This weekend I had a play date with The Boys.
But first, a small race. On Saturday I did a small – so small we’re talking 75 people and transition racks marked by paper plates small – train through it race in southern Illinois. Small races remind me of why I love to race. And I do. I had a few come to Jesus (or should I say come to Moses) moments with ABK where I realized that my athletic goals are still worth pursuing I just need to change how I pursue them. I reflected a lot and realized that I spent the last 18 months spinning in a circle. And I’m not the same athlete I was 2 years ago. Since then in an effort to “fix” me I’ve worked with 3 different coaches. That is not a good thing. Add to that a whole lot of overtraining, underrecoving, overracing and you get an entire season where I spent more time getting unfit than I did gaining fitness.
I read an article recently about a runner who had a breakthrough year then the next year overtrained. He said it took an entire year to get back to where he was that previous year. That is when I realized that it is going to take me a long time to get back to where I was. There is nothing that needs to be fixed, I just need to be patient. When I finally admitted that I felt more at peace with training again. I know I am nowhere near where I was but in the past few weeks I have started putting out power and paces that are improving and more importantly I feel the itch again. It was last week in the middle of a 60 minute bike ride at hard watts when I felt, I can be good at this again. There’s a big difference between wanting it and feeling it. When you feel it you become more confident. When you become more confident you get the desire to do the work.
I don’t know why I’m saying any of this but I feel like I’ve been too quiet about training and racing – not because I don't like to train or race but because I was feeling a little lost about all of it – and that made me sad because it’s something I really like to do. I like being fit, I like achieving goals, I like seeing progress. Don’t we all?
After the race, which went ok, I was 2nd overall, I drove on toward St. Louis. I absolutely love solo road trips. I used to drive back and forth once a month when in college and learned to enjoy the 300 mile drive by myself. There is something about getting out on the road, on your own schedule, listening to your music as loud as you want, singing off key as much as you want, talking out loud to yourself and either driving 200 miles straight or stopping every 50 miles just because you can. To me, solitude is empowering.
I was heading to St. Louis for a play date with The Boys. The Boys are Mike, Tommy and Seiichi and I’ve been coaching them for two seasons now. They were introduced to me as The Boys and it’s a term so appropriate that I have a hard time now not calling them The Boys. I’ve met up with them in Kona, at Ironman Arizona but this weekend I wanted to watch them train so I could offer some feedback as they get into their meaty training for Ironman Arizona in November.
Sunday morning, Mike and Tommy picked me up at the very early hour of 6 am and we drove out to Ghisallo. Seiichi and Bill met us there and we all suited up for the ride. The morning was overcast and the air was thick with humidity. The ride took us out toward the airport on a flat course but we quickly met up with long hills. It was a beautiful ride with maple-lined roads and horse farms. About 30 minutes into it, it started pouring rain. Descending was a slow, cautious task but it also allowed me to take in all of the scenery. In another few weeks that route is going to explode in the bright yellow of maples in fall.
The Boys follow the same training plan. At first I hesitated at the idea of providing the same plan for 3 different people but understand that it works for them because they want it to work. They are inseparable like brothers, competitive like opposing teammates and enthusiastic like it’s still their first year in the sport. The interesting thing about having 3 athletes training together is that I was able to ask one questions about the other and get great insight. When I asked why so and so struggled with biking the other two were able to provide some ideas on not just the physical reasons but the psychological reasons that only close friends would be perceptive enough to gather.
I observed a lot of surging and coasting on the ride. It’s worth bringing up because I find this is an area where many athletes struggle. In riding you want the most consistent or smooth power output possible. This means pacing yourself up the hills, into the wind and on the flats so there are no major surges in power or effort. This is especially important in Ironman. The more surging you do close to or above your threshold can lead to significant GI problems. It’s hard for your body to digest food when all of your blood is going to the legs for surges. There is a consistent pace you can ride where you can both digest calories and power yourself on a ride. It’s important to find that pace in training and I told The Boys it would be important for their upcoming Ironman.
Seiichi is of course a really strong rider. He knows it and so do the other Boys. They tell me it’s because he just loves to ride. It’s no surprise. You will excel at what you love to do. I was waiting for someone to tell me they loved swimming but it never happened. Mike is a zippy little rider who can climb hills like crazy and just needed a little fire under his booty to get going out there. Tommy covers about twice as many miles on the same ride from all of his squiggles and bouncing but there’s nothing wrong with a little overachievement. Especially when you can run like him off the bike. And Bill, who was along for the ride, is just The Natural.
After riding I demanded coffee. I was surviving on half a cup of hotel coffee which had run out my veins about 40 miles ago. A quick stop at Starbucks then we went to the track to observe run form. The Boys are good runners. And it became even more apparent when I watched them run. I was starting to think that everyone was a heel striker. But when I taped these guys I didn’t see but a little bit of heel striking from one of them. And I noticed a whole lot of ZIP! I have to say that Mike’s form was so snappy yet controlled (which is exactly what you want!) that I thought to myself – I need to run more like him!
The pool was next. We descended the dark stairs to the dungeon they swim in and when I walked in I could only say to Mike “seriously?” Could they make swimming any more unattractive in this gym? Like at the track, each one wanted to watch the other one and hear me critique them. Of course it was probably to gather more fuel for teasing each other but I also think it’s valuable to watch others and hear feedback so you can learn what to do and what not to do. It was helpful for me to watch them in person, give them immediate feedback then correct something with them. The comments in between were hilarious and it was finally when I asked them each to dolphin kick that I may have actually peed in the pool. Let’s just say that there will be no dolphin kicking for one of them.
OH – MY – GOD.
They dropped me off at the hotel so I could have a real person shower and check out. When they picked me up again, Tommy and Mike quickly moved themselves into first place for Athletes of the Year when they handed me a pumpkin spice latte. We headed out for breakfast and I got to watch them interact yet again. I felt like I was hanging out with my older brothers and like when I spend time with most of my athletes, there was an eerie sense of comfort and understanding that I felt. Not only that but I believe I found two people who are even more picky than me at a restaurant. When someone ordered their turkey sausage butterflied and lightly grilled, I knew that my “hold the onions” was not going to get any eye rolling from the waiter.
And I’m pretty sure Mike and Tommy have eaten their fair share of bad fish because of their requests.
After breakfast, Bill kindly offered to tape my leg with some Kinesio tape. May I interject? My single friends are all the time telling me how hard it is to meet someone. Two words: Kinesio tape. I can’t tell you how many questions I got about the tape on the way back to Chicago. Sure, we’re talking about a guy at the gas station or the old guy at Panera but the point is it’s a conversation starter. And any conversation is good practice! (even if the guy is in his 70s and asking you if you can plug a printer into your iPhone…is it just me or was it really cute that he even knew it was an iPhone?).
The drive back home was long. It rained. The car smelled like wet bike shoes. And I went through all 339 of my purchased ITunes songs. Like 20 times. But it was worth it because I had a great time with The Boys. Their energy was contagious, their generosity so kind and their desire to be better at sport is what any coach wants to see. I drove home with many good memories and a two foot trophy that says I might have a fighting chance at one day at being good at this sport again.
Until then, I’m content with helping others get good. Actually, I’m inspired by it. I was telling Mike that I’ve done a lot of great things in sport but sometimes helping others do great things, watching them grow and learn is much more rewarding and makes me hungry to keep working towards my own goals.