The Decision

The Decision

After two years of racing as a Cat 1/2 bike racer, I made the hard decision to go back to triathlon. It wasn’t something I necessarily had planned to do in 2017 but I knew I would return to the discipline eventually. It’s not that I have greater passion for it or because I’m better at it than cycling. If anything the opposite is true in both cases! I love bike racing. I have a deep-seeded passion for cycling and, physiologically, I’m better suited to sprinting than I am steady-state riding –and I loathe running.

While the actual activity of cycling is something I love more than anything, triathlon as a sport, as a platform for competition, and as an athletic endeavour, appeals to me much more than bike racing does. Triathlon is an individualistic sport and very much an exercise in personal growth and reward. Bike racing offers it’s personal challenges and rewards, certainly, but it’s still very much dependent on those around you. You can’t show up to a bike race with a personal goal of finishing within a certain time, because it won’t matter. If you get dropped from the peloton, your race is basically over. You can shave 5 minutes off your finish time in a bike race over the previous year’s edition, but it won’t matter if you’re still 20 minutes behind the front group. If you shave 5 minutes off your finish time at a triathlon, that’s an incredibly satisfying personal accomplishment. It’s not that one scenario is better than the other, it just appeals to a different type of person.

There are some who might want to say that I’m not coming to triathlon but running away from bike racing. And they would be partly right. The last two years have taken an incredible toll on me psychologically. 2017 was an unhealthy year for me. I raced for a team that created an incredibly toxic environment for its riders. There was too much focus on results and not enough on rider development. I became a slave to results. And instead of revelling in the small victories ┬áthat I had in previous years, I saw anything less than a top 20 a failure. And there were a lot of failures. I started the year with the best power numbers I’d ever seen. In some cases I’d improved drastically. But as the season went on and the anxiety about my results and my weight intensified, I saw those numbers slowly dropping.

My lowest point of 2017 was just a few weeks prior to GP Saguenay. I wanted to be on that squad more than anything. It would be my first UCI professional stage race. I knew I wouldn’t place well at Saguenay. I had no delusions there. But I wanted to go. In the first training rides and races of the year with my new team and teammates, I was looking like one of the stronger riders. Rather than select the team based on who was riding well, and who had been contributing to the team, selections were to be made on one single race: GP Charlevoix, one week before Saguenay. This put pressure on everyone to get the best results. It’s hard to ride as a team when you know that helping your teammate to make the break might cost you a spot on the Saguenay squad.

Already being someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, those few weeks before Charlevoix were some of the worst of my life. I became obsessed with my weight. I knew with my power numbers that if I could just drop 4kg, my threshold power would be close to 5 w/kg. I wouldn’t win any races, but I’d certainly be able to hang near the front. But of course I’m a stress eater. The more I stressed about my weight, the more I wanted to eat. Three times I induced vomiting after binge eating on pizza. In addition to my weight woes, I was rapidly losing fitness. I couldn’t even come close to the numbers I was putting out in April. Things were getting out of hand and I was mentally unhealthy. And as it turned out, all my stress and anxiety were for nothing anyway.

The first stage of Charlevoix I broke my derailleur hangar and had to pull out of the race. Fortunately, I was allowed to continue. The next morning was the TT but I still didn’t have a replacement hangar. One of my teammates, Fabien, let me borrow his training bike –a road bike– for the TT. Of course I didn’t do well in that stage. Fabien came to the rescue again when we discovered his TT bike used the same hangar as my road bike. I was able to get my bike fixed in time for the hill climb race that afternoon. But something wasn’t right. When I got back to the host housing after another failed stage, I almost immediately began vomiting uncontrollably. Stomach flu (that has to be ironic in some way). That was the end of my Charlevoix experience and the final nail in the coffin for any hope of making the Saguenay squad.

The debacle in Charlevoix ended up being the best thing that could have happened. I was forced to take some much needed time away from the bike and evaluate what I was doing. I skipped Nationals and instead covered the event for Cycling Canada, which was one of the best experiences at a bike race I’ve ever had. On the plus side, I was no longer forcing myself to throw up, I had realized how dangerous that could become if I kept it up. But I was still stressing about weight and power. I hired a coach, Nicholas Vipond, a very well known and respected cycling coach who has worked with Mike Woods and current Canadian Road Champion Matteo Dal-Cin. He helped take a load off my back by taking control of my training. My fitness was in his hands and now I all I needed to do was ride my bike. Unfortunately, my depression was in full swing for most of June and July. I went to BC Superweek feeling tired, slow, and miserable.

There were good points though. After Superweek I took a road trip across B.C. to Banff. During that trip, I went on some of the best rides of my life. Climbing Revelstoke will always be one of my all-time favourite rides. Throughout the rest of the summer the high points were always focussed around cycling but not on the bike. Cycling Canada sent me to MTB World Cup Mont-Saint-Anne. What an incredible experience. I watched some incredible bike races and met some very cool people in the mountain bike world (Catherine Pendrel is my hero).

And then August 20th happened. <dont worry this is where the story gets happier> On August 20th I was in Mont Tremblant with my wife who was competing in her first ever full distance Ironman, which was amazing! On top of that, two athletes I coach, John and Chris, were competing as well. Being there as support crew and seeing all the hard work they’d put into their training pay off was incredible. They reminded me that day that races were supposed to be fun. I was reminded that even after long hard and demanding race, you can still smile at the end of it. It had been a long time since I smiled at the end of a race.

I decided to register for the Olympic distance event at the Somersault Events Canadian Triathlon. My swim was slow and rusty but when I got to the bike, I felt incredible. I rode a solid 41kph average over the 40km. I was a little worried about how my run would hold up after pushing so hard on the bike but I was surprised to find my legs were still feeling great and I ran my fastest ever 10km. I ended up 3rd overall. I was 5 minutes slower than the winner on the run, but 7 minutes faster on the bike –that goddamn swim. It wasn’t just the positive reinforcement of a podium finish that made that day great and made me start to consider a return to triathlon. It was the feeling of accomplishment. It was being 7km into the 10km run and realizing I was going to have a personal best. It was getting to end and realizing how much work I needed to do in the pool, and how exhilarating the thought of working towards that improvement was. It was the fact that for the entire race, I didn’t even think about my competitors. The only thing that went through my head was, “Keep pushing! Don’t Stop! Go faster!” I wasn’t trying to catch anyone. I wasn’t trying to beat anyone but the voice in my head that said, “if you quit now, you can eat pizza.” I fucking crushed that guy that day.

And now we finally come to The Decision. Why would someone who apparently couldn’t handle the stress of competition in bike racing go after an incredibly lofty goal like turning pro in triathlon? Won’t I end up with the same anxieties and stresses as before? It would be arrogant of me to say that this will be different or that it’s not the same. I could end up in the same place. But triathlon is a sport that is perfect for someone like me. Because it’s such a personal sport it will allow me to face the demons that ate me up and spit me out on my own terms. I’m not a slave to my anxiety anymore. I’m facing it down and overcoming it (medication helps too). Sure I could make a lesser goal: finish another full distance Ironman or place top 10 in my age group at a 70.3. But if I make those my goals, I’ll just end up setting another higher goal. And eventually I’ll set the goal to turn pro anyway. I’ll still target a top age group spot, but it won’t be my goal. It will be a step in the process. Just like working on my catch and improving my stride are steps. I’m so looking forward to all those little micro-victories I’m going to have in this process. Just the other day I finally nailed the recovery phase of my swim stroke….

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