Where do I start that is the question. At the end of last years race season I took a month off of training and devoted my time and energy in my family. October came and left and I found myself still in a bad place with my mother undergoing cancer treatments. I tried my best to stay on track with training but it was more sporadic than anything, I would go run when I was sad or stressed and spent little time on my bike. The outlet that running provided me truly saved me from having a complete breakdown. From October to Christmas it was a constant battle caring for my dying mother. We all deal with grief in different ways and for me the only way to get through it was to run myself until I was either in physical pain or emotional upset. During these few months I developed my own way to help exhaust my grief and now on the other side of it all I can see it has made me a stronger person. My mother passed away Friday January 13th around 11:00am after loosing her battle to lung cancer. For a woman who never smoked and was always active and eating healthy her life was cut short. Take it from me that you need to live everyday to the fullest and jump at ever opportunity you are given. The day she passed away I slept for the first time in months. Once someone is no longer suffering there is a sense of peace that follows and for me it meant I was able to focus on my wife and daughter. Laura and I have grown closer than ever through this process and she and Harper have both been shining lights in my life. They are the ones that were there helping me get through the hardest days of my life pulling me up from the darkness.
In the last few weeks of my mother’s life I spent every day at her bedside as she lay in Hospice care. Selflessly putting my life and work on hold it was a transforming experience. Now on the other side of the darkness I have started to get back into my routines. I was away from work for many weeks. Returning to work was a big moment and not an easy decision to make, after all I deal with people all day everyday. What I mean by this is lots of people from work have been supportive but there are still a fair number that don’t know why I was gone and I found myself explaining my absence after returning. this you can imagine was horrible, like picking a fresh scab. If I even begin to start thanking people who have been supportive or sent cards and flowers we would be here reading the names for days. One big “thank you” from me to everyone in my life is the best I can do. From the bottom of my heart I truly appreciate everyone who reached out during the difficult times.
As an athlete I am a very scheduled person and I know a lot of you can relate when I say that. With work back on track and meal times returning to normal my running and biking slowly returned as well. I have started to build up my base in terms of mileage and saddle time but it hasn’t been smooth sailing. It took a few weeks of feeling like I need to make up for lost time before I realized I just needed to relax. Time, something I was always saying “I don’t have enough of” that term makes my skin crawl after everything I have gone through. If there is one thing I do have its time…..granted none of us know how much. Just saying that out loud to myself was enough of a reminder that I needed to make the most of all my time. Squeeze workouts in and use every hour of the day productively. Family is the most important thing in my life and some days workouts just don’t happen and that’s ok. For me this is a new eye-opening because if you asked my if i even missed a workout a few years ago I would have said “never”. What I have found is that even if I miss a workout for whatever the reason it is better for my mental health to take it in stride. I have a different outlook on life this year because the passing of my mother has changed me forever. For six months my life felt like a heart that is beating out of rhythm and on the day mom died it was as if the defibrillator of life shocked me back into sync.
Moving forward I am excited for what the future has in store for me and my family. Without hope we have nothing so I am trying my best to be as positive as possible despite suffering a terrible loss. This summer I am focusing my efforts on long course duathlon racing. I have a tentative race schedule in my mind but have not committed to it just yet. In the next few weeks though I will have a full schedule so stay tuned.
I have made four changes to my training for this summer and the first one focuses on my running.
1. Running – MAF
My training last winter did not exactly produce the results I had hoped for (running wise) so this year coach and I have taken a different approach and I am using the MAF method.
Among the important benefits of using a heart monitor is the ability to objectively measure your aerobic progress. Objectively measuring improvement is just as important. Measuring aerobic progress can be easily accomplished using the maximum aerobic function (MAF) Test.
One of the great benefits of the MAF Test is its ability to objectively inform you of an obstacle long before you feel bad or get injured. Your training will progress much more smoothly—and quickly—by regularly performing a MAF test.
The basics of the test are you run 3-4 mile (1.6km) repeats with the same rest in between and record the time it takes to complete each lap. The kicker is that you have to keep your heart rate at your “MAF ZONE MAX”. Using the simple 180 formula subtract your age and that is your max HR number. For me its 180-30 = 150. With this value I have been seeing results over the past while as my lap times are coming down and my heart rate is staying the same interval after interval. Hopefully this change will be beneficial to my racing and early indicators are saying that it will be. I have already seen mile times dropping over the past few weeks as I repeat the test.
Until now I was not able to use this training technique because I was on beta blockers that suppressed my heart beat, making it impossible to determine if I was exerting myself or not. This brings me to the second change for this summer.
2. Heart Condition – No more betas !
This has been a life changing decision that was not made lightly but again after realizing that life is short I will no longer be slowed down or controlled by medication. I was experiencing so many side effects but the big ons were heavy bouts of fatigue, forgetfulness and general sloth like attitude. My resting heart beat at times was in the low 40’s… and I was constantly tired. The largest difference is that my body can produce adrenaline again. Try racing as hard as you can with none of that you numb on the starting line not caring if you win or lose… well that was me all last year but no more. No amount of caffeine would help because the betas were blocking everything….. a horrible feeling really. Now capable of raising my heart rate again I feel alive. It’s almost like someone flipped a switch and I am clear-headed and focused. Being reliant on medication is something I wish upon no one. Having experienced something like this first hand I know how lucky I am to be off of it.
3. Equipment Upgrades – New Bike
In addition to the run training and removal of medication I am excited to say that I will be riding a different bike this year. The bike of choosing for me came after much deliberation and reading that’s for sure. Wind tunnel data, reviews, videos and countless hours spent researching for a faster bike. In 2014 I sold my road bike to buy my first time trial frame and have been building that bike up over the years. It was an Argon 18 – E112 and many of you know just how fast it was, well i hope to be even faster now. It gave me years of reliable riding and in the two years I have it I managed to put 14,000km on it. The labour of love that was my first time trial bike has run its course and will be up for sale soon enough. This year I will be riding on one of the fastest bikes available aerodynamically speaking a Felt IA series. This bike is being built as a tribute to my mother, she always loved watching me race when she could and was proud of my accomplishments so this bike is for her memory. A huge shout out to 3SIXTY5 Cycling and Chris Day for helping me sort everything out being a part of this tribute. I have a few other minor changes to my kit this year but those will remain a secret for the time being. What I can say is that they are aerodynamic related and I am squeezing every ounce of speed I can this year from everything.
4. Perspective – Mental Clarity
The fourth and final change this year is not equipment related or a new supplement but a fresh perspective on what I want in life. I am more clear-headed that I have ever been. When you loose a loved one it puts the world in perspective. I will use the mantra of living every day to the fullest and make sure to put my family first.
This summer is not about numbers or how many podiums I can get on, it is about having fun and enjoying what I love to do. If podiums come than that will just be a bonus. So to all my fellow athletes be prepared to race against a different Spencer this summer. More tactful and wiser than ever. I can’t wait to see some familiar faces on the race circuit just months away now.
Thank you to my wonderful family and friends again for being so supportive the impact that had on me was truly a life line.