Retirement Can Wait

“I am never going to swim, bike and run on the same day ever again”

Mike Neill. Post Ironman Hawaii 2011

This is what I had said after my final race in Kona in 2011. I swore I was done with this crazy sport. I guess this is what 4 Ironmans in 7 months will do to you. When I said it, I thought I meant it. I really did. I felt I was done with racing. I had been obsessed with the sport since 1993. I finished up my hockey career with the Jr B Napanee Raiders and wanted a challenge different from hockey (so naturally a 180 pound guy who can’t swim turns his attention to triathlon).

I didn’t last too long with this no swim, bike or run thing on the same day. That next summer I jumped into the first ever and very unofficial Mini Man Triathlon (now the Metchosin Triathlon). I remember I was very excited the week of that little race with only Human Powered Racing team mates. I actually spent one week preparing for it. The results showed. Adrian Walton handed it to me on the swim, bike and run. Nevertheless, I decided I was done with racing again. Retirement #2.

The next summer I decided to jump in the Sri Triathlon Sprint race. I decided about a month out of the race and I prepared like I normally would for that month. I was excited for the race and I enjoyed the few actual workouts I did getting ready for it. Still, that was it for 2013. Retirement #3

2014. OK, one more. The Victoria 70.3 sprint race and then that’s it. 6 weeks of preparation this time. I took it a little more seriously than the year before. Borrowed a disc for the race. Went pretty fast. Enjoyed the heck out of getting ready with the team. Enjoyed beating some younger guys, but that was it. Retirement #4.

We are now in 2015 and I have already raced an Olympic distance race in Kona (Lavaman) and I am a few days away from the Miami 70.3. How did this happen? I love it. I love the preparation, I love my team and the people I get to train with. I love having a goal and I love all of the little things that go along with the sport; sacrifice, commitment, travel, tough days biking in the rain, awesome days riding in the sun, swimming in Thetis at sunset, swimming in Crystal before the sun comes up, running on the trails of Elk/Thetis with the sun streaming through the trees, running in the wind and rain along Dallas Road. I guess in the end, I didn’t really miss the racing as much as I missed the getting ready to race. The race was just the excuse to get out the door and make it happen.

I also really missed the structure that I had in my life for all of those years of racing and training under the guidance of my long time coach Randy Zabukovec of Ironstride in Kingston. With that in mind I went back to him last year when I was getting ready for the Victoria (and eventually Seattle) Marathon. I have had Randy coaching me since. We had a lot of success together in the 13 years he coached me at Ironman and I trust and respect the workouts he gives me. I follow the program and they have always led to me right to or very close to the goals I set for myself. Randy is part of the process and I owe a lot of my love for the sport to him.

This brings me to my next point; training and racing makes me a better coach. Not better in the sense of better than any other coach out there, but better in the sense that I feel closer to the athletes I am working with. I get it. The emotions of how they feel after a good or bad workout. The elation of how they feel after a great performance. The disappointment after a poor one. Being able to relate to what my athletes are going through is something that is a direct product of sweating and suffering along side them on a day to day basis. I am very lucky to coach a great group of athletes here in Victoria as part of Human Powered Racing. When I “retired” and removed myself from the “process” of getting ready I lost some connection to the team. I don’t know if they felt it, but I certainly did. This past year was a renewal. With retirement on hold and Challenge Penticton on the schedule for myself and most of the team in 2016 I couldn’t be more excited to be leading Human Powered Racing Canada into another 10 years of preparing and racing.

You can’t retire from a way of life!