Progress is Dependent on Continuity

How does one measure success? Well, naturally you compare yourself to your peers, at least for most people. The best way to do that for a runner or triathlete is to creep their Athlinks profile. Not only will it tell you a lot about them, but about yourself as well.

For all those you view that have never had a break in their athletic career you will see their progression from year to year. All those elite or fast triathletes didn’t always start out that way (well, some still start off pretty fast). It’s all building year after year to get where they are today. Me? I’ve never had that that continual building

My first full year in triathlon was 2015 (my first race was October 2014). The best example in my progression is triathlon is the 70.3, and I did two of them that year and is my preferred distance. My first race was IRONMAN Chattanooga 70.3 and I ended up double flatting. However, I’d come back in October and do a 5:06 at Beach2Battleship. I thought to myself “That’s not too bad” and I’d have something to build on for next year.

I spent a lot more time running over the winter. I ran a 1:33 in my first half marathon on a hard course. In April I’d do my first 70.3 of the year at New Orleans and finished 5:03. A month later I’d get my first sub-five hour 70.3 at Chattanooga going 4:59.

In August at Steelhead 70.3 I’d go 4:54 and that was at a race with a hard swim too. My season ended on a disappointing note as IRONMAN Maryland had the swim canceled. I averaged nearly 23 mph on a 100-mile ride and didn’t have a bad run given the tidal flooding, so one could say I was in the best shape of my life.

Two years into my triathlon career and one could see a progression with each 70.3. I ran even more over that winter. I did the Myrtle Beach Marathon in March 2017 and bonked at mile 22, but my half marathon split was 1:29, which was my fastest half to date.

Four weeks later I’d run a sub-40-minute 10k at Cooper River Bridge, and that race had a mile long climb to the peak of the bridge. I genuinely felt like I had been building on my progress, getting faster and stronger with each race.

The first 70.3 of the season at Gulf Coast was a wash as the swim was canceled, but I did manage to put up my fastest bike split by a few minutes and showed I could run under hot & humid conditions.

Two months later at Ohio 70.3 I found out what my limitations were. I was on pace to finish at about 4:45 if I could push the pace on the run. I couldn’t hold on though and bonked at about mile eight finishing with 5:11…but that still isn’t far off from where my times were.

I’d come back four weeks later to race Storm the Fort Half Iron and had what I thought was my most complete race ever. I finished in 4:55 but it was literally only 10 seconds between that and my PR. It was the first time I put together a good run, I didn’t need to walk at all and ended up going 1:40 split.

A month after that was IRONMAN Chattanooga and I didn’t have a great race (great swim though, 47 minutes). Ironman is not my favorite distance and I knew that going into it, I just wanted a chance to do all three sports and then I could retire from it.

Ten days after finishing that I was hit head on by an Expedition going about 50 mph while riding to work. I was traveling 20 mph, so that makes it a 70 mph impact. I was just trying to find a way to get off-season miles on the bike and save on commute time so I could spend more of it with Danielle. Not everything works out like you plan.

So here we are at the first time in my life where I had a setback. I was amazed at how far I had fallen in a short amount of time because a few months after the accident my speed was gone, and I had a lot of lingering pain. A marathon I ran five months later was a 3:48, and my legs, hip and back hurt so much that on the second half I walked eight times.

Shortly after that was when my depression really got bad, and it hung around for a while. My first 70.3 was three months after that marathon at Gulf Coast 70.3, and I’d end up going 5:33. I had a lot of PTSD issues on the bike course, as a matter of fact I was scared shitless and had a death grip on my aero bars for 56 miles. I didn’t even want to finish the race when I got back to transition because my head wasn’t in it, but Danielle kept me going on the run as she was all over the course.

I did one more race in 2018 and it was an Olympic. I only managed to go 17 mph on the bike course, and at the last big intersection I had a big problem with my PTSD. An ambulance came flying down the road and they held us up. The sirens triggered my PTSD and I froze there for about 10 minutes like a deer in the headlights. At that point I threw in the towel — it was only June.

I’d start to find myself again when September came around, but I had just lost a lot of triathlon equity I had built up over three seasons. Not only that, but I had some serious mental health issues to contend with now.

Depression is no joke folks. When you’re depressed it’s like someone threw a wet wool blanket on top of whatever talent you had. I know because in January of 2019 I ran a 1:42 half marathon at Museum of Aviation, it hurt and it was ugly. Luckily I started ketamine therapy for antidepressant resistant people. It significantly helped and well as went to consistent counseling for it and my PTSD.

The end of April would bring my first 70.3 of the season at Oconee Man. This race was not a good race for me to use as a litmus test for my triathlon ability as the course was a monster in elevation gain (4,000’+ on the bike, 1,300’+ on the run), and I didn’t have the right size cassette for that kind of course. As humbling as that course was, I was not disappointed by the 5:36 finishing time, and I managed to snag a podium by finishing second in my age group. Also, my PTSD issues weren’t as big of a factor considering how remote the race location was — there wasn’t much traffic.

Four weeks later I’d race Goose Pond Half Iron in BFE, Alabama. That water was like swimming in bath water, yet I had a surprisingly good swim. The bike course was a little tough on my PTSD issues as not all the intersections would have cops doing traffic direction, it made me very nervous especially at the freeway on/off ramps. However, I still didn’t do that bad on the bike. I had a pretty good run by my standards. I finished in 5:05 and snagged another podium — this time I was third overall. 

Four weeks after that I had a good race at Chattanooga Waterfront. Good swim, good bike, fairly good run. I went 2:13 and I felt really good about that. 

At the beginning of August I’d race Lake Logan Half Iron. Here is another example of racing a tough course, but given that I still did well. The back half of the bike was tough and the run was like going up and down one really long ramp…twice. I finished that race in 5:19. Eight months of therapy helped me a lot with riding on the road again because I didn’t get nearly as nervous as I had been at Goose Pond.

To finish the year up I had Augusta 70.3 at the end of September. I had a really great swim, which is expected in a fast, down river swim. I had a really strong bike, I managed to hold off Andre for half of it and I only had about a three minute lead on him coming out of the water. Coming off the bike I thought if I could just run a 1:50 half marathon I could finish with a 4:50 and PR. Well, that didn’t happen because after two miles I felt fried from the heat. I’d end up finishing with a 5:08. By the way, Andre beat me, but in three races against him in 2019 he only managed to do it by two minutes or less each time.

So at the end of 2019 you could say I had rebounded to be somewhat close to what I was in 2017, but unlike other people I still lost that year in my course of progression. If it weren’t for that accident I could have been somewhere in the 4:30-4:40 range for a 70.3, and here I was at a 5:05. 

In March 2020 CoVID-19 would hit the country, and as we stand today it looks like I will have lost another season. For the next five months I didn’t have the motivation to train. I’m a person who needs a carrot on the stick to keep me going. It doesn’t matter what I do in life, I need some kind of metric to measure my performance, and with no triathlons then it felt like there wasn’t much of a point to train.

It’s only now that I’ve started to pick training back up…just in case Challenge Daytona does happen in December. If we do race I want to try to be in shape to go at least 5:30, but that’s a pretty tall order considering I ran two miles last week and nearly had a heart attack because my max heart rate was 197, and yes, that’s completely accurate (fresh battery in the HR monitor.

I don’t really know what to expect for 2021, if we do get back to racing as we did in the pre-CoVID-19 days I could only hope to be racing at about a five-hour 70.3 again, but with two lost seasons in alternating years, I’ll always wonder how fast I could have been had they not occurred.

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