2017 Year in Review
2017 was a complete rollercoaster ride of year. If you've read the Triathlon Magazine Article titled: "Pitfalls and Persistence on the Way to Penticton Article", this is basically the expanded version of that with all the details (many many details, it's long - sorry). It's basically Chapter 1 of the future book I'm writing lol. Really, because the content of this recap spans over posts from two different blogs, my old site and this new one, I thought it would be good to have the whole story of the year told in one place especially in case people didn't see content from the old site.
The Highlights (and lowlights) of 2017
2017 started off very well. I was coming off a solid performance in my first 70.3 race in November 2016 in Miami. A performance that got me the win for my AG at the USA National AG Championships and 6th Overall, and qualified me to compete for the ITU World Long Course Championships to be held in Penticton in August 2017.
I built my entire year around Penticton, and the training started early in December of 2016. It's fun looking back to email proposals I sent to companies inquiring about potential sponsorship opportunities. In the emails, it maybe came across as arrogance at the time, I don't know, I said that my goal in 2017 was not to just be on the podium for my age-group at the World Championship, but instead that my goal was to go to Penticton and win the overall AG race. A big statement by someone who only just competed in his first long course triathlon, but I was 100% confident that if I lined up in Penticton healthy, there would be no one out there who could beat me since with a 30km run I had more than enough time to put major distance into my competitors. Being healthy though was for sure the key. Many companies turned me down, but I have to really thank Harry Walker from Revolver Wheels. He answered my emails and really believed in me and supported me to go after my goal, and I was given the opportunity to ride the fastest disc, proven to be faster than all in the wind tunnel and on the road in the Rio Olympics, the Asymm FWS 240, I was ecstatic.
So training was underway in pursuit of that goal. Through Jan-March I put up some very big weeks, and was slowly building my run volume. As March came around, I was felt like I was in the best shape of my life. But then I hit my first hurdle of the year. Out for a run, near the end of a nice easy recovery week, I felt some tightness in my left lower back. At the time, being so early into the run, I thought I probably just slept funny and it would loosen up. But it didn't and by the time I returned back home I couldn't stand up straight. I felt like a couldn't breath without searing pain in my back. Essentially every minute of the next week, I spent with an ice pack or heat pad on my back, and was very upset. I thought how can training be going so well, and then of all the weeks, on a recovery week, my left lower back (facet joint issue), which first started becoming an issue in Feb 2015, decides its time to throw a wrench into things.
After about 10 days of ice, heat, massage, and a break from running, I was back on the road running. And by the end of that week I was feeling back in good form and had no pain. I thought thank goodness just a minor scare, now time to move on. On the Sunday, feeling back to normal, I did my usual brick, but close to the end of that run I felt some tightness in my right hip. I didn't think too too much of it at the time, being really near the very end of what was a fantastic brick session, but iced anyways just in case and felt fine afterwards. The next morning on my very easy run, the tightness was now a strong harsh pinching feeling and after about 15 minutes pulled the plug on the run. I normally don't stop a run once I've started but I have had similar pain before in that hip, and this didn't feel right at all. It didn't feel muscular, it felt more internal and I was scared something was seriously wrong. The next day I couldn't walk. A Sports Medicine doctor suggested an illiosoas strain, but that didn't make too much sense to me based on the symptoms and that I could resist straight leg hip flexion with full strength. It had to be something else so I went to see another specialist who immediately figured there was something else going on given that there was 5.5 cm difference in circumference between the right injured leg's thigh and the left leg's thigh, and this was only a couple weeks after the flare up of whatever the problem was. The doctor figured something else was up in the joint itself with the degree of atrophy, and suggested physiotherapy until the MRI which would unfortunately be done in like 3 months (what a system), and I was on my way. Physiotherapy wasn't helping at all, and the pain continued for months. I started doing my own thing, and followed the Fowler-Kennedy Protocol for FAI (that's what I believed it was) and as my first race on the calendar neared I got a false sense of confidence when the pain at rest and when walking was now gone. I started to do a little walk-run training again, and felt like I could probably still race. I thought that even though there was basically zero run mileage, my swim and bike had become so strong in the interim that I wouldn't even have to run particularly well to still end up with a good race in Wisconsin 70.3.
So I went off to Wisconsin, and on race day, in addition to being unsure whether I would even be able to run off the bike period, the conditions were now posing their own challenge. It was going to be around 43C with the humidex. In Thornhill, the temperature was not even half that so early in the year, and I had done absolutely zero heat acclimatization training leading into the race because this was so unexpected. But I blasted through the swim, and entered the overall lead on the bike at about the 10km mark.
I kept that lead all the way to about 60km when my chain dropped (for the second time at that point - a bad tactical mistake on my part putting on a new chain about a week before the race since the old chain and chainring had worn together), and was passed by one competitor. From there things took a major turn. I had already run out of fluids, and there weren't any more aid stations. I went almost the entire last hour of the bike not taking a sip of anything and was dripping in sweat. I started the run still in 2nd place overall, but as you maybe know from my post race recap from the old blog things didn't go well. By 2km I had stopped running due to severe pain in my hip, and by 8km I stopped entirely for more than 20 minutes. I was on the side of the road receiving medical attention, and just as I was about to throw in the towel and get a ride back from the ambulance to the start, I said I would try walking some of the way to at least the next aid station. The reason I'm going into so much detail even though I've already discussed this in previous posts, and not to sound too dramatic or anything, but this is a moment I will never forget for the rest of my life. I got up off that curb and started walking. My hip felt like it literally couldn't support my weight, my hamstring (which has been an issue since Miami of 2016) was begging me to stop, and I was so absolutely drained from the extreme heat (with heat exhaustion), but somehow I slowly started running. By slowly I mean I ran a 3:49, followed by 3:55, and another 3:55 km after that. I'm not entirely sure how I was running like that at that point, maybe it was anger fuelling me, maybe I was just that delirious from the heat, or just that the thought of quitting sickens me to my stomach and in my mind giving up was never an option in the first place. I started this race and whatever it took, I was going to finish it. I thought if you DNF even just this once, it will always become an option, not just on the race course but in life. Our minds are very protective and will automatically seek out the path of least resistance, I thought it was better that it didn't know that this path existed so I kept going. I was crying from the severe pain the entire way, and competitors looked in disbelief as I came streaking past after seeing me at the side of the road looking and feeling like near death. Even though it wasn't an impressive time with almost 30 minutes of stops, I think it really showed true toughness, perseverance, and set me up to be able to deal with anything going forwards. I will always remember that one moment of putting my chip back around my ankle and starting on my way again, and what I repeated over and over to myself for the remaining 13km of the run, "Never Ever Give Up." -- The Pictures are from approaching the finish line I was in alot alot of pain but raised my arms cause I think making it there took a lot of willpower and strength.
Even though looking back on that race now, I'm very proud of myself for finishing, at the time sitting in the grass after the race, I felt physically and emotionally broken. All that work and I got absolutely nothing to show for it. I felt embarrassed with my time, and just had no idea how I could possibly recover mentally let alone physically to start training hard again with Penticton about 10 weeks away. Of course, getting on the podium even with all the stops for my age group earning me a spot to the World Championships in Chattanooga, along with my usual post-race bag of Skittles (one of my favourite post-race treats on the planet - cough cough Sponsor me please cough cough) made me feel slightly better, but still it was going to be a deep pit to climb out of.
I returned home and after a few days of being very depressed and upset, it was time to at least get back outside and stretch my legs out. Sitting in the basement on my indoor trainer just seemed too depressing as a way of starting up again, so I ventured outside to try to have a little bit of fun. Saddled up and was off. The first 30 minutes was tough, but as time past my legs were starting to feel a little better, and I felt happy to get out and enjoy the day riding my bike. But with 1km to go in the ride literally within sight of my house, some fool decided to make an illegal u-turn right in front of me while I was going about 35km/hr, and I had zero time to dodge out of the way or stop in time. He hit me hard, and then despite me screaming at the top of my lungs to stop continued driving since he was obviously not paying any attention. Me and Elektra were now about 3/4 of the way under his car and finally he came to a stop and got out to see what was going on. My goodness he was lucky that all my focus was fixed solely on my beautiful bike Elektra that had been smushed and who's frame was cracked, and that my hand hurt so much that making a fist would've really hurt. The first thing the fire truck and ambulance team said when they arrived on the scene was, "Other than the fact that you (me) look like the angriest person in the world right now, how are you physically." One bystander, who also happened to be a doctor, helped a little since she immediately could tell I was really shaken and just tried to calm down, until my Mom came on the scene and I thought now I would have to step in between her and the driver lol. With my bike totalled, my hand throbbing in pain, and then a headache that last about 3-4 days, my anger/frustration was on another level. Not too long after, I received the results from my MRI which showed a full thickness labral tear, damage/significant thinning of the articular cartilage in the joint, and narrowing of the bone marrow in the femur. I hit rock bottom. I thought Penticton was absolutely off, I thought surgery was for sure on the table, and earning my pro card this year was definitely not going to happen. I thought I made the worst decision of my life here, choosing to postpone my physiotherapy career in pursuit of this dream.
But going back to my message of this entire post: Never ever give up. Some hope and drive came back when Sheryl connected me with another triathlete, Jennifer, who let me burrow her P5 for training until I was able to get a replacement for my bike. It was so incredibly generous of her and I cannot thank you enough. We literally had never even met before and here she was letting me burrow her superbike P5. I went off to Welland Long Course Swim Bike really to just take my mind off things. My hand still really hurt when swimming, but was determined that when I got onto that P5 on that flat bike course I was going to use this built up anger and frustration to just drive those pedals through the ground. I smashed my old PR on the course and won by more than six minutes over some very good competition (James, who went on to also have a remarkable season setting the World 6Hr TT Record). Soon after we got back we got the news that TD Insurance was going to cover the entire cost for a new bike and make sure that I was set up in time for my next race in Racine 70.3. Calling almost every cervelo dealer in Canada and in the states, I wasn't able to track down a P3 frameset in my size (I was just looking for a frameset at this time because nothing I had on Elektra in terms of components was stock anyways). I let the insurance know that my plan was to go ahead and buy a P5 frameset that I was able to track down in my size and that I would pay the difference. But insurance once again said don't worry about any costs and that they would take care of everything. Dorothea, the agent at TD who helped organize everything, was incredibly helpful and supportive, thank you so much. So I built piece by piece the superbike of my dreams, Victoria, representing Victory as well as the powerful Queen Victoria. Everything slowly started coming in, and on the Wednesday before Racine the bike was built and fitted to me by EnduroSport Leaside. She was just beautiful. Even though I hadn't ridden the bike outside yet, just looking at it made me excited and got my adrenaline pumping and I decided to race with her.
We arrived in Racine, and completely opposite to Madison about 5 weeks earlier, we were greeted by strong winds, and frigid water temperatures. But to keep some continuity from Madison to Racine the roads were horrible, literally knocking my aerobars out of alignment the day before the race. The race turned into a bike-run as the water temperatures were 48F on race morning, and we did a time trial start. It made for a congested mess on the bike course, but even with the very strong winds on the day and once again no water for the final hour of the bike after one of my bottles was ejected from its cage thanks to the brutal roads, I set a PR for the 70.3 bike course on only the third ride ever on her majesty (a bike with a very very different fit and feel than Elektra).
Once again I was unsure of the run since I literally hadn't taken single stride since Wisconsin, but had a tiny bit more confidence since on the Friday before the race on Sunday, the surgeon called me and told me that based on x-rays taken of my hips, the surgery to fix the labrum wouldn't be worth it since it is a massive and painful surgery (they would reshape the hip bone essentially) and with no guarantees post-surgery you would only want to do it if you absolutely had to. He said that the running wouldn't cause more damage than was already there to the labrum so gave me the green light to at least give the run a try. I took it very easy and relaxed to start, after the lesson I learned in Wisconsin when I started at 3:30/km pace for first few kms letting my legs run how they maybe thought they should be running. It was the most relaxed I've ever felt during a race on that run in Racine and was ticking off one km after another running much faster than the level of calmness on my face would suggest, another lesson I would take forwards - Relaxed mentally means relaxed muscles and fast running. I finished in 3:41 with a swim it would've been under 4:10 maybe 4:08 with T1 (a PR), and the hip was pretty darn good for the majority of the run. Really the only problem on the run was the pesky hamstring that keeps doing its thing to this day, and the general lack of running going into the race meant on the final few downhills my quads, calfs, back everything felt a massive amount of soreness/fatigue. In fact, hands down Racine was and still is the most sore I've ever been post race, and on the 12 hour drive home the next day I got alot of strange looks when me young apparently fit looking person hobbled very very slowly and gingerly into each of the Starbucks on the way home for coffee breaks. It was a little embarrassing to say the least getting the stares as I tried to contort myself into and out of the car.
But with Racine in the books, the hip withstanding the run well, and the new bike being and absolute monster things were looking up and with 5 weeks to go until Penticton I was very motivated to put in a real solid block of uninterrupted training. Before Penticton I had two more races, the Swim-bike at the K-Town long course triathlon, and the Embrace Open Water 3km Swim. I got the wins in both by very big margins, and in the 3km Swim, which would be the same distance as the swim in Penticton, I set a massive PB of 39:10 (1:18/100m average). I continued training hard leading into Penticton on the swim and bike, but really the main focus was just very carefully building a little bit of time on my feet for the run. In Racine, while the hip felt good, with all my muscles starting to shut down in the final 5km of that run due to the complete absence of any run training going into the race, I knew I would have to do a little bit of running heading into Penticton to build up my run specific muscular endurance. If things starting shutting down at about the same point, it would mean instead of there being only 5km left which could be grinded out no matter how much I was hurting, in Penticton there would still be another 14km since it is a 30km run instead of 21.1km. I'm not sure I could've done another 14km with the condition my body was in 16km into Racine, so I started running. Also before Racine, I was skipping with a jump rope like a fiend for about 5 weeks instead of running since it didn't hurt my hip, and I thought it would help replicate the impact to a degree to help delay feeling the lack of true run mileage during the race. However, while I think the skipping helped a little, the impact and muscle recruitment in the vertical jump of a skip was not enough to fully replicate the impact of running where there is obviously a horizontal translation, and you get muscles concentrically and eccentrically contracting as you accelerate pushing off and decelerate before landing. So skipping was out, running was back.
I built the running back up successfully and was ready to go. For my full report on Penticton you can check it out here: http://franksorbara-marathoner.blogspot.ca/2017/08/itu-worlds-penticton-long-course-recap.html. Basically to sum things up it was a solid swim, a methodical bike creating major gaps on the field on the 4 big climbs of the course (putting out about 6 W/kg for each of the 8-10 minute long climbs something I planned for in training), and holding steady with competitors and staying within myself on the flats to set me up to get to the run alive and in one piece.
With a 30km run on the table, on a very hot day, that was where I figured I could get to the front and distance the field. To me, after Wisconsin's brutal heat, and coming from southern Ontario where hot to me is 100% humidity, the dry heat in Penticton didn't phase me very much at all. I worked through the first 5km fast but stayed relaxed like I learned in Racine, and caught the lead at 8km. At about 11km I slowly pulled away with the slightest ramp up in pace, and as I entered the final 10km lap of the 30km, I had a good size lead. I've always said I run very well from the front. The running scared mentality really drives me. I feed off of it. At 24km I was hurting, but there was no stopping me now. I had the World Championship in my sights, and after what I went through to get to that point, there was nothing, no pain, no cramp, no stitch that was going to bring me down. I thought back to Wisconsin, and repeated again: Never Ever Give Up. As I neared the finish line I grabbed a Canada flag, wrapped it around myself and screamed in joy and let out all the emotion that had built up over the year.I crossed the line as the World Champion, and collapsed in a heap of pure happiness. The win earned me my pro card for the 2018 season which I'm taking, I grabbed my post-race skittles, and then off the awards to collect my gold medal. It was an unforgettable, life-changing experience.
In case you think I'm joking about me eating Skittles, a picture my mom took after the race in Penticton. It's something that always goes on the pre-race checklist, lol. I think she took a picture since post big race I give myself 24-hours to eat to my heart's content so you get to see some rare things with my normal diet being very very strict.
From Penticton, I moved on to the Ironman Worlds in Chattanooga only 2 weeks later, and had another solid performance. I pounded the climb up Lookout Mountain, and then on the run ran through the field again to finish as the Top Canadian Age grouper.
Chattanooga was an incredible experience as well and you can read about that here: http://franksorbara-marathoner.blogspot.ca/2017/09/ironman-703-world-championships.html. I have never experienced any race, triathlon or road running, where the city and community embraced a race so much. Every inch of that run course was lined with spectators, it was exhilarating.
After Chattanooga, despite another set back on the running front, I pulled things together just in time for Miami 70.3 where I finished 9th overall in a field with close to 50 pros on the startlist, 2nd Overall Age grouper (2nd to a competitor who will also be competing pro next year).
To read the full recap on that one you can check it out here: https://www.franksorbaratriathlete.com/single-post/2017/10/25/Ironman-Miami-703-Recap. Going with the theme of the season it was also a very wild race with its fair share of challenges, but pulled through because I kept fighting all the way until the end.
I learned so much from 2017. From the lessons I learned about training in the swim and bike, to finally realizing that to run well in triathlon putting in the massive run mileage like I did when I was competing solely in distance running isn't really necessary. This year, with the long break from running from the end of March basically to the end of July, I really ran very little mileage overall and yet still ran well in Penticton, Chattanooga, and relatively well given the unbelievable heat in Miami. Obviously, being forced by injury to run low mileage isn't ideal, but if low mileage and hopefully consistent mileage with good quality is the answer to being successful as a pro I'm game. Going forwards into 2018, I'm continuing to learn more and more about how these three sports swim, bike, and run can really impact one another and finding the right balance of things. Remember, this was only my first full season competing as a triathlete since at the beginning of 2016 all the way until April of 2016 I was a runner and that was all. It wasn't until a brutal knee problem in April of that year when my training started to shift more and more towards triathlon. So really I've been going at it for a solid 18 months or so, so for sure I'm still learning things everyday on how to be the best triathlete I can be. I'm so excited to continue working to solve this puzzle, and I am beyond pumped to get 2018 underway. I have some very big goals for the year, and my schedule is pretty much set for the first half of the year. Because this is already such a long post I'll let you all know the schedule for 2018 in my next post which will be very soon after this one. Also I'll update everyone on how training has been going, not to give things away completely but December was an epic month of training and feeling great.
Anyways so that's a wrap on the year. Before I let you finally go a quick list of some stats from the year:
Swim Mileage: 1140km (averages out to 22km per week). Biggest week: 31km
Bike Mileage: 22400 (430km/week average); Longest Ride: 200km
Run Mileage: 2261. I had about 14 weeks where the mileage was 0 (and a few where is was like 5 or something from testing things out), but for remaining 38 weeks where some run was logged it is an average of 60km per week, with the all 52 weeks including injury would be 43km week. Biggest Month: February - 360km.
Total Time Training including strength training: 1288 hours - 25 hour per week average, 3.6 hours per day
Days Off: 15
Calories Burned: 825,000 (average of 2252 per day from just exercise); that is equivalent to 235 lbs of energy
Last but not least thanks you to all my sponsors Skechers Performance Canada, Revolver Wheels, Infinit Nutrition, Rudy Project, Zone3, and Compressport. Also thank you to my whole family for being so helpful and supportive, especially my parents, and thank you so much to my amazing coach Sheryl couldn't have done any of this without any of you.