“Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes the bar eats you.”
– The Stranger, The Big Lebowski
Backtrack to early February 2017. I had just finished what amounted to the single-best offseason of training in my career. I had not missed a workout – not a single session – in 12 consecutive weeks. And after a few down days of recovery, I was about to begin the transition into a more specific, race-preparation block of training. In a season where the Ironman 70.3 World Championship was set to take place in Chattanooga, Tennessee – merely a 2-hour drive from my hometown – the stars seemed to be aligning for a truly great season.
Then, over the course of one 24-hour period, the stars no longer aligned…
What seemed like a minor strain in my left hip that occurred while doing some seemingly harmless yard work turned into a torn muscle that took me out for 8 weeks. Then, in an admittedly risky attempt to get back to racing quickly, I suffered a compensatory injury on the right side of my hip, which required another 6 weeks of recovery. Finally, a more conservative, longer training block during the late summer started promising but succumbed to significant health problems and illness before I even could set my sights on fall races.
Just like that, the season has passed and I have virtually nothing to show for it. Thanks to my heart condition and associated health struggles, I have had periods of difficulty in virtually every season of my career. However, I never have had a season this fruitless and unsuccessful. The resulting outcome was incredibly difficult to comprehend, and the fact that it came off of such an amazing offseason only added to my frustration.
Where does that leave me? That’s actually quite a complex question. If I am being completely honest, I’ve thought long and hard about hanging up the racing flats. To pour your heart so heavily into a specific goal only to repeatedly come up short…well, it causes you to question a lot. With so little to show over the past few years from so much commitment, focus and sacrifice; you begin to feel as though your life as a whole is no longer productive – almost as if you are not a contributing member to society.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand how dramatic that sounds, but such is the case when you approach something with such a singular focus. The lows can feel very, very low. And when the lows keep hitting you over and over with very few highs mixed in, it becomes all the more difficult to stay the course.
As a result, it’s been a trying couple of months with a lot of sleepless nights and considerable introspection. And in the end, what ultimately swung my decision-making was the very consideration I made when beginning this pursuit: I know that my heart condition, as well as the health issues that result from it, make it extremely difficult to pursue triathlon at the highest level. It incorporates a dizzying array of variables in my training and recovery that few of my competition even have to consider.
But while knowing those limitations, I still chose this pursuit to experience a personal journey to get the most out of myself and my body, and to show that a limitation is merely just that – it is not a barrier to success. If I can successfully build around that limitation, I do believe I can compete with the top athletes in this sport.
So while I still consider this season to be a failure, it only remains a failure if I don’t learn from it and make necessary changes as a result. And that will be the case moving forward, as I plan to make substantial adjustments to my entire program. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results, right?
My approach will be so different that I am essentially navigating unchartered waters. But it will be both a challenging and enlightening process, and the drastic changes add a sense of excitement and “world of the unknown” to an outlook that had largely seemed bleak.
I don’t know where it is going to take me, but I do know this: I refuse to end my career on such a low note. I still have unfinished business left to tackle.