In honor of St. Paddy’s Day Weekend, I spent yesterday drinking copiously, shouting profanities, and passing out in the gutter. Sadly, this was on account of a very hot, very fast bike ride, but we do not choose our vices. I got stuck on an Irish theme, so this blog is tied together by Irish quotes particularly endowed with the gifts of the Blarney Stone.

After an intense 20 year buildup to the Olympics, I had taken a pretty chill off-season. A week or so in Japan. A bit more time in Spocompton visiting family, speaking to some Eagle Scouts about how they should follow their dreams and that the water in Rio was fine. FINE I SAY. But probably the most time trying to not think but anyway thinking “that was a long season and really difficult and I still feel tired and woah, I just accomplished the goal that’s driven me for like 2 decades and oh my god, it’s Thanksgiving and Paulo just sent me the first week of training for 2017.”

And then the realization that “yeah, this year is going to be awesome.” The off-season had been a blur:

George Best. Kind of a big deal

Coming into 2017, I’m still working with the best sponsors, some old, some new. I’ll give them a shout out here:

ROKA!!! KESTREL!!! CERAMIC SPEED!!! PIONEER!!! NYAC!!! BROOKS!!!

Feel free to shout along with me. It increases testosterone.

Over the offseason The Triathlon Squad experienced a lot of change. It’s the beginning of a new quad and with most of us now focused 4 years away on Tokyo or satisfied after Rio, there was bound to be some shifts. We lost Manny Huerta and Joe Maloy, two of my favorite training partners. I’d trained with Manny back in my early days of triathlon in Colorado Springs, so the last year had been fun to work with him again. Obviously Joe had been part of the squad for the entire time I have been in Poway.

Hint: it rhymes with Swaylor Tift

We also added a bunch of new people, and it’s interesting to see how their personalities and habits adds to the training environment. We do not grow with the same stimulus. We grow by tackling new challenges and adapting to new situations, learning from the failures and successes of those around us. It’s exciting to start a new squad with a different group of people, to see how we confront and conquer the intricacies of exercising professionally.

The circumstances of this quote were of a rather more serious nature.

By February 25th it was time for the first flight of the year. Usually I start the season with some small race, where I debut a version of my bad luck beard.

After that beard directly resulted in a flat tire and a flat performance (correlation = causation), I figured I should avoid a 3 year streak. Lumberjack Billington had to go, and that was emphasized when Paulo and I decided to clear the off-season fog with a WTS. Since I’m usually the dude barely hanging on to the back of a WTS swim pack, I always opt for the full body shave (it’s empirically faster, absolutely not a mental tick).

A long off-season and a couple months where I had difficulty getting into a good training rhythm, meant I had to make an (ultimately successful) effort to approach Abu Dhabi the way I’ve approached my best events – no holds barred, with the highest ambitions but no expectations. The results and training during last year were difficult, but it was culmination of a very long process. It enabled us to make significant training adjustments (again) and this new season would be the opportunity to hone those decisions into a workable template.

That was the Cape Town WTS. A bad day. I got a lot of… experience

After a long flight (middle seat! NOOOOO!) I arrived in Abu Dhabi about a week before race day.

It was great to see the other Team USA athletes I hadn’t spoken to since last year. Ben Kanute and I roomed together and bonded over 2 kilos of local dates. His were large and firm, but mine were sweeter and softer.

I checked over the course, online or in person, everyday I was there. It was new since 2016 and hadn’t been finalized until the week of the race. With flat water and a long distance to the first buoy, the swim looked like it would be fast. Having that knowledge didn’t change the fact that I would redline the first 300 meters, it just usually affects how far back in the pack I am after redlining those first 3 minutes (yeah that’s right, I just implied that we drop a 3 minute 300 and then keep swimming).

When there is no one around, it’s either a very bad day or the pace is HOT

It turned out, I was an indeterminate number of meters back. Because, really, who has time to look that far ahead? I just had people to pass, so I continued thrashing myself until we exited the water after the 900m first lap. I could see like a 5 second gap from the front pack. Naturally, I was simultaneously thrilled and cognizant of impending pain. There were 600 meters left, so with great strength and fortitude I closed the 5 second gap and came out at the back of the 20-person front pack and 10 seconds from first. I was in it, man (contingent upon a very fast T1 and lotsa watts for about 5 minutes).

Whew! In it

Within about 15k, the front pack was whittled down to 10 guys through a combination of crashes, power, and people getting stuck behind the wrong cyclist. And, obviously, the massive watts from my hewn granite quads.

The bike course was very well done. They’d sectioned the Yas Marina F1 Track off into a specific cycling course that had flowed very quickly, challenging (at least my) abilities to pick correct lines and accelerate quickly. The group worked well together, because, you know, it was made up of the best triathletes in the world. By the end we’d built about a minute on the large chase pack.

I was second off the bike having consumed most of the calories I’d strapped to the carbon (400, if you were curious). I felt less like dying than usual at the start of the run. For some reason a volunteer dude yanked away the water bottle I was reaching for at the first aid station and I lost a bit to my pack. I caught back up quickly and felt fine, but was soon running solo in 5th, chasing Gomez, Bishop, Schoeman and Luis. It stayed that way for about 6.5k. I couldn’t break out of my rhythm to catch Schoeman, but I managed to not slow down too much.

I could tell the pack of Murray, Pereira, Alarza was closing on me with 2.5k to go and I knew I had to latch on if I wanted to stay ahead of Mola and pass Schoeman. I snuck in for about 800 meters until we’d passed Schoeman; both Perriera and I then dropped off. We chilled for about a mile. He pretended like he was tired (“gahh, gahh, gahh, take the lead…”) before unsurprisingly kicking hard with 400 meters left (he’s fast, if you hadn’t heard). I took a wrong turn at the end (transition and the finish line were next to each other, I was dumb), but caught myself before Mola passed me and I cruised in for 7th. I got to high five people, too.

Or mid five them…

And that was it! Ben and I had been talking all week about going on the World’s Fastest Roller Coaster, which was right next door to the race. Because there is a direct correlation between rollercoaster riding and poor performances, we couldn’t go before competing. With the race starting at 4:00pm, drug testing afterwards, and a closing time of 8:00, however, the logistics of a post race ride were tight. But I persevered! I said, “Not today, fatigue! I’m going to do something interesting!” Somehow, I completed drug testing within 45 minutes (I had barely enough for the minimum sample amount. I risked everything!! Partial samples are the worst!) and sprinted over to Ferarri World (To further explain above drug testing procedures – you need like 120ml of urine, which after a hot 2hr race is hard to produce. If you have 100ml, you’re SOL and need to try again. And if your sample is too dilute, you’re SOL and need to go again. It’s a tough balance between drinking enough and not so much that the golden shower is insufficiently golden. This professional exercising stuff is tough #cleansport).

Still in my race suit, I ran through Ferrari World looking for a big red thing that moved quickly and some place to store my bike. A guy said this one place would work but was closing soon, so I gave him some Dirham and my bike and ran towards something shaped like an F1 car.

With it being so close to closing, very few people were in line. After riding the Formula Rossa once and hitting 150 mph in less than 5 seconds, I realized the best way to spend the final minutes of opening time would be to ride as many times as possible. I went another 3 times until it was last call and I hadn’t ridden in the front yet. I was prepared for fisticuffs with tiny children, but crime was avoided and I made it into the front seat.

I returned to where I’d stored my bike and the lights were all turned off and no one was there. I explored every nearby unlocked door until I found a back room with people and started waving around my storage tag. My Kestrel was found, fortunately, as was my backpack and passport because I’d need those to go back to America (but the dates in Abu Dhabi are so gooooddd!). In other words, I nailed it. 7th at a WTS, 5 rides on the fastest roller coaster, and 2.204 pounds of dates. As far as races go, this was about as good as it gets (except, you know, winning. Kind of the reason I race).

7th is solid, but I’m looking forward to running fast again. That’ll be fun. The consistency that’s come from a better swim means I’m finally ranked highly enough to be one of those dudes who makes an ITU triathlon award more points (it’s called quality of field factor. Nobody ever said triathlon ranking was simple), so that’s nice.

I’m back in a solid training block and exist between coffees and naps of differing duration. The training hasn’t become easier, but I’m able to handle the work with greater self-possession. I have more confidence to do the required work and know what counts as a distractions. There will always be different ways to train, athletes doing less or more or easier or faster. But those are only data points we can eventually analyze to find our own path. Often in the past I’ve expected difficulty to come from certain training sessions, when choke points were in the physical or mental preparation. Less frequently now do I confuse where the challenges are actually coming from with where I expect or want them to be. After making the Olympics I’m closer to seeing what I want in triathlon and what I can give. That’s the most I could have asked for:

And here’s to Ireland! I’m drinking a Guinness, because, Toucans?