Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Mind Of A Champion...

Three Champions in my book - Jeremy Cornman, Ryan Ballou & Jocelyn Cornman.. Look for the ad in this Month's Issue of Triathlete Magazine. So proud of all three of you for being you who are!! (we have a new Facebook Page - Please click in the upper right corner and "like" it!)

Let me throw a few names out at you.. for starters....

Chrissy Wellington, Paula Radcliffe, Muhammad Ali, Paula Newby-Fraser, Mark Allen..

When I think of Champions, there are so many things that come to mind. I'll tell you what doesn't come to mind. Self Doubt. Negative Energy. Giving Up. Loosing Focus.

Can you imagine if after Mark Allen's sixth attempt at beating Dave Scott at the Ironman World Championships back in 1995, he would have just "given in to the demons." What if the words would have come out of his mouth "Well, Dave Scott is just a better athlete I guess." Back then, I'm sure people wouldn't have given it a second though. I mean, it seemed to be true didn't it? He had beaten Mark six times strait at the Ironman World Championships.

What made him choose not to..

Instead - what made him turn everything around, turn inward to his thoughts and focus them in a completely different way, realizing the mental aspect is what would allow him to win this race.

What separates first from second place? Is it natural ability or is it something else, something intangible, something unstoppable?

Well, the best I can do is tell you what I believe, I mean, it is my blog and all :)

So many times in life we remember not only the outcome of a particular event in competitive sports, but also the way that person handled their perception of the event. Whether they rose to the occasion and crossed first, or slightly missed "the mark" we can recall if they handled it with grace and dignity as a learning experience that only fuels the fire, or if they threw down their trophy and stormed out of the awards. It says something about how they viewed the event, the day, and even the respect they have for their fellow competitors.

This past weekend at Louisville, a very few people had the race of their life, but many many more had a very tough day, as the temperatures soared into the high 90's and the humidity reached record highs. If they thought they would go 12 hours, they crossed the line at 14.5 hrs. What does that mean? Did they have a bad day? Was it worth all the training? All of these questions may pop up at some point when they finally have a chance to sit back and analyze the day.

I've learned a few things these past couple of years, and one is that becoming a better triathlete is an experience..maybe even a lifelong experience. It's a journey. The experience of having your BEST or your WORST day cannot be replaced, any way you look at it. They both play a role at what happens in your training and in your next race, positive or negative. We all have a tendency to draw on past experience to build on the future "well, did a X:XX time last year, so of course, I'm in better shape, I'll do at least XX:XX this year!!" Sure, it would seem that way, but what that just doesn't happen? Then what?

If you let these experiences cloud your mind and self doubt begins to grow like a bad seed. Anxiety will eventually be lining up not far behind it and can ultimately paralyze you. Trust me, I know something about this...

Champions choose a different mental route. They let the bad thought and "bad" experiences turn into learning experiences and then they move on. "Onward and upward," they say. You either walk up to your next starting line with a picture of you coming out on top, or having a better swim, bike or run or you might as well stay home, because it's not going to happen. What the mind sees, feels, imagines and visualizes is what it works toward, and even what it "expects."

To Become a champion, you must first look and act like a champion. -- Muhammad Ali

Part of training, and racing is learning how to control these thoughts, practicing harnessing their energy and using it toward achievable results. As triathletes, just as in life, the mind must be given direction and then that direction helps to determine our reality.

My time with Mark Allen, and reading his book taught me some very valuable things that I have realized I MUST work on this year during training and then the actual race, or I'm destined to stay in the same place..

If you can't think of something good while you're racing.. then don't think of anything at all..

QUIET your mind.

BLANK it out.

Let it ride.. notice the trees, and the water, the sound of your feet on the pavement.. Bring the focus away from what you are feeling, assessing.. and just think of nothing.

In addition, never think of the negative experiences of the past.. once you've learned from them.. move on. Sure, give yourself a few days to grieve, that's normal, but then leave them where they belong. I bet you can ask every professional triathlete or even a ten yeared age grouper if they focus on bad races from the past and they would tell you - NO WAY. They never think of it again.. its a new day, we all get a clean slate. Mark Allen stepped up beside Dave Scott that 7th time and I would bet a million dollars he didn't relive the race outcomes of the past. In the same way, you can only relive your "glory" race so many times and it's a similar situation. It's not today, and it's not what's happening now. Be thankful for it, and move on. If I thought I "deserved" to have a good day just because a couple of years ago I made it to Hawaii, well, let me tell you, it would be a quick wake up call my friends! I don't think the other people in the race are going to give me a pass through!

What else can you do?

  • Practice your focus in training.
  • Harness the positive energy from good workout days.. the day you got off your bike and ran X:XX pace, the day you swam X:XX split. Remember it, use it.. you'll need it on race day.
  • Visualize the day unfolding.. feeling strong and smooth on the swim, getting your wetsuit off without a hitch and transitioning to the bike with lightning speed, biking up the hills with power and nailing your nutrition plan, coming into T2 feeling great and ready to run, running with a good cadence, passing people, feeling strong.
  • Make up a mantra for the day. What do you want to call on when things get really tough. What really gets to you? I know this sounds crazy, but not matter how the race is going, I always think about how thankful I am to be out there, I feel my faith and the belief that this what one of the things I was born to do well up in me and pull me to the finish. I often say the phrase "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" and/or "Believe Kim. Anything is possible!!"
  • Know before you start that some thing will be out of your control, handle them with as much positive energy as possible and move on. Don't think of the swim on the bike, or the bike on the run, let it go.
I've been thinking about all this Sunday's race in Louisville. All of my friends hung tough and finished, and I am so proud of them for never giving up!! AMAZING!!

One friend in particular, despite some pretty tough moments (even one where he was walking about four miles out from the finish), made the decision to start running again when he was really hurting.. where did it well up from inside of him? Was it the 8 or so times he finished an Ironman previously and didn't get his Kona slot? Was it thoughts of his friends & family? Whatever it was, it was enough to make the difference.. he placed 8th, one slot rolled, and he accepted one of the highest honors in triathlon - a spot to the world championships. If you don't think that decision to overcome all the pain, dehydration and everything else eating him alive wasn't mental, then I don't know what to say.. it was definitely"The Mind Of a Champion" as far as I was concerned.. along with a little Divine intervention!

Experience makes a difference, what will you do with yours? Why are girls in my age group better at 34 better than those at 24, same reason, experience. They just make less mistakes!!
Will you use it to help you rise or will you let the days where you didn't get what you were hoping beat you down?

I love racing, I love the people around me who race and I love using my body and soul to do something positive for people like Ryan Ballou and other kids with Muscular Dystrophy. No matter the outcome, I will never regret doing it a day in my life.. do I want to get better - yes.. but do I want other things more.. you're darn right I do.

I hope this post may help you the next time you face a starting line.. It's time.. start to Think.. like a champion..

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