Tuesday, September 11, 2007

DNF at Wisconsin

DNF. Not what I wanted, that’s for sure. (Although, I feel blessed to not have ended up like my boy Mac, getting hit by a car at LA Triathlon).

So what happened? Well, there is a simple answer, but there is a much deeper answer underneath it. This post is long, so I apologize in advance, but it is probably the most honest assessment I’ve ever given of myself.

The simple answer is I fought a lot of back tension issues. My low back was killing me come mile 80. I saw a steady, progressive decline in wattage, which was paralleled with the pain increasing in my low back. By mile 80, the race was over. I tried to just finish the bike without hurting myself further.

So the next obvious question is why did my back suddenly hurt? Well, that’s because I went and did some position tweaking, due to serious discomfort in my taint area on the saddle. I made a change to a more comfortable position, which actually improved my threshold wattage by nearly 10%! I was excited, but it became clear in the short weeks following that it changed the muscle groups I stressed on the bike, namely my hip flexors and psoas muscles.

So why make a change like that, coming up to a big race? Well, I began to really find the answers to my problems when I started digging deeper. Besides the comfort issue, which was significant, the real reasons were the following:

  1. Fitness
  2. Confidence
  3. Focus/Motivation/Desire/etc.

(Notice, 2 of the 3 are mental aspects.)


I was not as physically prepared and peaked for this race as I was for Florida or Coeur d’Alene. Not even close. I had 11 weeks from Coeur d’Alene to recover, return to training, peak and taper for Wisconsin. That may sound like plenty of time, but it does not allow for many errors or misfortunes, (like my infection and nagging injuries). Suddenly, I felt very rushed in my training, and was wishing I had a few more weeks to be ready.

My swim was not as strong, swimming about 1:25 pace on my longer intervals, for long course meters, instead of 1:18’s like I was for CDA. (It’s not surprising I was dropped from the chase pack early on the 2nd lap). My bike was fair, but it wasn’t any better than CDA or Florida. My run was not feeling up to the par due to the injuries. I felt the adjustment for the bike was a needed risk to take.


When you can see that you are not as fit as the past, and not up to the standards you have set for yourself, it is hard to be confident. One of the only real positive things besides my wattage improvement with the position change, was my weight. I was actually about the same weight as Florida, five pounds lighter than CDA. It was one of the few things keeping me positive and somewhat confident. A lack of confidence in my preparation, lead me to the bike adjustment and taking the risk.

So why did I toe the line? I committed to do it, so I was going to try. I also saw the start list, and truthfully, I was over-confident. I felt I could still contend with the fitness at a sub-standard level. I thought I could get a podium spot, and a 2008 Kona slot, despite all my shortcomings.

Amazing how I can be so under-confident in my fitness, yet over-confident toward my competition.


This part is where confidence and fitness meet. The morning of the race, my wife Orlanda asked me if I was excited to race. Honestly, I had to think about the answer. She told me tonight, when she talked with me before Florida, I told her, “I’m going to be in the hunt,” but when she talked with me on Sunday I told her, “Yeah, I’m just going to go out and be steady.”

She and I are going this weekend to see the USC at Nebraska football game, to watch my beloved Huskers and show her where I went to school, its traditions, facilities and community. I have been so excited about this trip, I realized after the race I was more excited about that than racing Wisconsin. Not a good sign.

Probably the biggest thing I’ve noticed, I’m mentally tired. After everything I put into CDA, I needed more time off to really re-energize mentally, and prepare for the commitment which I see is truly required of me to perform at an elite level, and be competitive with the biggest names in the sport.

It’s hard to accept this fact for myself when I see athletes racing Ironmans, short-course, half’s, etc, all year long. Perhaps my physical talent isn’t at the same level of these guys, and I race more on emotion and mental toughness, which takes more out of me with each performance.

It’s been my first full year racing pro on the Ironman circuit, and the amount of training required really has taken a toll on me. This is one of the reasons I am amazed at some of the hours I see other Ironman athletes put in. I realized I was tired, and I think I wanted to do Wisconsin so my season could be over sooner than waiting for Kona.

This whole thing has not only taken a toll on me, but it honestly has been a stress on my wife too. She is amazingly supportive, but I know it’s hard for her, especially as the year goes on. It’s always about me, my training, my race schedule, my needs, etc. Ironman racing is a very selfish endeavor, and I know at times she has not been as happy as she could or should be. On Sunday, while riding on the course after sitting up and deciding the day was over, I realized I put her through all that for a race which I wasn’t even prepared for, mentally and physically. It wasn’t worth it. After dropping out of the race, I apologized to her for everything. I felt like I had taken her love for granted, and did not show a commitment which her support equated to. If I am going to put her through this, I need to make sure it something which is TRULY IMPORTANT to me. I must be entirely committed!

There came a point on the course when I was in a lot of pain with my low back, fighting and trying to stay in the hunt, and I realized I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was not having fun, despite the amazing race. That’s when I sat up.

So the simple answer is back issues affected my race, and I made the decision to stop. But the deeper answer is my result was decided well before the race started. I just didn’t see it.

I’m bummed, because Ironman Wisconsin was an amazing event. Madison is a great community, beautiful course and we had incredible weather on race day. The people who supported the event were amazing in number, and the volunteers so positive. Our homestay Denise was outstanding. I hope to someday return and do this race better.

So what now? I’m not fully sure. I’m taking a week off. I’ll be going to Kona, but it will not be to race, only to go thru the motions and experience the event. I earned the opportunity to start in the water, and I need to do it. I also need to learn about the event, so I can correct my mistakes and make sure I come back in a year ready to perform.

Funny though, I can't help but wonder if I made the right decision. I'm competitive, and wonder what might have happened. I'm sure I'll get some criticism for DNFing, but I accept it if it comes. I don't expect everyone to understand.

When Peter Reid was coaching me, he sent me this email in response to some questions I had for him...I find myself reviewing it a lot...

Most people think that Ironman is all about the physical training and race day nutrition. On a scale of importance this is what I think Ironman is about:
1. Mental focus
2. confidence
3. physical training
4. equipment
5. nutrition

I am going to keep bugging you on the above.


Some good things to think about...No wonder he kept bugging me, he knew.



moonpie said...

I'm just glad to hear you didn't get stung by another frickin' bee!!!

Racing at your level and to pay the bills must come with an intense amount of pressure to perform. In most people's jobs they get daily or weekly feedback. You get two or three chances a year to prove your worth...must be tough. Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

Jim - sounds like you are working on the BIG PICTURE. Tomorrow is another day. Hang tough, give yourself some mental rest, and give Kona an honest try. You run and bike faster than most of us even dream of doing. Believe in yourself and be true to yourself.

Anonymous said...

Jim, I will never stop believing in your ability to achieve fantastic results on the pro circuit. Your willingness to share the deepest, toughest pieces of your career with us means that down the road, you will be able to overcome the tremendous challenges and obstacles that inevitably appear. Thank you for inspiring me to find my own greater levels of achievement. Mike Sofen

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great post! I am not a pro but it is amazing the similar thoughts and feelings I have had doing Ironman racing. I am taking a short break and working on my life balance and my priorities.
I expect you will do well in Kona this year and even better in the future. This year you have the perfect situation, no pressure and expectations. Last year for Kona I suffered a knee injury in the months leading into the race. I almost pulled the plug but decided to make it a training day and to learn. I ended up having a respectable day. I know that one reason I get in trouble with burn out is the pressure I put on myself and I am not even a pro. Thanks again for the honest thoughts.