Thursday, November 3, 2011

Water Polo, the 'Mini Bike' and New Beginnings

Quarterly reports have now turned into annual reports. There is nothing like knowing that I am going back to law school for the summer, and the knowledge that I will be inundated with writing, to push me towards getting this blog written.

I think I will start, what will be a somewhat lengthy blog, at the end of the year and work my way backwards. Of course this is not the most logical thing to do, but I am not always one for conventions.

So it is now the beginning of November, the Jacaranda trees are in full bloom, the days are warm yet not oppressive, and this is quite possibly my favourite time of year in Brisbane. I have only been home for two days, after close to six months away, yet I am immediately aware that my love affair with Australia is one that will continue forever.

I have spent the last two months living and training in Los Angeles. I returned to the US in September after a stint of ITU World Championship Series races with the National Team. London was last my WCS race for the season and for the foreseeable future, maybe ever. My performance in London was rather lacklustre and certainly one that I know is not indicative of my capabilities, yet I am realistic enough to know that it may have been a fair representation of where I was physically and mentally at the time. As I am sure many people have either read about or witnessed, London was one of the worst showcases of what I think a triathlon should be. The swim was similar to most ITU races these days where the start numbers are enormous and unless you have a high ranking giving you choice on the pontoon and a possible shot at clear water, or you are an exceptional swimmer like Sara McLarty, it is often hard to even stroke properly and swim close to race pace. The majority of the 1500m is spent jostling arms, fighting at turn buoys and grabbing swimsuits - probably akin to water polo, but at least they have some fun tossing a ball around.

The bike was pedestrian, at times rolling around at snail’s pace and even though the course showcased the best of London, it was neither challenging in regards to the terrain or technical aspects. The pace was so laissez-faire that the second and third packs, more than one minute down caught the lead group of athletes half way into the bike. This front group of athletes, might I mention included a number of girls who are both physically and technically very good riders. It seems that a large proportion of the time, girls are either under orders or fear testing themselves across all disciplines, waiting for it to be running race, thus at times ignoring their swim/bike strengths. Today’s ITU racing is what it is, but for me it is no longer something I am passionate about. I make no excuses for my running and realise that it needs to be at a much higher level to be at the top of an ITU field. This is something I am now addressing for the first time in a good number of years; however, putting this aside, ITU racing for me no longer holds the allure it previously did and I do not believe that this format always determines the best all-around triathlete. In women’s racing it seems to have frequently become a test of who can run the fastest after soft pedalling for 40km and having a paddle in the water.

Disillusioned with ITU racing and the rigidity of Triathlon Australia’s High Performance program, what saddened me the most this year was the realisation that I had lost belief in my own ability. Where had the athlete, who had a desire to succeed and who had a genuine enthusiasm for the sport, gone? I have seen a number of great athletes disappear from Triathlon Australia’s ITU program if they haven’t fitted the mould of what the administrators think an elite triathlete should be. Athletes are often not given the time or freedom to develop, or redevelop in some cases, in a way that best suits them. Although this environment suits some athletes, and was of great benefit to me in my early years on the circuit, it is no longer the environment that I feel will allow me to continue developing into the best athlete I can be.

So with a loss of interest in ITU racing , and a lack of desire to be involved in the national program, I did what many Aussie athletes have done before and moved to the ‘dark side’ - non drafting racing in America. It turns out, however, that it’s not actually the dark side and it is quite sunny place indeed!

The first race of my new career was the Hy-Vee 5150 Triathlon in Des Moines. I finished 12th with a performance that had many aspects that needed improvement, yet I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and felt pleased to have put together my best swim/bike/run combination for that day. The race was not ideal. I had an interrupted preparation leading into the race after having a serious bike crash a couple of weeks prior, chipping my teeth, sustaining mild concussion and stitches in my chin. I was also riding a TT bike for the first time, one that was very kindly lent to me by Rinny. As most will know, little Rinny is about 10cm shorter than me and rides a much smaller bike, one I like to affectionately call the ‘mini bike’. I also suffered bad stomach cramps on the run, shuffling at times. In spite of these obstacles I did finish the race knowing that I had worked hard throughout all aspects of the race. This was something I had not done for a long time. After Des Moines I headed to LA. After a slow start to the year, I wanted to stay in the states and race a little more. Siri Lindley kindly let me join in with her training group and I had a homestay with one of the most generous and lovely couples you could ever meet. Bonnie and Brian Davidoff and their Burmese mountain dog Beaker opened up their home to me. They made my time living in LA so easy and a lot of fun. The kindness of strangers truly brings a smile to my face, and I now count Bonnie and Brian as great friends.



Siri Lindley - well what can I say? I would be lying if I did not think that her positivity and enthusiasm were going to be a little too much for me to handle. I mean does anyone really love it all the time? Well, Siri certainly does and it turned out to be exactly what I needed. After a day with her squad, I started to feel much more positive and I could feel my self-belief returning. I knew it would not happen overnight but I began to believe that I could be a great athlete again one day. I was astounded by how my training picked up in the first couple of weeks and believe that it was all to do with being in a consistently positive and supportive environment. It truly was amazing. I was loving triathlon again for the first time in years.



My next race was the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Triathlon, where I finished in 4th place. Again there were aspects of the race to work on, namely ensuring my goggles are tight so they don’t fall off mid-way through the swim. There was still the issue of the borrowed mini TT bike, but I put together my best run for a while and that was very satisfying. A week later I raced the Dallas Lifetime Fitness Triathlon Series Final and finished 3rd. I felt this was a much stronger performance. I came out of the water behind Sara McLarty and Sarah Haskins with a big gap to the rest of the field. Lisa Norden showed her incredible prowess on the bike and caught us ensuring she was never challenged. I rode the TT bike much better than in Los Angeles and again I managed to have a solid run finishing third behind Lisa and Sarah Haskins.

I think starting to get my running legs back has been the most rewarding part of my training with Siri. I initially started out as a runner, holding the Australian Under 20 Cross Country title and achieving national podiums on the track, but after years of injury and negative reinforcement about my running ability, I had lost my self-belief. Since 2007 I have dreaded run sessions, worrying about failing to reach the benchmarks set and disappointing myself and my coach. I now look forward to running sessions. I look at them in a positive light, as a challenge. They are now not something to be feared; they are something to be enjoyed.



So, where do I go now? With racing finished in the US for the year, I am back in Australia for the summer. I will return to California next year to begin the second chapter of my triathlon career - non drafting Olympic distance and 70.3 racing. I am really excited about this new beginning, despite it being, in some respects, the hardest part of my career so far. I have no sponsors anymore and am no longer part of the national program so everything has to be self-funded. I guess it is like starting up a new business, you just have to have faith in yourself and believe that you have the goods to make it work. I am hopeful that in time, people will see this as well, but for now, the people closest to me share my belief and at the end of the day this is where it begins.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience honestly & openly. I too have felt, and understand, the loss of belief in yourself as an athlete (in my case, even a BOP one). I'm so pleased to read that your belief & passion for the sport is being restored. Looking forward to following your journey onwards & upwards!

    Cheers
    Jen (@ Sparta!)

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  2. Good luck Annabel...I hope you smash it next year in America. That was a great read!

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  3. Great read Annabel, thank you.

    I admire your honesty, and I loved reading about how you have rediscovered both your love of triathlon your self belief. It is inspiring!

    I hope the next part of your life as a triathlete "on the dark side" turns out to be as rewarding as you hope it will.

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  4. Luxford, I have a suspicion your subscription to the States racing has a lot to do with aspirations of frequenting Fudruckers! Count me in! You'll be missed in France!

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