Sunday, November 18, 2007

2007 Recap/Looking Forward

This past week has been pretty interesting. After completing what has turned out to be the most successful year of training & racing that I've ever had in my life, after accomplishing every single one of the objectives that I had established for the 2007 season, and after winning an overall amateur world championship title, I've felt pretty "down in the dumps." I'm still trying to make sense of exactly why I'm feeling this way. I suppose that a big part of my post season "let down" stems from the fact that it has become pretty evident that, with the sport of triathlon at least, unless you can climb to the VERY top rung of the competitive latter (i.e. top 3 overall at Hawaii, Clearwater, etc.) life isn't going to change very much, if at all, regardless of the fact that your athletic performances begin elevating you to the national and even world class level. The other issue that I'm facing is this: In order to up my game to the point where I can go 3:45 for the 70.3 distance or sub 8:30 for the IronMan distance, I'm going to have to take a calculated risk, leave a job that I love (teaching physical education and health at Manchester-Essex Middle/High School) and train even harder than before. If I were 24 or 25, I'd jump at the opportunity that I have in front of me, but with my 32nd birthday just 12 days away, stepping out of my financial comfort zone to chase a dream is a little disconcerting.

However... I draw strength from the fact that I have accomplished everything that I set out to do to date:

At the end of 2001, I decided to launch my own coaching/training business. I dreamt of the day when the first thing that I'd do in the morning would be to get up, grab a cup of coffee, turn on the CPU and then start responding to athlete emails and writing up training schedules. Although many questioned if I'd be able to make a career out of online/consultation based coaching, here I am, six years later, with over 30 clients and a burning passion to help my fellow athletes achieve their personal goals. It's a dream come true. To me, it's hard to even consider coaching "work." I live and breath athletic preparation, and love the challenge of coming up with, and helping someone execute a training progression that will help them to get from point A to point B in the least amount of time possible. Although coaching is in fact my first and foremost source of income, teaching physical education and health has allowed me to take a somewhat lax approach towards the business/financial side of my operation. Heading into 2008, it's game on once I leave my teaching gig and I'm going to have to approach the financial side of my business practices with a much more serious attitude if I want to stay afloat financially.

Athletically, I knocked off every objective I had for the 2007 season. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that this is the first time in my life that I've ever strung 2 years of consistent training together as a multisport athlete. I began competitive running at the age of 7 and experienced quite a bit of regional and national level success as a Jr. Olympic runner. I placed 7th in the nation in the 1 mile as a 13 year old (running a 4:52 that year) attended the Hershey Track & Field National Championships (an all expense paid trip by Hershey!!!), won many regional x-c and T&F titles, etc. However... Once I hit my sophomore year in High School, I began resting on my laurels. Ten - twenty miles of running per week just didn't seem to "cut it" for some reason (I wonder why?!) and my performances plateaued. Although infrequent bouts of intensive training throughout High School did result in what my x-c coach, the notorious Dave Dunsky, called a few "flashes of brilliance" (top 10 overall DI x-c state championship, 1:58 half mile PR, 4:27 1 mile PR) I left High School feeling as though I probably didn't have what it took to be an elite level runner. This lack of confidence stuck with me right into college where I ran a few seasons of track and x-c at Umass Amherst when I wasn't too busy coaching the local middle school cross country team or racing bikes for the Umass cycling club (a new found passion!). In retrospect, I should have realized that running a 4:20 mile or 8:45 3k on only 4 - 6 weeks of intensive training did in fact mean that I was blessed with some natural ability, but I never had the external or internal sources of motivation to inspire me to embrace this realization.

My lack of confidence continued to rear its ugly head right up through my mid to late 20s. My multisport results were all over the map after college; I'd struggle in a local sprint and then shock a stacked New England field by winning a half I.M. in 4:05. Bottom line is that I didn't have a clue when it came to training. I was desperately in need of some help here, but the $600 per month that the top regional coach informed me that he charged for his services was something that I couldn't even come close to being able to afford (I keep this in mind when young, talented athletes approach me for help with their training these days).

Fed up and burned out by one failure after another, I quit triathlon in my mid 20s. The time away from the sport had inspired me to research training practices, experiment with training protocols and theory, attend a number of training related courses/certification programs, and learn from the results that my early client base began turning in. Watching guys like Phil Wong rise through the ranks and begin winning major cycling events under my tutelage gave me a sense of confidence in my abilities as a trainer. It was a great thrill to watch my athletes ripping it up, and with each victory and personal PR, I became more inspired and confident.

Soon-there-after I began running again, not on a very serious level, but with the intent of running a marathon or 2 in a respectable time. Clipping off a 2:35 at the 2005 Cape Cod marathon on only 40 - 60 miles per week of running got me to thinking about the possibility of returning to triathlon in 2006.

And then it happened: I'll never forget the time that Michelle and I were out for a walk and bumped into one of my young triathletes, Liam O'Connell. Liam was completely engrossed in his new found triathlon career and very excited about his race and training exploits. Although I was happy for him, I felt as though I was personally stuck on the sidelines while everyone else was out on the field and part of the action. To be honest, I grew very angry, and vowed to Michelle that I would return to triathlon and fully commit myself to doing it "right" this time around.

So... here I am, 2 years later: Amateur 70.3 world champ and soon to be Pro/Elite triathlete. I've had a good run, but am in no way completely satisfied. I'm making up for lost time and know that I'm in my prime as an endurance athlete. This is it. No time to waste. No time to second guess my abilities or my direction. I know that I have 5 to 6 years, max, to cap what I started a quarter of a century ago and am willing to take a calculated risk and go for broke in order to see just how far I can go as an athlete. I have no plans to continue on with competitive athletics once my run as a Pro triathlete is up, as I'm looking forward to pursuing other interests such as rock-climbing, hiking and camping and travel some day. But for now, it's on: Full time long course focus. My long term objectives: Top 10 overall finishes at the Hawaii IronMan and 70.3 World Championships.
The following T.S. Eliot quote sums up my feeling on what it'll take for me to have a shot at truly realizing just how far I can go as a triathlete:

"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go."

Words to remember when times get tough and I begin questioning my decision to go for broke...

Happy holidays everyone!


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