The 2019 race season is over, and it went down as one of my best ever. After a disappointing 2018 that was riddled with injury, I faced a long road back to full mental and physical health.
Not only was my body broken and in need of major work, but some of the self-doubt demons had crept in and made me wonder if I could be back where I once was: winning big races.
Fast forward to early spring in Tucson, Arizona, and I was getting ready to board a flight to South Africa in hopes of capturing my third title at the Ironman African Championships in Nelson Mandela Bay. After getting settled in Port Elizabeth, I went to work and secured the threepeat with one of my most complete performances against a world class field. I was not only back, but improving.
Two more Ironmans at the end of the season ensured that my springtime results were not a fluke, but rather the beginning of a new trend. I saw a personal best time at the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, and another overall personal best time and fastest ever Ironman marathon split in Florida 3 weeks later.
What transpired in the last year to lead me to a brand-new chapter of growth and performance as an athlete, and how did I navigate the time between Kona and Florida to make sure I was able to back up so well?
The answer is simple and complex at the same time. Ultimately, it hinged on having an incredible team around me, and doing the small things while keeping the right attitude. Looking back now, I have distilled what I think are the two most important pieces, highlighted below:
1. I learned to listen to my body in a new and profound way, and applied what I heard.
In the past, I had always assumed that I could push through and eventually be ok, that more was always better. After suffering a serious injury with my sacral stress fracture, I took the time to analyze the data behind what led to my eventual bone break, and then apply that to my recovery and comeback.
Utilizing the knowledge of my entire team, from doctors, PTs, coaches, and nutrition specialists, we were able to discover deficiencies in all areas of my program and modify it to address them. One of the most important pieces came from using my Cercacor Ember device to more closely monitor HRV, pulse rate trends, and hemoglobin, to ensure training readiness, hydration, and recovery.
With the new Coach's dashboard, my coach Ryan had the ability to check in remotely and modify training as needed to avoid overtraining and potential injury. With the additional inputs of emotional components, a more complete picture of the athlete is painted, and better conclusions and protocols can be drawn.
2. I adopted a positive outlook and appreciation of the process.
As simple and cliché as it can sound, maintaining a positive outlook and adopting an attitude of gratitude is one of best things anyone can do to improve their life, in my opinion.
When too much time is spent meditating on the bad or focusing on what you don't have instead of what you do, precious moments are lost and a pattern of negative feedback is created.
I have always found that when I just acknowledge how great it is that I can swim, bike, and run, I perform better and tend to have better interactions with everyone around me. Of course, not everything is always going to go perfectly, but it is usually possible to find some element to be grateful for.
Instead of being worried about an outcome or result, I shifted the focus to enjoying the process and seeing what I could do with each day to improve myself. Monitoring my important physiological parameters, spending time working on my mental health through meditation and mindfulness practice, concentrating on more optimal diet choices, and remaining calm and positive in the face of adversity has led me to a new and exciting time in my career.
I hope these small changes and areas of focus can be of help for anyone who is looking to improve their life or performance. Although all paths and definitions of success are different, we share some commonalities that can be applied for optimization.
Listen to yourself... you'll be surprised what you might hear.