I think expressing your thoughts and feelings plays an important role in maintaining good mental and physical health. This weekend will be the biggest race I have ever taken part in. To say that I am full of emotion and feeling is an understatement. So here’s my stab at trying to express what I am feeling:
The last time I raced this group of individuals was in St. George. As painful as it is to reflect back on that experience, I am glad it happened. I learned innumerable lessons there. The lessons started around 5:30 a.m. on our way to the swim start. I realized I had forgotten my adapter to air up my disc wheel. I immediately began to panic. I had let out a great deal of air from the tire the night before, so I knew there was no way I could ride them in the state they were in. I tried to reassure myself that someone would be willing to lend me theirs. As we were approaching the reservoir we came to a halt about 1 mile from the start. They were making us get out there. There were shuttles available, but the line was several hundred people long. I realized at this time I hadn’t given myself enough time. I panicked a bit more. It was already past 6 a.m. and I was still a mile away from my bike. I grabbed the stuff I needed and jogged the mile from the car to transition.
My entire race plan for the day revolved around shadowing a particular athlete in the race. I had no back-up plan. Once I got to transition I was franticly searching for a bike pump with a disc wheel adapter. I finally found one and was able to air the tire up. Unfortunately, during this time, the athlete I had planned on shadowing had already left for the water. I began to feel a bit lost. My plan for the race was not going to happen; there would be no way I could find the athlete on the start line, as everyone looks the same in a wetsuit and swim cap. I said my goodbyes to my family and entered the water. About 200m into the swim start, I felt something on my head and over my goggles. I thought it was a piece of seaweed. I brought my hand close to my head to knock it off. Suddenly, my goggles were about 5 feet in front of me. I couldn’t believe it. I had knocked my own goggles off! My only reaction was to stop, tread water, and put them back on my head. During this time I lost the feet I had been drafting. The remaining 1800 meters I swam by myself contemplating how poor things were going already.
Once out on the bike, I got a split to the leader from my girlfriend. We had agreed on a place for her to stand so I was expecting to see her. 5 minutes. I nearly got off my bike right there and packed it in. I was very embarrassed. I had been thinking about winning the race the night before, and now I am 5 minutes back only 27 minutes into the race. At this point I began to sulk and feel sorry for myself. I tried my best to continue to stick to the race plan. 340 watts on the bike. The course was quite hilly. I had taken the necessary preparations beforehand and had put on a 55 tooth chain ring so that I would be able to continue to push my desired wattage on the downs. When I put the disc wheel on the night before, the gears were way off. I tried to adjust it myself and thought I had done an adequate job. Once I hit the first downhill I realized I could not use my biggest gear. Being a grinder, this was my worst nightmare. I was having major difficulty holding my power, as the first 40k or so was a net-downhill. It was around this point where I began to feel very flat and unrhythmic. I had pushed 336w for 90k in 2 hours and 6 minutes in practice three weeks prior, but this day I was already struggling 20 minutes in. Even today as I am writing this, it is difficult to tease apart how much of that feeling was due to my state of mind at the time, and how much was due to the training and taper I had done going into the race.
At this point I had taken one gel and a few sips of eLoad. Quickly I realized that I was not going to be able to hold the wattage I had intended, so I decided to just put out a good effort. At that time “a good effort” was about 320 watts, and this only decreased as the race went on. Around mile 25 my coach Barrie Shepley gave me a time update to the leaders: 6 minutes. Wow. I was giving up significant time to the leaders on the bike. The embarrassment was becoming terrible at this point. My coach had driven all the way from Tucson to watch me have my big race. I was about to be made to look like a fool. It was at this point that I stopped eating and drinking. I’m still not sure why, but at this point I had lost any semblance of rationality. I just wanted to quit. Unfortunately, a very challenging half-marathon awaited.
I got off the bike and my girlfriend informed me that I was over 8 minutes down from the leaders. The night before she asked me what I wanted her to yell at me at that moment. I told her: “This is your moment!” She stuck to the plan and yelled this at me. This made me sad. We both knew that this was not going to be my moment. I entered the run course beginning to bonk, with no motivation, wanting to go hide somewhere. I knew my friends and family back home were watching. I felt that I had let them down. It was difficult to look my coach in the eye when I passed him at the 5k mark. The embarrassment stung. I ran the rest of the race sulking and feeling sorry for myself. I crossed the finish line and felt no joy whatsoever. In fact, at that very moment, I wanted to quit triathlon. It was at this moment that Trevor Wurtele came over and introduced himself. I had never met Trevor before, but have followed his race results closely and have always wanted to. Unfortunately, the last thing I wanted to do at this moment was talk; I wanted to be alone. We spoke for a few seconds and I left at the first opportunity. A great opportunity to chat and connect with an Ironman champion, lost. I went and found a shady spot and sat with my girlfriend. There wasn’t much said. She knew exactly how I was feeling, and I think she felt it too. From start to finish it was an awful experience.
In the days after this race a lot of soul searching was done. I woke up the next morning and went for a run with my mom though the desert of St. George. It was during this run where I began to recall why I got into triathlon. Forgive me for a better word, but I was in a shitty head-space. I was looking for something that I could focus on that would help to renew my self-esteem, self-confidence, motivation and discipline. Ironman Louisville 2010 served this purpose perfectly. But, here I was three and a half years later feeling worthless, confidence shattered and motivation hovering around zero, due to the result of a triathlon. It was at this point that I discovered I had lost my way.
During Muskoka 70.3 2013 I was still in a good head space. I recall on the bike singing out loud and laughing out loud on several occasions. “I am racing Andreas Raelert! This is so frickin’ cool!” For whatever reason, things changed after that race. I began to put a lot of pressure on myself. I didn’t realize it as it was happening. Perhaps I blew the success of that race out of proportion in my own head. After that race I thought I was ready to compete against the best in the world. One thing that happened in St. George was that I got a good reality check.
One of those realities was that I have many lessons to learn. Small, seemingly trivial lessons like giving yourself enough time before the race, and not forgetting your disc wheel adapter. As well as slightly larger, more overarching lessons regarding training and tapering. But the most fundamental and important lesson I learned there was that you create your own reality. Said another way, you create your own state of mind, which then directly effects how you view your reality.
I had the honour of being in the same race as Jan Frodeno and Sebastien Kienle. I had a poster hanging on the wall of Frodeno when I was training for Louisville. I currently have a poster of Kienle hanging on the wall! Does that not sound like reason to celebrate? Does that not sound like a great reason to cross the finish line with joy in your heart? Instead, because reality did not meet my current expectations, I decided to sulk and feel sorry for myself. I’m certain I could have went up to Frodeno and congratulated him on a great race; tried to share in his joy. Instead I got as far away from the race, as fast as I could. This is unfortunate, and another great opportunity missed.
Before and during that race I was putting far too much pressure on myself. An unrealistic amount of pressure. As well, I was taking myself too seriously. What happened to singing and laugh out loud on the bike? Where had that joy gone? I had lost sight of what triathlon really is. It’s a sport. Sports can be fun, sports can be exciting, and sports can do great things for your mental and physical health. But, like anything, you can develop a maladaptation to sport. At that time I was taking triathlon too seriously. All I wanted was to win. Competition is great, in healthy form. When you are so competitive that losing makes you feel inadequate as a human being, then you’ve got yourself a problem.
After St. George I began applying the many lessons I had learned. I refocused and began to cultivate the attitude that triathlon is about having fun, even if you are competing in the professional ranks. The moment it is no longer fun, is the moment that I will stop doing triathlon. This attitude, coupled with the lessons I learned with regards to training and tapering began to translate into the performances I was after. A second in Raleigh was awesome. But once again, lots of lessons were learned. A second in Syracuse was sweet too, but there were still aspects of the game that I had not thought about. I still was failing to dot the ‘I’s and cross the ‘T’s. In Muncie, everything finally came together. My confidence started to build that I was beginning to get a sense of what worked, and I took that into Racine and Steelhead. I think the most important aspect behind all of these races was that I went into them with a good attitude. Every time all I wanted to do was give it my best. In Syracuse, I came off the bike nearly 12 minutes down to the leader, but this didn’t bother me all that much; I immediately refocused and set out to see what I could do on the run.
I have learned hundreds of lessons this season. Things have gone better than I would have ever imagined. The season could end now, and I think it would have been a great success. I am hungrier than ever to train over the winter; particularly in the swim. So on Sunday I have only one goal: I want to enjoy the race. What does that mean? It means: I want to celebrate the fact that I have use of my legs and arms. I want to celebrate the fact that I am of sound mind. I want to deeply acknowledge the fact that I am racing the very best the world has to offer. If you wanted to compete against a better field you would have to go to a different planet. I want to feel the joy that I felt at Muskoka 70.3. I want to sing and laugh out loud on the bike. I want to give thanks for having the privilege of pushing my physical limits. Most of all, I want to cross the finish line completely spent and think: “man was that ever fun!” If I am able to do this then I will have had my redemption from St. George.
As always, I must give a sincere thanks to my sponsors. Without you I would not be able to pursue what I love and learn the valuable lessons I have mentioned above. I must thank my friends and family for always being supportive and encouraging. Finally, the biggest thanks goes out to my girlfriend Erin who is always there for me. She reminded me that I was still me after St. George, nothing had changed. For that I am very grateful.