I signed up for the Princeton Half Ironman in January. It was a fast decision, but one I'd had in my subconscious since doing a couple sprints the summer before. I was filled with excitement, a healthy dose of fear, and a very clear objective to find a coach to help me prepare for a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13 mile run. Many of my friends told me I didn't need a coach, but I knew I did for the accountability and to make me a proper plan to really push myself.
I ran the Chicago marathon in 2004. My preparation for the marathon was laughable, but my body was strong, I was a youthful 26 and I was determined to finish. I no longer have youth on my side - thankfully, still the same strong-will. Now I have a reverence and respect for my body that carried 2 babies and logged many miles on the road and trail since that marathon. I hopefully will have the privilege to live in this body for the next 1/2 century and to be blunt, I don't do stupid things with it anymore. I wanted to do this right and maybe even do well vs. just finish.
So with this perspective in mind, I found a great coach in Laurie Hug who in addition to being a triathlon coach, is is a pro triathlete, high school and masters swim coach. With the exception of high school sports, I've never worked with a coach and none of them were the caliber of Laurie. I was going to do every workout she prescribed, hang on every piece of advice she gave me and make training a top non-negotiable priority.
It's extremely frustrating when your mind says, GO! and your body says, STOP! I prayed in church, lit candles, said Hail Mary's, cried, said mantras, meditated, complained, blamed everyone around me for giving me their germs, laughed, and then finally just accepted that it is what it is, and it will be OK. If I miss a race, don't make every workout and don't reach my goals, that's all OK. Racing is a privilege and sometimes the perspective we get from things not going our way has much more impact than any PR or goal achieved.
As this was all going on Laurie was a steadfast and calm presence - exactly what I'd hoped for in a coach. She reassured me that things were fine, sympathized, adjusted my workouts, and made me realize this happens to everyone at one point or another. Below are some words she wrote on setbacks that shows her experience and wisdom in triathlon and in life.
Triathletes tend to be type A personalities and, as such, like to follow a regimented plan. There is comfort in following a routine and making steady progress towards a goal. Sometimes, however, life throws a wrench in our plans. It may be sickness or work or family issues that disrupt our plans. And it is easy to panic and maybe try to make up for lost time by doubling up on workouts if we miss some training.
If one has built a strong base then small setbacks shouldn't be of major concern. A few days or even a week+ off really won’t make THAT much of a difference in the long run if one has been training consistently. The time off may even be beneficial, especially for those who tend to do a bit too much. There is no need to try to make up these missed workouts; just get back on track as soon as possible and back into a consistent routine.
For those with ongoing setbacks however, it may be time to reevaluate the goals. It doesn't necessarily mean giving up on doing a certain race but may require readjusting expectations. Maybe you are hoping to break 5 hours for a half IM but have not been able to complete several key workouts due to sicknesses throughout the season. Instead change the goal to getting to the start line healthy and enjoying the day. If you break or come close to breaking that 5 hour barrier, that becomes a bonus.
Maybe you are training for your first ironman and end up having to travel for 2 weeks during a key training period and can only run. An adjustment to the original training plan may be all that is needed to get back on track. You could do a swim/bike focus upon return while working on the run during the trip.
Maybe you break an arm while preparing for a big event and, as a result, will no longer be able to participate. This is tough break for sure! One way to deal with it is to still go to the event and volunteer or cheer on your friends then plan on doing it next year. For some though, it can actually be harder to watch others racing than it would have been by doing the race on less than ideal training. You were ready to go and now will mentally have to deal with the disappointment. So that is something to keep in mind. You could use it as a way to spend more time with family and friends or work on a project you have been wanting to do but haven’t had time to start due to training demands.
In the end, we are ultimately doing this for fun. We are lucky to be able to race and it is adult play. If setbacks occur we may need to look at the big picture and realize the training we have been doing has been helping us stay healthy and given us some purpose and a goal. Goals are just that, and sometimes we don’t meet the ones we set. It is awesome when we do but when life gets in the way, we usually are still better off having gone through the process than had we not started training for an event in the first place.