Reflecting on the First Half of the Season
In order to reflect back on the first half of 2019, I need to first go back to late 2018 since that is when I started laying the groundwork for the year. In September and October of 2018 things seemed to be clicking and I was finally starting to find my running legs again. Apart from the race results like a 1:09 half marathon (pictured on the right below), and a sub 15 minute 5km, it was really just the consistent mileage and some really fantastic workouts that made me feel like I could potentially start incorporating more running races into my normal triathlon schedule to hopefully earn some extra money.
Unfortunately after the Toronto Scotiabank Half Marathon, which was to be a tune-up race for R2H Marathon in early November where mid to high 2:2xs was on my mind, I got injured and then came down with the worst cold of my life lasting weeks on end. The injury was pretty bad but it was the cold that officially ended the year and kept me off the start line of two late season 70.3s I had planned about a month post R2H. However, having enjoyed the marathon training so much and starting to see some big gains the DNS at R2H wasn’t going to deter me from making a semi-comeback to marathon running. Many don’t know that when I started triathlon it was meant to be more a placeholder, something to keep me fit, while I worked through some injuries and eventually made my way back to full on marathon running. It was only after winning the 2017 Overall Amateur race at the World Championships where my priorities changed and shifted to triathlon. But having said that running has always been my passion, and although I’ve committed full time to seeing how far I can go in triathlon, I think it’s perfectly fine to still dabble in open marathon running from time to time. In the end, I figured A) I could make some extra money in some smaller races, and B) if anything it would just help me take my triathlon run to the next level. Being an all-rounder is pivotal in the pro ranks, but it doesn’t hurt to have a real dominant card to play in any one of the disciplines (look at Starky on the bike, or Lucy Charles in the swim, Anne Haug on the Run). My other thought is if I could get the pure run mileage quite high, when I then backed the mileage way down for triathlon training, my run legs would feel that much fresher for every run and workout at the much lower mileage, relatively speaking. So, that's a long-winded way of saying, I fully committed to and was on the Elite Start List for the Rock n’ Roll Washington DC Marathon. I ran quite a bit of base miles in December building nicely and with no issues starting at just 50km then to 70, 81, 93, 106, 120, 130. The game plan was to keep working my way up (eventually hitting 190-210km per week sometime in mid to late February) and eventually to start incorporating speed work again. If your thinking, holy smokes 190-210km, in the past I’ve never had any issue with big moderately paced mileage it is the pure speed work that has always killed me. I was pretty quiet about my intentions on social media, not ever actually announcing that this was the plan to go back after a marathon, maybe subconsciously I wasn’t sure, or deep down knew with my rich history of injuries over the past few years, that another was lurking. And yup, after those 7 weeks of base building I did a very easy first workout back of 4x5min tempo and not 6 days later on the week of Jan 7 went out for a run and my back suddenly went into full spasm and could barely move. I limped home, and the underlying injury (a L5-S1 sprain) put me out of running for 3 weeks (4 weeks until I ran outside again). The underlying issue behind all this, and it has been an issue for years, is not stabilizing correctly especially prevalent on my left side (it literally took me almost an entire month of treatments/coaching to finally help me to get any sort of activation of multifidus). In any case, what it meant is instead of using true core muscles TA, Multifidus, pelvic floor, diaphragm I rely heavily on the big boys the erector back muscles and six-pack muscles to do all the lifting. Especially so on erector muscles, for me they are like concrete. Not a word of a lie, in one dry needling session when one of my therapists put in the needle the muscle actually pushed the needle right back out (like Wolverine in X-men or something lol). So yes it may seem insane how a person possibly get injured so frequently, and in so many different places, but it’s not that hard to understand from a physio/osteo perspective thinking about the fact that if the base and the foundation of all your movements is your core, which you simply aren’t using properly if at all then for sure you will be highly susceptible to injury. I can trace both hips labral tears to this lack of core stability, several back injuries over the years, stress injuries, etc. It is really all connected, and then in reality with a weak foundation, whatever training you pile on top of it doesn’t really matter an injury will happen if its not addressed. Anyways so after the 3-week break, I wasn’t going to force a shortened marathon build so changed my whole season around and decided for now I won’t worry about doing these pure running races, instead I’ll start a tad later back into triathlon. First I committed fully to getting regular physiotherapy treatment. I connected with a great therapist and we went to work working on the teeny tinniest of movements, in order to build a strong foundation. Things were looking good, the back pain disappeared, and my hamstring was actually starting to come around. So Peru 70.3 was where I decided to start my season. Training was going well, I didn’t do any true speed workouts still in fear of getting injured, just some good solid mileage around 100km per week of running, and had faith that in Peru speed workouts or not the body would remember how to run moderately fast when called upon.
I went off Peru with a great mindset. I’ll admit there have been some financial pressures in the past year to make things work and although it’s not like that reality has entirely disappeared, this year I’ve tried to not let that trap me and force me into doing stupid things, trying to peak for every single race to make this race or that race the make or break race. That’s what I did last year in 2018 and really it just crippled me carrying such a heavy burden standing on the start line of every race thinking things like “this is it”, or “this is your make or break moment.” What it meant was when something happened like getting gapped on the swim or having a sub-par bike, I would instantly feel deflated, upset, and that put me into a negative mindset for the rest of the race. I would go home and basically train angry doing the classic too much too soon with not enough rest, and let me tell you it may work in the movies like Rocky or something but in reality training desperately doesn’t work, it just leaves you injured, not enjoying training and racing, and losing sight of why you got into endurance sports in the first place: to push your mind and body to its limits. So this year I had many discussions in my head (and sometimes out loud) to myself, and with my family, that this year I was not looking to peak in April. I also never said after any workout, or week of workouts, wow I’m in the best shape of my life. No instead I would say I’m on the way to being in the best shape of my life, and that I’m looking to be in peak form in the fall.
So with that, I went to Peru not in 100% peak shape having not done any run workouts, and with biking all of my workouts had been geared towards 5-minute power in Feb and March, and in April I had just started to work the 20 minute power meaning I hadn’t done a interval longer than 5 minutes all year (but having said that not a single interval was done under 365W, and many just purely anaerobic workouts with powers above 480W+ [into 500s]). So for Peru the mindset was really just let’s see how things are coming along, and get in a good baseline test. I also had the opportunity to meet some great people at the Takano Bike Store in Peru where I got to compete in a Zwift Race on their equipment live in store with people in off the street to see what Zwifting was all about. I’ve never felt so loose and relaxed but at the same time focused on a start line (Pic below from Peru: totatlly in the zone and focus on just me nothing else).
I focused on just giving a good solid effort start to finish. I had a very strong race going 3:57 (8th overall in a strong field) with a 25min and change swim, 2:09:30 bike, and then a solid 1:17 high half marathon on a hot little day (with the most intense sun I’ve ever experience – the UV was 11 I didn’t know it went up that high). One on my other huge takeaways from the race was that the hamstring (which has bugged me to say the least since November of 2016) was not an issue in any way, I believe thanks to all the core work and building a strong foundation, I had been doing under the guidance of the team at PhysioActive in Thornhill.
I left Peru super happy, and really excited for what was to come. Unfortunately, I think with Peru going so well I got a little carried away and caught up in it and all of a sudden I was now expecting something in Gulf Coast 70.3. My great and pure mindset seemed to go out the window and it meant my feelings on the start line of Gulf Coast were quite different. I was once again thinking about results and not the process and right when things starting not going my way I got demoralized and upset (Pic Below: coming out of water in GC - not at all happy about that swim)
It was an extremely rough swim, for sure the roughest water I’ve ever been in and basically every other pros I spoke with agreed (Matt Russell for example posted about it saying it was by far the roughest water he’d ever been in and the guy has been racing for many many years). To be honest I have no clue why Ironman put people into that water after the Coast Guard red flagged the beach due to massive swells, and the strong current cutting across the course. Especially given that only a couple weeks before two competitors died in Ironman South Africa in the rough conditions. I consider myself a pretty strong swimmer, and there were many times in there where I was legitimately scared and looking for a kayaker (didn’t really see any and that is the other problem, if you were in trouble in that water I’m not sure how someone would be there in time to help you or even see you in between the swells). My thing on it is safety is number one, and that water was not safe in any way – not too mention besides just the rough sea itself being dangerous if it causes you to stray far off course here we are in the Gulf of Mexico where there are some Marine life other then just Jellyfish that could be concerning. It’s funny that I think some people have this idea that oh now that it’s race day all the sharks in the area get the memo that Ironman have the permit for the course on Sunday morning so that morning they need to adjust there travel plans accordingly – in reality sharks hunt at dawn and at dusk, and are drawn to movement in the water, you bet they are around in some of these swims. Anyways I’m off on a tangent, sharks are just something that since I was little have not only always fascinated me (snakes as well), but also terrified me. Anyways it was an interesting swim to say the least swimming the exact same time as Matt Russell and never seeing each other the entire time we were in the water. Things went a little sideways on the bike, when I started getting some sciatic type pain making my right foot go completely numb by the turnaround at mile 28. All the work in physio we had been doing was doing great things for me, but I didn’t account for the unbelievable amount of driving (sitting) that we had to in Panama City Beach (staying well outside of the race area – we were 2.5 hours north of it) and I think with that and not a proper warm up at all getting to the start line just seconds before the gun I tweaked something in the rough sea. So the bike ended up being quite painful, and I wasn’t able to stay in aero long at all (Pic below: one of the few somewhat aero moments). I ended up biking a 2:10 and change (not actually that bad with lots of upright riding to relieve the back pain and 2 complete stops along the way - one from a traffic officer letting traffic cross an intersection right in front of me almost getting me t-boned [not good in a car, really not good on a bike], and then the valve cover for disc falling off and getting jammed in between the wheel and chainstay), and combined with the swim it left me in a rotten mood and well off the pack.
However, once again if I just stayed within myself and focused on my effort not on the outside result things may have gone very differently. Instead I got off the bike angry and disappointed and ran terribly for the first 14-15km. With the mood I was in I felt every ounce of the inseparable heat (the far end of the run course was over 100F) drowning myself in water/ice and Gatorade at every aid station. But it just shows you how much the mindset and mental game affects performance. Someone told me around kilometer 16 that I was in 12th place, and I just said to myself okay calm down that’s not too bad just focus on putting together the best last 5km you got left in you and whatever happens happens. Well all of a sudden a switch went off and suddenly it didn’t feel so hot, my back didn’t feel so tight and I start actually running. Running hard, catching and passing 11th, then 10th, then into 9th in the final few kilometers. If I had money to bet on it I’d say I probably had the fastest final 5km in the race. What’s interesting is compared to in the first 15km, I wasn’t grabbing anything at any of the aid stations anymore, I felt fine and that I didn’t need it, I just ran hard and how I should have been running from the start. Reality is if I got off the bike and didn’t get demoralized looking at the 12 bikes already in transition, and worrying about my result, and instead focused on just putting together the best half marathon I had in me, who knows maybe I could’ve been in 6th or better in the end (all I would’ve had to do is run basically the exact same run I executed in Peru a couple weeks earlier).
The thing is these are lessons I’ve drawn after having weeks to analyze and reflect on the day. In the moment, again I was angry and disappointed. I felt like it was 2018 all over again and I came back to Thornhill determined to PROVE myself, determined to show others what I could really do, instead of continuing to focus on taking it step by step, keeping the end goal in mind (being in the best shape of the year in the fall), and just being the best me I can be day in day out. I put a huge amount of pressure on myself, and what happened is well you guessed it: I completely lost focus made some bad decisions, and a string of bad performances followed. First I missed a turn at the Baden Duathlon (while I was in lead at the time) resulting in a DNF (I biked almost double the bike course). With that the frustration mounted further, the burden felt heavier, and it culminated with me pushing a little too aggressively doing a couple very very hard run workouts on already tired legs, and there you have it: injury. I lined up in Milton with my leg not feeling right, and lost. There were some mishaps in T1 that cost me a huge amount of time, but even so I should’ve been able to close the gap on the run with where in theory the run fitness was at the time, but the injury stopped me from pressing in some sections that I normally would’ve gone harder (on the downhills especially I was awfully hesitant and held back quite a bit). Milton was a bit of a turning point for me. I was very angry after the race, and in the car on the way home had a bit of a meltdown. I called my Mom, and remember basically yelling/crying about how I felt I was doing everything right, having the numbers I needed to win races and yet I still wasn’t winning. Something always seemed to go wrong, and I didn’t know what to do. Again I had just lost focus, lost that mindset I had earlier in the year, and that pure motive to just be here to test myself and push my limits. As she often does, my Mom calmed me down and we had a very “Frank” conversation about exactly what I’ve been talking about with the mental game and going in with a better more intrinsic based focus. When I was on the phone with my Mom the night before Milton, I had basically outlined in essay form all the reasons I felt I NEEDED to win and as she described sounded absolutely desperate to win. That meant lining up feeling way too much pressure for a race that quite frankly is meant to be a training day (especially with zero taper leading in and nothing really on the line). And here’s the thing something that an idol of mine Parker Stinton said in one of his recent videos that really stuck with me speaking about mindset and winning was that it’s okay to imagine yourself breaking the tape and winning, but afterwards in your head go back and think about how exactly you will execute that dream. So playing out every part of the race itself in your mind, or even the training in the days/weeks leading into a race to get that result. You don’t sit there and listing out a number of reasons why you need to win. It's more important to think about how you'll be able to get the most out of yourself on the day, and perhaps get a win with that, but it's the process that needs to be the focus not the result.
In June, although the leg pain progressed to a full-blown injury I’m proud of how I handled myself. In Waterloo, I lined up for a 10km running a 33 low (picture to the left) on a little long of a course and a very challenging hilly one (with bunch of turnarounds) – passing 10km in 32:45. I was very proud of this performance as I hadn’t run for about 2 weeks leading into the race, and on the day knew I wouldn’t be able to do the time of 31 and change I hoped for about a month earlier before the leg injury, but I just simply did the best I could on the day. In Mont Tremblant 70.3, I didn’t want the leg injury to worsen so I went to just do whatever I could, as best I could and that was all. I didn’t force things and just did the swim-bike, and had a great time on the bike course getting into a group for really the first time, and making a lot of big moves on the front and learned a lot about group dynamics (Pic Below: leading the train up Duplessis in Tremblant)
From there I went to Challenge San Gil where all my focus was back to just doing the best I could on the day, not position, not time, just doing my best. I felt the leg was ready to atleast try running so I put the shoes in transition and was ready to give it my all on the super challenging course at high altitude (really takes the breath away on the swim wow). Unfortunately, I must have caught some sort of stomach bug and the morning of the race (more like nighttime lol at 3am) I starting having major stomach troubles to put things delicately. That continued all the way to race time, and left me feeling absolutely ill on the start line. But again I kept saying to myself all race just do your best don’t worry about things. I didn’t have the power on the bike feeling just dreadful, and on the run I had to stop on numerous occasions to go to the washroom (literally just undressing at the side of the road because there weren’t any port-a-potties), but I could still move somewhat forwards so I continued to say just do your best and try to finish. I didn’t care at all about my time or place, it was just about running in the parts that I could, and doing whatever I could to get to the finish as quick as possible in the circumstances. Ended up 8th overall in the end. (pic below: on a lonely/ill feeling but beautiful bike ride in San Gil, the view overlooking the Ravine of Galindo was stunningly beautiful once at top of climb)
You may be saying based on this last section how is this in any way positive, it sounds like June was a bit of disaster with a planned DNF in Tremblant, and a poor result in San Gil having to walk/jog the run due to the stomach bug. Well thing is, it is the mindset that I’m proud of. Obviously the physical performances aren’t anywhere near my potential as an athlete, but in these last two races I re-captured that mental approach I took with me to Peru. All the focus was on my own effort, and I would just do as best I could on the day and that is what I’m going to take going forwards into the second half of the year. And ya if you saw me out on the run course in San Gil you’d know I was giving everything I could to finish as best I could in the circumstance. My run was more like a skip/limp due to extreme cramping on my left side thanks to likely extreme dehydration caused by stomach woes, and not being able to keep really anything down. And yet I kept going, and yes I’m unbelievably sore still a few days post race so it was not a great performance, not even a good one, but it was absolutely the best one I had on the day with the stomach problems.
So anyways what’s next, well this week I’m taking the week completely off training, I’ll do some pushups and boxing here or there to keep myself from losing my mind, I’ll play a bunch on guitar, and continue planning my second half to the year. In July and August this change I mentioned in a previous post on Instagram, is that I’ll be taking 5 weeks to work almost exclusively on my swim. I’ll be working again with Sheryl, and the game plan will be to work up to some crazy swim mileages with many two-a-days. To put into perspective what the mileage plan will be like, my biggest ever week of swimming was a 30km swim week, and next week the prep week just to prepare me to some degree for the volume coming will be a 35km swim week. The Why? Pretty simple my swim is not where I want it to be, I’m tired of getting dropped, and the swim is quite simply the easiest way to improve your bike (getting in a group), and therefore also your run. Why so much mileage, as I mentioned before in running, I’ve always thrived on very high volumes. Fact is not everyone thrives under the same approach, I know I get very strong and even injury resilient with big volume on the run (big mileage was all I used to do way back in the day, in the day where I rarely had any injuries), so I’m guessing/hoping the swim will be the same. And ya it may not seem like it to some but the last several years I've reduced my volume on swim/bike/run because a lot of people thought I was being crazy, and reality is I just got injured even more frequently. And that’s not to say I won’t listen to anybody I do value what some people say, this is why I’ve asked Sheryl someone highly skilled in training some very high level pure swimmers to help me get to the volume I want to be. And really in this case I’m literally being as objective as a person could be because all I’m looking at is the raw data, and the raw data indicates big volume and I have a good track record, low volume with high quality for me equals injury. So anyways if you’re looking for me this summer I’ll be at the outdoor pool here in Thornhill, working hard on the swim, and luckily with it being an outdoor pool getting a sweet tan at the same time (just gotta make sure we have some backstroke in there Sheryl so it’s even). I’ll announce what races I have in the second half of the year very soon. It is an exciting schedule I have planned (5 more 70.3s in the plans from September to December, with a month long training trip planned as well in there). Stay tuned for more and thanks so much for reading. And to close I'll just say the biggest thing I take from the first half of 2019 is mindset is everything. Just focus on giving your best effort on the day and you can never lose. (Pic Below: the focus and drive on the run course down in Peru)