Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Test

With 2019 being my first non-Ironman year in three seasons I expected to face some challenges in terms of training focus and goal-setting this year. There's nothing that simultaneously inspires me and crushes my dreams quite like Ironman does. But the emotional, financial and time commitment is not sustainable year after year. 

After another tough day in Mont Tremblant last year I knew that I needed to step away and find motivation in other challenges. I genuinely enjoyed every bit of the training and appreciated the experience of race day, but I simply couldn’t fathom ever working so hard and suffering so much again, to walk another marathon.

However, I also knew that my last non-IM year in 2016 ended abruptly with injury and burnout less than half way through the summer – issues that have often plagued me when racing shorter distances and I was dismayed to realize I hadn’t overcome yet. I want to have a successful and meaningful year of racing, not just an "in-between" year putting my biggest goals on the shelf. In order to do that I would have to seek out some exciting new challenges and also reframe my approach to training to stay healthy and motivated.

My biggest goal for 2019 is simple: focus on the process. Enjoy the physical and mental challenges of every workout, appreciate the structure and purpose that daily training provides, and challenge my perceived limits in a bunch of different race disciplines.

My first race on the calendar was Around the Bay 30k. With a refreshed mindset I had a great winter of training in all disciplines. Based on my run workouts I was aiming to go 4-6 minutes faster than my previous ATB time of 1:58 in 2015. Florida Camp was going to put the finishing touches on a great build, but it culminated in a 10 mile walk around the Orange Grove with severe Achilles pain – on a day that I planned to run a minimum of 26.2 miles.

Evidently, it’s easy to enjoy the process when everything is going perfectly.

A week after camp I was still in pain and I watched my chance at a breakthrough result slip away, missing week after week of key long runs. But after a few days of moping I reminded myself: focus on the process. The purpose of this race was to help keep me motivated through the winter and bank a quality race effort to kick start my spring season. If I was smart about managing the Achilles I could still accomplish that. So two weeks out from the race I took the entire week off running.

Race week came and I was able to resume my usual pre-race runs pain-free. After a follow up with my physiotherapist I was sufficiently confident that I could start the race without risking further injury or setback. Coach James’ goal for me was to enjoy a fun long run with the intention of dropping at 20k and catching a relay bus back. But I can admit now that I was pretty set on getting the full distance in if everything felt good. My new challenge was to get through a tough 30k course pain free, having maxed out my long run at 21k over a month prior.

I managed to connect with a few LPC teammates before the race to get an idea of who I might be able to run with to make things more enjoyable. I figured if I couldn’t focus on my own time goal maybe I could help someone else with theirs. My Hurdle Project teammate Katie Peach was aiming for a big PB and her goal pace worked out perfectly for what I hoped to accomplish. Another LPCer Sean Henderson was also going to join us for the first half as part of his build for IM Texas, before negative splitting for a big marathon day.

It turned out to be an extremely rewarding race, accomplishing my process goals and having fun as a pacer for the first time. In fact maybe I'll just start pacing instead of racing myself! Katie and I managed to nail our goal 10k (44:30) and 20k (1:30:00) splits to the second. I could tell she was starting to hurt through the challenging final 10k and even though I was trying to play it cool as a good pacer my quads were totally smashed by 25k with the lack of training miles. But I focused on "doing my job" as a good teammate and Katie hung tough for a huge PB of 2:17 and change.

I didn't get the chance to rip a new PB of my own but it was a different kind of challenge to get through the full distance with a less than ideal build-up. And playing a very small part in helping a teammate have a great race added a huge amount of purpose and enjoyment to my own experience. My Achilles held up well too so I’ll continue to manage it (ie. no more 30k races on minimal training) and look forward to building on a fun start to the 2019 season.

So I guess I passed the first test (of many to be sure) of my focus on enjoying the process and not letting the outcome of races dictate the success of my season. The reality is that injuries happen and not every race can be a new PB. But that’s all part of the process and it all needs to be embraced just as much as the big performances and epic days. Maybe (BIG maybe), if I can continue to apply that mindset, I’ll be ready to try an Ironman again someday :)