by Chris Bagg
(ed. note—Chris is our new content director at the W Blog, and we're reposting this story from earlier in the year when he was beginning his new year's campaign; we're looking ahead to a year of great stories here, and we hope that kicking things off with this big picture look forward gets you thinking about your goals for 2017)
2016 wasn’t the year I wanted it to be. Aside from picking up a win at the Great White North triathlon back in July, the rest of my races felt like shadows of what I can usually do. After most races I found myself asking Is this it? Am I done? Is it over? I turned 37 this past May, and although we all know correlation isn’t causation, I wondered often if I’d run out the clock on racing triathlon professionally. But then those thoughts would be followed close after by others: you’ve been injured most of this year, you expanded your coaching business, you’ve struggled to get the bike fit dialed. I had plenty of explanations for the sub-par season at hand, and just hoped that they weren’t, in fact, excuses.
But 2016 is gone, now. You, dear reader, are reading these words in the early months of the new year, flush with excitement and purpose. It’s that enthusiasm, at this point of the year, that can mold 2017 into the sculpture you’ve been imagining since hanging up your racing last year. I’ve been trying to do the same, addressing the issues that hampered 2016, and building a foundation on top of which—I hope—success will flourish. What does that look like for me? Well, first of all, I took a big, sedentary break. I’ve talked about this at length, elsewhere, but it seems to always bear repeating, because I find myself fighting the same battle, every off-season, with the athletes I coach: take a break! I say. I’m afraid I’ll lose my fitness! They reply. Well, good, I say back. You WANT to lose fitness right now. You won’t lose all of your accrued fitness from 2016 by taking a ten-to-fourteen day break. You’ll gain a little weight, which is also good, but you’ll be completely refreshed and excited to get back into training, rather than limping into the new year, 2016 hanging onto your legs like a beggar.
When I returned to training, I did it in ways that I found fun. I go to Glenwood Springs every Christmas, and I take my skate skis, which, for the rest of the year, sit forlornly in our storage unit in Portland, dreaming of snow instead of rain. While in Colorado I try to ski every day, gasping my way up the trails near Carbondale. My glutes (butt muscles, really) were my big issue last year, tightening up due to a variety of causes: 1) my own laziness about core and strength work. I’ll be honest. I hate the gym. I don’t know what to do there, and I feel like one of those skinny guys from the Charles Atlas ads from the 1950s, giant men all around me saying “Watch it, Shrimp!” The other problem is that plenty of the skinny runners that hang around my gym can easily out-lift me as well. Portland is rife with world-class runners, and I’ll often see a tiny Olympian, squatting at least my body weight over by the weight racks. So, in short, I feel like a foreigner in the gym, and tend to avoid it. Not good. 2) Bike fit issues. I think a lot of people would simply throw up their hands and say “My bike doesn’t fit!” That’s possible, but accountability is super important, too. Mostly due to cause #1 (see above), I don’t have the core strength and range of motion to get down into a proper position on the bike. Therefore, after about 4-5 hours of continuous riding at relatively high outputs (like, say, an Ironman bike leg), my glutes clamp down on my sciatic nerve, which in turn tells me that I’m done competing for the day. So, this winter in Glenwood has been the winter of the butt, which skate skiing is amazing for. Any of you that have been told before that you have “A lazy butt,” you may want to take up skate skiing. The activity is impossible without using your glutes (unlike cycling, which you can muscle along with your quads, letting your glutes atrophy and tighten), and you can build the strength that will power your cycling and running for the rest of 2017. An extra bonus? Skate skiing is enormously beneficial for the muscles of your upper back and the stabilizing muscles around your shoulder. Sound familiar? Yeah, those are the muscles you swim with. For real, go buy some skate skis.
The other approach I’m taking is to find ways of making therapy more fun. Again, reference #1 above, but the gym is a struggle for me, and my physical therapy exercises are also a chore. My PT is a very thorough guy, and my list of prescribed movements now stretches out past an hour, every day. An additional seven hours of training can be hard to stomach (that doesn’t quite seem the correct metaphor; “hard to muscle” perhaps?), especially since most of us have lives and commitments outside of triathlon. But here’s how I’ve tried to reframe the conversation. In early December I had the opportunity to attend a Functional Range Conditioning seminar. FRC has been around for a few years, it turns out, and is basically a way of thinking about getting your body to move better. Not only did the ideas seem sound to me, the instructors moved in ways I would like to be able to move, myself: supple, dexterous. They had bulletproofed their bodies against injury by doing their exercises religiously (#everydamnday is a hashtag they deploy on the Interwebs). I began taking that approach, starting every single day with a simple ten-minute routine that got my body moving. Once complete, I didn’t find it difficult to move into the rest of my physical therapy. As with most things, a little inertia goes a long way. In other words, just get started.
Finally, 2016 was a really stressful year. I expanded my coaching company, hiring four assistant coaches and then finding athletes for those new coaches. My educational background (Bachelor of Arts in English and Drama, and then a graduate degree in poetry writing; yep, you read that final clause correctly—contact me and I’ll write you a sonnet) hasn’t prepared me for business management, and I made a lot of mistakes, which cost a lot of money. Around September, I even thought about giving up and taking a job with another coaching company. My dad flew out to Portland to give me counsel, and after a few stressful weeks I decided to press on with CBCG (my coaching outfit). Stress is stress, however, I’m fond of saying, and the huge amount of work running a small business took its toll on my sleep and my focus. I set up most of my days around the business, rather than my training, and the training, unsurprisingly, suffered. So I’m also spending January and February putting the structures in place to make 2017 less like a series of fires to extinguish and more like a simple, efficient machine, speed bumps foreseen and accounted for. To get there I did the following:
- Met with all of my athletes face-to-face (or Facetime-to-Facetime) for a big two-hour retrospective of 2016, and forecast of 2017. We set their annual plans up, accounted for vacations, and picked races. All of that stuff will probably change, but you do need at least some kind of road map before you start.
- Set up the training camps I’ll run in 2017. Bend, the camp we’ve been running for years, was simple, but there are still houses to rent, pool time to request, and special guests to line up. Tucson, a new camp, provides different challenges, so getting that camp dialed in December will decrease my stress load for the subsequent year.
- Set up my racing year with Amy (my wife and a professional triathlete herself). We sat down with a big calendar and a couple of markers. We had to pick races that suit us, find time for our own training camps, and make sure we don’t alienate our families in the process. Again, this will probably shift, but it’s good to have that 1000-mile view before you descend into the weeds.
- Sat down with my accountant. Financial stress is a huge part of running a business or a household. Get that stuff in order now so you know how much you can spend on your racing in 2017.
- Thanked my sponsors and support crew. Triathlon at any level is difficult and expensive. I have a chiropractor, a massage therapist, and a physical therapist who provide me a lot of help. I have sponsors who believe in what I do. You have these same people in your life; thank them.
There are far more things to be done to set the foundations of your coming year, but that simple list is a good start. As I mentioned above, simply get going, have fun, and think about 2017 as a body of work, not as isolated races. You’re trying to be the most efficient triathlon machine possible, so get your body, equipment, and schedule sorted out now. Maybe, just maybe, you and I both will have the 2017 we desire.
Thanks for reading - Bagg