The recent Aussie Long Course Champion reflects on his 2016, and his career to this point.
Despite the festive Christmas/New Year period which, at least in Australia, seems to extend a little earlier into November and a little later into January each year, having flown by far too quickly, I still feel very much rejuvenated physically and refreshed mentally to get stuck back into training and racing. As I lay down my plans for the year with my wife, coach, manager and sponsors, I thought it would be an opportune time to try and extract and jot down some of my thoughts in how we will attack 2017.
31 years of age, is a time of mild mental conflict, both in life and sport. In life, there is the alarming thought that I’m not too far off being middle aged! With the obsessive ambition of realizing my potential in triathlon throughout my 20s meaning at times being very selfish, extremely fatigued, and sometimes not being there for friends when it was needed, my approach to life and racing life has changed somewhat. You won’t be able to take the angry gnome, ’small man syndrome’, hyper competitive personality out of me but going forward I’m going to try not to let spending quality time with my family and friends suffer in my quest for more victories. Of course there will be more ‘extreme’ periods of focus and less time for other people during key training phases of the year as that self focus is essential to compete against the best in the world. However, the plan is to include a lot more ‘easy going’ time to keep the relationships healthy, ultimately be happier myself and extend my career well into my late 30s.
In triathlon, hitting your early 30s book marks the second half of your pro racing career. History has thankfully shown that for triathlon events 2 hours and longer I’m likely still a couple of years off my physical peak. Psychologically however, I have noticed that my mental reserves are not like they once were. In my time as an amateur and then my first few years as a pro, it didn’t matter whether I was winning or coming 12th, I would still dig absolutely everything out of my physical ability that I had when I crossed the line. After probably 150 events, there is inevitably some mental scarring and the ability to push myself close to the point of collapse in events becomes more limited. It’s still there, and I could definitely still drive myself to beyond my physical limits on a several occasions each year but I can’t do it month after month like I used to. I believe any pro who’s been racing for quite some time faces the same dilemma, whether they like to openly admit it or not. I was relieved to hear that after a world record performance in Roth, Frodeno admitted that during the Ironman World Championships this year he had a voice in his head telling him to come up with an excuse and pull out. Like most great champions, he overcame the seductive urge to do so but I wonder whether he would have had that voice coaxing him to pull out if he hadn’t already put in such an amazing but deeply mentally draining performance in Challenge Roth earlier in the year. Acknowledging your mental reserve capacity rather than denying it needn’t be a weakness at all if the season is planned correctly. To plan appropriately for 2017 I needed to reflect quite honestly on 2016. What worked well, what didn’t, what positive changes can I make, what can’t I change and when and why was I able to get the most out myself.
From when I first heard about triathlon to now, my seventh year as a professional, I have always been and continue to be incredibly motivated by the best athletes in our sport. Even after getting to know many of them, sometimes beating them, sometimes losing to them, they still drive me out the door each morning to go face another big day of training. Aspects of many of these athletes inspire me to make changes to replicate or sometimes avoid their mistakes. Some specific examples include when I laughed at hearing about Lionel Sanders indoor training regime believing that doing 95% of your riding and running indoors was an express path to insanity. After several years however, he still hadn’t gone mad and was putting forward a strong argument that he was he was the best middle distance athlete going around. In the lead up to the Ironman 70.3 World Championships I swallowed my pride and adopted much of the Lionel indoor trainer and treadmill strategy and to good effect.
A couple of years ago, Jan Frodeno really raised the professionalism bar when he hired a physio therapist to be with him full time to greatly reduce his chance of being injured and maximise recovery which likely contributed to his rise to dominance. As someone who didn’t come up through a high performance program and see the ‘train, eat, sleep’ cycle as normal I’ve found it easy to think some athletes are being over the top precious about their sleep and recovery. My coach, Matt Dixon pulled me up on this and telling me after a Hawaii failure last year that I had to change my thinking on this, preaching something along the line of how ‘it’s a professional sport and as a top professional with companies invested me, I need to also invest in myself and adopt a somewhat similar approach.’ Taking this on board, in 2017 for my major goal races I’ll employ a soignéur for my key races of the year, really focus on sleep especially during heavy training blocks and leading up to events, reduce post race celebrations to a moderate level and use my recovery days for actual recovery, not a time to do other activities like mountain biking, gardening, tennis etc.
Some top pros also inspire me off the race course. Craig Alexander, managed to balance marriage, fatherhood and winning World Championships and I find that incredibly motivating. As a Dad and athlete you’re constantly splitting your energy between your children and your work, often feeling like you’re not giving enough to either. Seeing that guys have done it and thrived as pro athletes is very motivating.