.  Each minute that went by was agony between my body rebelling and my mind torn in two about what to do about it.  By the time I hit the end of the first lap, I knew my day was done.  I was cramping in my ribs, hips, and calves.  My heart rate was barely 130 and I was losing heat at a rapid rate.  I was compensating my pedal stroke continuously to try to find power and it was very simply a downward spiral.  Despite coming through in 2:20 and potentially still within my sub 8:30 goal, there was no way I was going to escape the day without doing some serious damage to my body.  Fighting through the small problem of my cracked ribs created a cascade of issues that could have potentially ended my season or worse.
Ten seconds before pulling out...
With my tail between my legs I pulled over and turned in my chip.  I showered, stretched, and really examined just what had happened.  Looking back, I should have known that only being able to swim 1k/workout was a very bad warning sign going into the race.  A pre-race routine of Valtaren gel is not something that should be done.  I know my body enough to know when something isn't right, but I had to give it a shot.  It's a tribute to the BlueSeventy Helix that I was able to swim a 50 min swim with basically one arm and an awkward kick.  I didn't have issues on the bike/run in training, but then again I wasn't swimming hard beforehand or training in body-tensing cold weather.  The coach in me should have seen the signs but the athlete in me wouldn't have it.  I'm not upset that I gave it a shot but I sure wish I wouldn't have convinced myself so thoroughly that it was going to be my race to win.

In my last post, I stated that I had qualified for 70.3 worlds and was confident I could pull off a decent race post IM.  Now I know that won't happen.  My ribs are not something that I can fix with training or rehab, they just take time to heal.  I have withdrawn from the race and will hopefully be healthy and ready to go in 6 weeks for Ironman Chattanooga.  The sting of the DNF has been amplified by my inability to mix it up at the highest level when I know I have the ability to compete.  Racing is my job and simply participating in the race to check the box is not an option.  I've got unfinished business from this race, but it will have to wait until my ribs heal and I'm back to 100%.

Congratulations to everyone who was able to finish the race this past weekend.  I was able to watch the race day unfold and cheer on the other athletes who poured their heart and soul into the race.  I must admit it was difficult to watch the pro race unfold, but as the day wore on it was easier and easier to put my DNF behind me and support the athletes on the course.  By the time midnight came, I was more than inspired by the athletes that could do what I could not.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gearing up for Mt. Tremblant... X2!

It's race week for Ironman Mt. Tremblant, which means I've got the time/energy for a quick blog update.  It's been an interesting couple of weeks since winning Challenge New Albany and I'm looking forward to jumping into the wonderful world of long course racing.

Coming off of the New Albany race, I've been dealing with bruised ribs that came with my little mishap in T2.  It's the first time I've had bruised ribs, but jeez they aren't fun.  Luckily, I've been able to continue training as planned with the exception of the swim.  I'm 'super tapered' in the water, but still know I've got decades of background to keep me at the front of the race early... 
Good Mental Check
 For those of you who know me well, you know that the IM distance is where I feel my greatest ability can be found.  As much as I'd like to be a sprinter, I just can't go fast.  Luckily, I don't slow down too much and that's the name of the game with long course racing.  My body has been responding well to the longer training and my numbers are looking good for a great race day performance.  Based on the rankings and pre-race coverage, I have a few things to prove.  Nothing like coming in with a chip on my shoulder!

This season has been a series of adjustments and curve balls starting with the cancellation of the Rev3 Series and Sidney's birth.  I wouldn't say it has been the way I planned, but I've managed to pull out a bit of success and take the changes in stride.  One more curve ball can't hurt, right?  Well, I learned yesterday that I'll be on the start line for 70.3 World Champs (again up at Mt. Tremblant) just 3 short weeks after the Ironman.  It may sound crazy, but I'm excited for the opportunity.  Last time I raced in a quick turnaround from a long distance race, I walked away with a pretty convincing win at Rev3 Half Full... Stay tuned to find out if I can pull out a repeat performance!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Professional Triathlon and Prize Money

There has been a bit of talk lately about the state of professional long course triathlon and the level of prize money available.  Thanks to @therealstarky's recent 7th place campaign at IM Lake Placid, there has been a bit of dialogue about what direction our sport should take with regards to professional athletes who are not in the ITU/Olympic pipeline and supported (somewhat) by their national federations.  I've been asked by quite a few people of my opinion on the matter and thought I'd put down a few of my views here.

1.  "Professional Triathlete" is a very loose term.  I've had my elite card since 2007 and have only made a living wage from racing in the past two years.  Up until recently, I've had to supplement my income with coaching and other jobs.  The simple fact is that I was not good enough to earn what money was available between 2007 and 2012.  There was money to be had and a few athletes did very well, I just wasn't one of them.  I earned my 'pro' license, but that didn't entitle me to make a living from the sport.  I'm doing what I love and I knew what I got into when I chose to pursue racing full time.  Even now that I have gained some success in the sport, I know that the money is not a guarantee.

2.  I race as a profession, not a hobby.  When I enter a race and plan a season, it is a business decision.  Last year, I chose to race Rev3 exclusively because they had a more favorable pay structure.  The decision paid off with the series win and close to $40k between individual races and series bonuses.  If I had 'chased the dream' of Kona, I'd probably have 1/4 of the money and a $10k bill for trying travel to Hawaii.  Many professionals who bemoan the lack of prize money didn't enter one Rev3 race and now that prize money is gone... A similar example is my choice to race Challenge New Albany this weekend.  I won $5.5k for first place for under 4 hours of work while the winner at IM Lake Placid put himself through hell for over 8 hours to make only $5k.  Winning an IM race is a great accomplishment, but perhaps not good for business.

3.  There is prize money available.  In just over 2 weeks, I'll be in Canada racing for a part of a $125k prize purse.  If I win the race, I'll come away with $25k which is 5x more than Lake Placid.  This money breakdown has been known to every IM athlete since the beginning of the season.  Aside from the Kona Points, why would someone choose not to go after the big money?  The hard truth is if your product/performance is not good enough to compete in the market, you eventually go out of business.  Again, the money is not guaranteed, but it's hard to complain about not getting paid enough if you don't take advantage of the opportunities presented.  You can choose to sell umbrellas in the Sahara and complain or sell umbrellas in Seattle and make a living...

4.  It is difficult to quantify what a professional triathlete is worth.  I represent a few fine companies and am compensated for being a representative.  Do I get rich from them?  No, but I'm not making them rich either.  I work to cultivate a positive relationship where both sides win, but it is hard to quantify.  Professional triathletes provide examples of peak fitness and speed that inspire age group triathletes and provide benchmarks for the sport.  We promote products that work for us and help the companies we represent to grow their influence in the sport.  I grew up inspired by Olympic swimmers who made me work hard and dedicate my life to sport.  Their excellence and example should be rewarded and applauded.  My goal is to provide this same service to the up and coming athletes who are the future of the sport.  This is difficult to put a dollar figure on and even more difficult to determine who foots the bill!

5. I don't have an answer as to the best way to improve the prize money situation in long course triathlon.  With a limit of only a few good races per season and a terrible risk/reward curve, I do feel that many times the prize money is not adequate.  We as professional athletes do provide value to the sport despite the difficulty in quantifying our value.  I would love to be able to know that my bills are paid month after month as I bury myself in training for my next event.  I'm willing to race and plan for what is my best chance to make money in the sport and hope that I am successful.  I'm constantly looking for financial backers/sponsors/races that will help me achieve my goal.  If anyone has ideas on how to improve the current money environment of our sport, I'm more than willing to listen and do what I can to help.