Thursday, February 24, 2011

Breaking Point

It’s been refreshing to return to my roots, athletically speaking, and do nothing more than run. I started my athletic career as a youth runner at just 8 years of age (27 years ago!). Running has, and always will be, my first love. I’ll also admit that it’s been a source of great frustration for me over the years and the primary reason that I took up an interest in bike racing at age 19. Triathlon followed suit just one year later, naturally ;)

I gave up on my dreams of pursuing running to the best of my abilities back in my late teens. In retrospect, I packed things in FAR too early, but hindsight it 20-20 as they say, and I, like so many other young, developing athletes that have come before and after me, failed to embrace the idea of “incremental improvement.” Simply put, my dreams fell victim to my own lack of self-confidence and impatience. Due to short sightedness, I never gave myself a chance to explore the depths of my talent as a runner.

I carry no regrets about the experience however, as it was the lessons learned from that period of my life that spurred my commitment to excellence when I decided to give athletics another serious go in my late 20s. Two Ironman 70.3 world amateur champion titles and a short lived (but respectable) Pro career later, I can honestly say that my shortcomings as a runner were the primary impetus for my near fanatical dedication as a triathlete. Those same formative experiences have also provided me with tremendous insight and compassion for young athletes who find themselves in the same shoes I once wore. Simply put, I can relate to the self confidence issues that some of my younger athletes bring to the table because I once harbored the same insecurities. My “failures” from the past have not only made me a better athlete, they have made me a better coach.

In many ways, I feel as though I have come full circle as an athlete. I had every intention of returning to my beloved sport of triathlon in 2011, that is until we found out in the Fall of 2010 that my father was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma. Fast forward 6 moths later: He, along with the rest of my family, is still hanging in there, but with a large number of tumors in his brain, intestines, bones and other tissue, the long-term outlook is bleak. As such, I have zero desire to pursue excellence in 3 distinct athletic disciplines at the moment, but have found great solace in returning to my roots and focusing upon running only… albeit in a fairly recreational manner; 30 – 40 miles of running per week isn’t exactly what I’d consider to be hard-core training after all!

So despite the sad reality that I, along with the rest of my family, currently face these days, I can at least say that I’m having a ball with my running and savoring the emotional outlet that a good, hard run workout can provide. It’s also been interesting to apply what I’ve learned along the way as a triathlete to my run training. One of my staple forms of bike training was long, drawn out pace and interval work over on the local TT course. I found that the mental challenge involved in pushing myself solo for anywhere between 30 minutes to over 3 hours at a variety of race pace efforts made race day much, much easier as a result. Learning how to overcome that little voice that screams “I can’t keep this up any longer!” was something that I practiced over and over again while battling the elements, my power meter and the stop watch between the Spring and Fall months of 2006 – 2009. Although I have no desire to revisit those types of bike sessions at this stage of the game, I still get a kick out of following suit on the run front and enjoy the challenging of “rolling” at threshold pace for as long as possible. Pushing the envelope for mile after mile on an 11 lap to the mile indoor track provides ample time for one to define the uppermost limits of their true will power and ability to persevere in the face of mental and physical hardship. I suppose that, in the end, it’s this fascination with facing one’s breaking point that keeps me coming back for more; even if I never race again, I must admit that life seems dull without that kind of unique ,challenge. The track provides plenty of it, of course, and for that fact, I am grateful.

I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do on the roads this coming Summer and Fall. A few more months of good, solid training are in order of course, but I still have plenty of time to up the ante on the training front and to get myself into good form before stepping back into the arena. With a little luck, perhaps multisport will follow suit once more.

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