Last weekend, I raced Ironman Arizona, to wrap up my 2016 season. The details of my race are not particularly important. I mean, they’re important to me, but I’m sure they’re super boring to everyone else. So, I’ll just give the bare minimum details necessary, and use them as a jumping-off-point to get to something possibly useful to you…
I finished in 8:48:53, which was an Ironman PR for me, by 6 minutes. No single element of the race was spectacular, but all put together, it was a solid day. However, the fact that it was a PR isn’t particularly important, as I recognize that Arizona is a faster course than the ones I typically race on. What is important is that I beat Thorsten Radde’s “prediction” on trirating.com, by a little over 6 minutes. I put quotes around “prediction” because it’s not a true prediction, in the sense that predictions usually have some amount of subjectivity. His “prediction” is actually just a time-weighted averaging of performances at recent Ironman races, and then he makes an adjustment to account for the differences in courses. So, the fact that I beat his prediction for me, means that I beat “2014/2015/2016 Doug”, and so I’m continuing to improve.
Now, the fact that I’m continuing to improve is somewhat surprising, given that I moved to Massachusetts in August, and started an engineering job. So, between going into the office, and coaching, I’m working 55-60 hours per week, and then training 18-20 hours per week, on top of that. Point being – it’s far from an “ideal” performance environment. My training hasn’t suffered *that* much, because all we’ve done is cut away a lot of the lower intensity stuff, so I’m still doing the same amount of “quality” as before I started the engineering job. The real losses are that my sleep is down to 7-7.5 hours per night, and I don’t have as much time for proper recovery modalities (massage, foam rolling, and Normatecs).
However, there are positives, and that’s where I think there may be some useful nuggets for everyone else…
1) I’m no longer concerned about the financial stability. From roughly 2014-2016, during almost every workout, I was thinking something along of the lines of “What am I doing out here? I could be sitting in an office, getting actual money. Instead, I’m training 25 hours per week, in the hope of maybe, *maybe* winning $2,000 at a few races per year.” Thinking that, day in and day out, really wore me down mentally, and did not create a positive environment where I could make improvements. I resented what I was doing every day, and therefore wasn’t able to focus on doing what was necessary to get faster. On top of that, when something went wrong at a race, I would get depressed and frustrated out on the course, as I started obsessing about the fact that I may have just missed out on a badly needed paycheck.
2) Being on a fixed schedule now has forced me to be much more efficient with my time. I no longer procrastinate on workouts. I know I only have a small window of time each day to train, so I just put on my training gear, get to work, and hit my zones.
3) I no longer worry about what anyone else is doing. And that’s the important one. I don’t feel bad about myself anymore if I lose to one guy or another, because, odds are, they’re not fitting training around a 55-60 hour work week. And on top of that, it just doesn’t really even *matter* anymore if someone beats me. I don’t need good races to pay the rent. The pressure I feel on each workout, and each race, has gone wayyyyyyyy down.
This has been liberating. When I’m training, I don’t care what Athlete X is doing. All I’m focused on is being a little bit better/faster/stronger, than I was last week. When I race, I don’t care if I’m in 4th place or 30th place. All I’m focused on is being a little bit faster than the last time I raced. When things go bad during a race, I no longer spin into a downward spiral, worried that I’m missing out on prize money. I just stay calm, and work through the difficulty.
Point being – focusing solely on self-improvement, rather than playing “the comparison game”, is, oddly enough, the one true path to “winning” the “comparison game”. In order to win the game, you first have to truly not care that you’re even playing it. Or, I should say, you first have to not be negatively affected by the fact that you’re playing it. Because if you let playing the “comparison game” put negative thoughts in your head, it absolutely will eat you alive. The only way you can truly “win”, if you’re obsessed with comparisons, is if you’re the current World Champion. Which, I don’t know about you, but… I don’t want to live a life where the only way I achieve satisfaction is by winning Kona every year.
So, I’m going to keep chipping away at it, and I’m going to keep trying to just be a little bit better every day. That’s all any of us can really do. And if I keep getting a little bit better each day, and a little bit better at each race, then… well, we’ll just see where that takes me…
So, for now, a bit of down time, and then I start getting ready for 2017. I’ll do some “fun” racing in February, at the Crash-B Indoor Rowing World Championships and the Hyannis Marathon, and then get back to racing triathlons in March or April. Giddy up!