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Being a Professional Triathlete – All cards are on the table

Three months ago I quit my job and my partner and I moved to Phuket, Thailand. Like a lot of professional triathletes, sometimes the career path goes a little bit like this – sometimes you have the support and the means to train and compete ‘full time’ as opposed to working and racing on the side. I didn’t actually have the sponsors or income required to justify leaving the safety net of a job, but whatever.

I’ve been registered as a professional triathlete for 7 years now and have had many stints as a professional and also periods of not racing at all while I was doing other things with my life. Earlier this year, my girlfriend and I decided I would commit to being a real professional athlete for 2-3 years and leave no stone unturned.

I’d had enough of half-ass attempts and always having an excuse. I was just sick of being mediocre. I’d always have people telling me I was so talented, but talented is something people use to describe someone who hasn’t done anything. So here we go, my savings account, credit card, no job and my best attempt at putting everything I had into being the best triathlete I can be.

When you’re really committed to something and put absolutely everything into it and you fall on your face, it really sucks. That’s why it was so devastating last week.

Ironman 70.3 Cebu – That Race That Wasn’t

Earlier this month I had the worse race I’ve ever had. I didn’t finish (DNF) at Ironman 70.3 Cebu following the best training block I’ve had in years. I was feeling my best ten days out, I really believed I was going to win this race. I really believe I left a race winning performance on the training pitch 2 weeks before the race.

Leading up to Cebu, I was enjoying coaching myself. I still talk to Grant Giles weekly and he tells me my ideas are stupid and I do them anyway. Not exactly, but he is the guy I turn to for advice. He has coached me for years and knows me better then anyone. I should have been more honest with him and with myself.

Ten days before the race my body and my mind said it was enough, and I needed recovery but my plan was to finish the week off and do the taper the same as I had previously. It’s a bit of human nature to self sabotage I guess, but I went with my plan.

If I had someone else monitoring the signs day to day, it was probably quite clear. But that’s the beauty of hindsight. I went overboard and got excited. It’s normal and I believe we all have the tendency to keep reaching – more is better. Just push a little bit harder, go further.

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The week before the race I made myself believe I had recovered and was fresh and excited and ready to race anyone. The current 70.3 World Champion Tim Reed was racing, but Tim and I have been close friends for a long time and although he is the World Champion, I was ready to race him or anyone else. Deep down I knew I would be overdone and tired on race day but you really have to make yourself believe you will be right, otherwise its not worth starting. The mind is very powerful and I almost brainwashed myself to forget what I knew would be the case.

On race day, it quickly became obvious that things weren’t quite right. I was working really hard in the swim, too hard. I knew I wasn’t ‘on’, but nothing is ever perfect so you try and deal with it at the time. I wasn’t in a bad position after the swim, maybe 1 minute behind the 6 leaders, and they are good swimmers. It’s never over until its over, particularly in long course triathlons.

The bike is when it becomes more objective. You can see the data on the bike and you think ‘oh shit, I’m not playing mind games, this is actually happening.’ I was with Tim Berkel and Callum Millward for the first 30km and I was already suffering so bad.

I was thinking everything was terrible, and we weren’t even riding that fast.

We were riding within a power zone that’s certainly within my reach, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was sad really. I knew at that point, that the last two months of work were going down the drain. Not totally, but at this moment it was useless. My heart rate was flat but I felt like I was pushing 1000 watts.

I finished the swim in 28:14 and the bike in 2:16:05 but I couldn’t keep going. I didn’t even make it until 1km of the run. It’s a hard decision to pull out. Some days the decision is made for you.

I always feel an obligation to organisers and the people who invite me to show up and work hard, so it’s really sucks to DNF.

Upon reflection, it’s not a waste of fitness. Training is an investment, and the reward for your effort can be seen on race day but only when the timing is right. I have learnt so much in the past few days and weeks when going back through everything to figure out exactly why.

Win or Learn.

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