Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mental "Playlists" - How They Can Help You Achieve Your Goals

Many people ask me what I think about during an event as long as an Ironman.  It's a very interesting question and sometimes I wish I had some sort of recorder to document the myriad of thoughts that scroll through my psyche over that 9+ hr period.

It may seem strange, but a lot of the thoughts are already pre-programmed long before I leap off to start my swim warm up.  They are programmed in training day after day with how I handle the stream of positive and negative possible feedback that comes from my body and the opportunities and challenges that arise.

This morning I was thinking about why athletes are able to excel and I was doing a bit of mental pre-programming / visualization without even thinking about it.  I spend time just "seeing" the race as I would like to it to play out and felt the feelings I want to feel on the bike and on the run.  It's truly become so second nature that I don't have to sit down and think "oh Kim, visualize, here we are at the race site on the swim".  It's become a part of my being and my regular routine (and happens often in training, and more so in the final two weeks before a big event).  I do think it helps athletes, like myself, get ready to overcome the many thoughts that we will have to field on race day itself.

Ironman is hard.  There's not a way to make the course itself "easier" per say, but there are ways to prepare so that you are equipped with some of the tools necessary to combat it's hardness and be ready to get through the inevitable tough spots.  Today I'll focus on the bike and run because those are the most fluid for me.  The swim seems to be much more disjointed in terms of the way I run through things.

Focus On Process

Each of my athletes is required to design a race plan for their major races and that helps them think through the variables they can control such as heart rate, cadence and nutrition etc.  As they put their plan on paper, it helps break the race down into smaller more manageable pieces.  All of the sudden, a 112 mile bike doesn't seem like such a long way when we have targets for each section of the course.  The same is true for me personally.  There is a constant stream of checking through my "checklist" of factors I can control and if I'm meeting my objectives for each during the entire 112 miles.  That's my first and foremost focus throughout the Ironman bike.  There are no thoughts of outcome during this portion because it's WAAAY to early to be judging where I am against the competition.  I have the tools to have the best bike possible, so control the controllables and be done with it.

Same with the run, never think about 26.2 miles, ever!  Only ever think about the next 1-2 miles and working out what you need to do with those.  Focus on your heart rate, staying smooth and looking like the "prettiest" runner that you can.  Keep that cadence up and manage the heat by cooling your body with ice and sponges (especially in the first two miles of the race).  Those first two miles will either cook you, or help you depending on how you do with your first aid stations. Be smart!!


I have always been a lover of music and I listen to it often.  I actually listen to enough that I have many songs that I don't have to listen to anymore as they are already embedded so deeply in my brain I can call on them any time I want.  For the bike in Ironman, I do just that.  Just a few that I'll be calling on race day are:


Flo Rida -  "I Cry"
Imagine Dragons - "Radioactive"
Jay z - "Lost One"
Linkin Park - "Burn it Down"
Alex Metric Remix - "Lisztomania"

When I'm pedaling, pedaling, pedaling music makes me happy, takes me to a place where I'm out on one of my rides back home loving life and not feeling any pressure of racing.


Imagine Dragons - "Demons"
One Republic - "Feel Again"
Gym Class Heros - "Fighter"
Sleepless featuring Jezzabell Doran - "Flume"
Eminem- "Till I Collapse"

Music can transport us to a favorite experience or a really hard workout where we nailed it, which brings me to my next point.

Filling Your Mental Basket

Many people say one of the hardest things about Ironman is getting to the start line healthy and ready to rock.  I think, in many cases, they are right.  The training to complete this distance (effectively) takes months and months of preparation and hours of endless swimming, biking, running, PT, strength training, massage etc.  There are specific experiences that each of us can recall when we had to get through an extremely tough experience to execute a workout properly.  Those are sometimes the most important workouts of all (as opposed to those who go just as smoothly as can be!).

For instance, for me personally, I have two that keep coming to mind about this Ironman in particular (both from my time at QT2 camp).  The first was a "crit" day (which I absolutely hated by the way).  A two mile loop had been created on minimally trafficed roads to allow us to  be put into groups and go "ALL OUT" for some specified distance (usually 1 loop of 2 miles, or 2 loops of 4 miles).  The goal was to use the other members of your group to achieve the best possible time, but in the end, the first person who crossed the line essentially "won".

The reasons I didn't love these workouts were endless and too many to list.  Just a few are as follows: going against my own teammates (hated it), this required bike handling skills in a pack (have very few these days), going all out (I'm as aerobic as they come), they were mentally exhausting.. the list goes on and on.

I was in an all women's group and we were on our second or third go around of 4 miles.  At some point, I decided to go with a different strategy and just go out as hard as I could to see what happened when Coach Jesse called our "gun" to start.  Usually, everyone jumps on your wheel and of course an immediate pack forms (drafting totally permitted & even encouraged).  When the "gun" sounded, this time, I killed myself for a minute or two and turned around and the group must have been a bit disorganized because they weren't as close to me as I thought, maybe 30 feet back.  I gassed it and decided to see what happened.

Every minute or two I would ask myself if I was going as hard as humanly possible and when I was, I would refuse to back off.  I kept waiting for the group to catch me and occasionally I would turn around to see where they were but somehow, some way, I was fending them off for the time being.  The first loop I spent running scared.  They were going to catch me.  "It's inevitable" I would think to myself.  They were stronger together than I was alone.  It was only a matter of time.  After rounding the start line to the second loop, something changed.  Mentally, for the first time, I started BELIEVING that I could actually make it to the finish without being caught.  I went from waiting to PRESSING.  There was a shift in my mental vision of what was "supposed" to happen.  I kept pulling away and when I crested the final hill it really did feel like I'd won, not against my teammates, but against myself and my own mental demons.  That was an important day for me to examine what really is holding me back and sometimes it has more to do with my own doubts than anything external.

Trust me, if my teammates had gotten a bit more organized, they would have devoured me within minutes!  It just happened to be the circumstance of the day that I was able to get away.  I'll never forget that belief that welled up within me and I will be pulling from experiences like that one on race day.

So if you've got them (and we all do), use THEM.  They are some of the most important things we can have in our corner when the doubts come in.  Remember those incredibly tough days that rocked you to core and what you used to get through them.  Those same tools are available to you on race day.  All you have to do is summon them and use them.

Remember Why

Probably the most important thing of all is to identify the "why" for you personally long before you hit the start line and remember to tell yourself "why" throughout the day.  There are going to be plenty of low times (that's a given).  Everyone has those moments where it hurts so badly that you wonder "why you are even doing this #@!%!^ Ironman"!!  Trust me, I have more than my share.  I always go back to the reasons I've identified for me personally that are much bigger than this one day or one moment.  The deeper the reason, the better (especially if you are having one of those not so great days which do happen to all of us).  Some of my surface reasons (for me) are because I'm healthy and able, because I can, because I use this day as a test of all my training, and to use this special gift I've been given to swim, bike and run for long periods of time.  The other reasons, well, those are always deeper and have a lot to do with my faith and why I believe I was put here in the first place.

Each Ironman is different and I'm always at a different place in my development as an athlete and person. Last week, I was thinking of the VIP for this Ironman and was really trying to pray and delve deep into my soul to make sure the right person was chosen for this one.  There were a few different candidates that came time mind.  In the end, the person was very obvious and right there all along.

My QT2 Teammate, Stephanie Jones, and I roomed together at QT2 camp.  I went from not knowing her from Adam, to knowing her very deeply by the end of our 3 weeks in Florida.  She was strong, personable, caring, made me laugh, and was extremely committed to the training and our sport.  She lived and breathed excellence and impressed me in so many ways, of course in the training, but even more so with her character and who she was as a person.  I grew so fond of her over that time and learned so much about her upbringing, schooling (Naval Academy I might add) and faith.  We left that camp after going through some really hard experiences and one in particular which I also referred to above in my "second experience that I'll be calling on for this IM" where I literally broke down on the second to last day of camp and just sobbed after a workout that finally did me in.  It was a back to back long bike day that had a long portion as a "fixed gear ride" (i.e. pick a gear and ride in it for 40+ miles regardless of hills or terrain) of about 80 miles with the last 40 or so miles into a tough head wind.  My body was shot.  I was lucky I even made it home at all and when I finally burst through the door I just lost it.  I was so shelled!  Stephanie came immediately to my rescue and gave me a hug, patted my back and just took care of me.  She listened as I sobbed and helped me recover. I'll never forget her kindness or how hard that day was with every pedal stroke of the bike.

Stephanie (pictured far right) just recently lost her Step-Father whom she was very close to growing up.  She's been with him since right after the camp and with bone cancer, he took a turn for the worst as soon as we returned.  She wrote a recent blog entitled "Emotions", HERE, if you would like to read it.  When she wasn't training, she was making trips to the hospital and helping her Mother.  On the week she was supposed to be here doing Ironman Texas, she was instead making arrangements to lay him to rest.  I can only imagine how hard these last months have been for her as she gave so much emotionally and also decided she would not be racing this weekend.   Family is a priority for her (and me) and she knew where she needed to be this week.  I commend her for her strength, humility and her kindness in this very tough time.  She has a very willing heart and took a back seat so that her family could have things they needed.  So, it's very obvious that she is my VIP for this race.  I'll be traveling with her initials on my hand inked out in marker all day remembering how much she inspired me at camp and how much she would like to be out there racing alongside me if things had been different.  She's a keeper for sure!!   I'm very thankful for my friend and I know she is going to kick serious butt this season when she is back out there racing again soon!!

I hope this little list has helped you create some of your "mental playlist" for whatever it is that you are working on right now.

This is #57 signing off for the week!  I'll see all of you on the other side of 140.6 miles!  Thanks for reading and thanks to my family, friends, all of you and my  sponsors (as always) for their continued support.


Liz said...

Great write up Kim!! Being a Penn State graduate and first year Pro I truely look forward to seeing you at future races. Good luck and enjoy your day out there!!

marian said...

woohoo! congratulations! fabulous job!!!!