Sunday, December 1, 2013

What made the difference? Thoughts on this season & the next!

Most athletes take a time of introspection during their off-season or around the Holidays.  It's a nice time of year to sit back and think about what went well, what didn't, what you would change, how you would change it and what you'll do differently in the future.  It's time to take stock of the habits that helped move you toward your goals and address those that didn't.  Taking an honest look is one of the most important things you can do as an athlete.  We all know the definition of insanity right (doing the same thing(s) over and over and expecting different results)?

If you don't partake in this process, expect to make some of the same mistakes next year. If things went really well, write down some of the key points that you think helped produce the strongest, fittest version of yourself.  If they didn't, well, go back in your mind to where you were before they took a turn.  What were the steps leading up to that ___(insert injury, over training, sickness etc.)?

I ask every one of my athletes to make this list and I wouldn't do it if I wasn't willing to make the same examinations myself.  My time as an athlete at this level is limited.  I want to make the most of every last bit and see just how far I can take it before I have to hang up my hat.  At the end of this season, I took some time and thought about why it was a breakthrough year for me and came up with a few good answers that I think may help you along your way as well.  Below is a list of those things that helped me turn a new corner in my career and that I want to replicate in the upcoming year(s) as well.

1. Belief in myself and my abilities

This year didn't start with a trip to Kona in mind.  When we planned the schedule for this year, frankly, it wasn't even on our radar because we (coach Jesse and I) felt I probably wasn't a candidate. Sometime during our QT2 camp in Clearmont, FL in Feb, things started to shift.  I felt a strength I hadn't felt before and of course camp is a good place to compare your abilities and see where you stand.  Let's be honest, part of the reason your there is to push yourself to new levels because the people around you are often as talented, hardworking and disciplined as you are if not more so! One night I was up half the night and about 2am I texted two people, my husband and coach Jesse. I let them both know that I believed in my heart that Kona was possible and I wanted to go after it, guns blazing.  It was a long night, but sometimes we have to wrestle with our demons and fears and see who comes out on top.  The next morning Jesse said he already was going to tell me we should change our course in our personal meeting in a few days, so next time just come to him instead of losing all that sleep.  Well you tell me that NOW!! Geezz! Anyway, from then forward any time fears or doubts crept in I went back to my gut instinct and reaffirmed with myself that anything was possible and to not place limits that were really just creations of my own issues.  If you don't believe, no one else is going to do it for you.  Trust your gut, listen to your heart and make the decision to go after it.

2. The Devil is in the details

The easy part of triathlon is the training.  Yep, you heard me right.  That's the easy part.  As Jesse says, "Kim, everyone does the training, it's the rest, the outside of training, that separates one pro from another."  I never really understood what that meant until this year.  It was time for a serious commitment to match my training commitment in the other areas of my life.  I wasn't always the best at going to bed early, stretching, recovering properly, massage, eating well and at the right times.  My weight was always about the same regardless of what I ate so I would allow myself a bit of extra sugar in my diet because, in my mind, what was the harm.  We are now splitting hairs here between my place and the girls around me.  Five minutes at the pro level is making the difference between placing 5th and getting a paycheck and 10th and getting handshake and a "thanks for coming!"  This year I started to nail the details and took them just as seriously as I took the training.  In previous years I might skip a TRX workout if I was tired or just didn't fell like doing it. Not this year!  It didn't matter how much I didn't want to do it, I did it anyway!  I tried to full proof my life to prevent me from making mistakes.  I packed double of everything I might need in my car, I had extra nutrition on my rides when I dropped a __bottle, gel, salt tab etc.__, I went to bed earlier than ever before and I cut out the fat (i.e. the things that were not helping me meet my goals).  We are all still human and we can't expect perfection.  That would be impossible.  The week after each big race I took a step back to do a few of the things I'd been missing and give myself a mental and physical reprieve.  Week after week I took care of business and it showed in my workouts with the improvements that were made.  The details are where it's at folks!  If you want to really see what you can do, you've got to commit to a nailing them day in / day out and week in / week out.

3. I stayed healthy

Guess how many long bikes I missed this past season?  Go ahead!  Guess!  Ok, ok, I'll tell you. None.  I can remember ONE bike somewhere in the spring where I wasn't feeling well and I go on the trainer for 3 hours and just rode at my lowest intensity possible.  I didn't miss it though! Other than that, I wasn't sick the entire year.  That right there my friends, is a combination of a small miracle and a testament to nutrition/sleep and recover (aka see #2).  I'm also very blessed to work from home and not around tons of people so that certain helps.  However, I absolutely went over and above to take care of myself if I even felt a hint of something coming on and probiotics are a part of my every day diet through greek yogurt, kefir and other natural sources.  Gut health is immensely important to your immune system and cannot be underestimated in your overall health. I don't know one athlete that can say they didn't have niggles or other areas to manage in terms of body / muscle health.  Not once this year would I consider myself sidelined in a workout due to injury.  Sure, I'm in a constant state of management.  That's normal and expected in this line of work, but again, it's about those details.  If something was more than a 2 (on a pain scale of 1-10, 10 being the worst), then I was in communication with Jesse about it that very day.  We would develop a plan and I would actually follow it!  What a concept :)  Some of my issues are old and will always be with me, but through this process I accepted that and did the things you need to do to strengthen, stretch, release and heal as much as possible.

4. I stopped wasting energy on things I couldn't control

I couldn't control who went to what race and what points they scored.  I couldn't control the weather on race day or the conditions of the swim.  I spent this season focusing on the areas that I could control and I zoned in on those like they were the only thing that really mattered.  Sure, my husband would tell you there were a few tense moments (ok, more than a few) that final week where I was sitting in 7th place with 6 more Kona slots in mid-August, but no matter the outcome, I would have known that I did every last thing possible to create that opportunity to be on the starting line and I would have been able to live with that just fine.  There will always be so much in life that is out of our control.  Wasting time, energy and resources worrying about it does us absolutely no good.  Over time, teach yourself to let the rest go and move that focus to the things that will help you achieve your goals and aspirations instead of taking away from them.

5. I took down time seriously

When my coach said rest, I rested.  I didn't complain, I didn't go behind his back and workout, I didn't argue with him about not knowing ME and what I was capable of.  I just rested.  I took a serious off-season last season and I did the same this year.  Five whole weeks of down time this season and about four last year.  The weeks after the big races I didn't even look at the workout schedule. I gave my body and mind a break.  If it was a rest day, I rested hard (meaning I did my NormaTec Recovery Boots, I ate well, I napped, I stayed off my feet).  When it was time to train hard, I did that too and probably to a new level because I rested!  Take that time! You need it!  It's one of the biggest mistakes I see in athletes year after year is that they don't take a real scheduled rest at the end of the season or they just say they are and then they end up cross-training their butt off to the tune of 10 hours a week.  That's not resting people!  That's still training just at a different sport!

6.  I trusted my coach completely

One of the harder transitions as a pro is the ability to race, race, race because of being able to get into races on a much shorter time frame.  As an age-group athlete, I had to plan a year in advance and my schedule was set.  However, as a pro, things are different and can be much more fluid. Once we made the decision to go after Kona, we had to come up with a new plan and I needed to be flexible and go with his decision on what made sense moving forward in terms of where to race and how to go about the training.  He set very clear measurable numbers to achieve by the end of July 2013.  I would have to meet these specific goals in order to be prepared for Tremblant in August.  Sometimes the numbers seemed unattainable.  I kept coming back to the fact that he knew me, he knew what I am capable of IF I am handling my end of the bargain (eating right, sleeping etc.).  They were absolutely attainable if he put them down on paper.  Even before Kona. I would see certain workouts and wonder if he had been smoking something I wasn't aware of that would cause his judgement on particular wattages to climb beyond what I thought was reasonable.  Each time I would go into one of those workouts I would commit to the fact that it was possible and I was going to have to find a way to eek out every last ounce of energy and mental fortitude in order to make things happen.  Each time I nailed it, it built more confidence that I was ready.  I will tell you 99% of the time, I did meet them.  It was also hard at times to not question the racing schedule we'd set up together, but in the end, I knew he had my best interest in mind.  While other girls raced and raced, I sat back and trusted my plan was the one built for me and me only to achieve my best possible season.  If you don't trust your coach, quite frankly, you need to move on.  There is absolutely no way you can make the progress you need without this critical piece.

7. I worked on my mental game

To race at a new level, I knew I was going to have to process things in a different and new way as well.  It takes extra energy and time to spend time visualizing what you would like to see happen. As you do it, you become more and more invested in the vision and while it's a wonderful thing, it also presents the opportunity for fear to creep in as well.  When you step off the ledge of really believing in your dreams, you also risk disappointment.  That's just how life works! Taking calculated risks is necessary for every aspect of our lives.  If the worst care scenario, then that's a pretty darn good scenario in my opinion. Before each race I did my homework by prepping in training to address the mental challenges I would face on race day.  This was done in multiple forms from making friends with the pain, repeating my mantras and seeing the desired outcome.  It takes time, practice and some discipline, but I do honestly think this might be the most important aspect of racing, period. There are going to be times when every athlete wants to quit, but understanding what you're going to do when faced with those negative thoughts is a tool that should be in every athletes' toolbox.

8. I used the success of others to inspire me vs. being jealous or resentful

It's pretty easy for me to tell when someone feels confident in their own abilities and at peace with their path.  If they are not, then you can feel that when you are placed in a stressful situation (such as a training camp) with them.  Those that aren't threatened, but instead realize that we are all there to push each other and that everyone is going to have good days and bad days, use other athletes around them to achieve to new levels and are the first to congratulate them when they do well. Others, not so much!  It's not about winning workouts, it's about being ready when it counts on race day. I've come to a good place in my career where I care less about the drama and more about having a good experience in the sport, having people remember me for more than just my results and just seeing how far I can go for ME and all those that have helped me (Kyle, coach, my family, friends).  I've had such good experiences with so many athletes who are in this same boat and I love seeing them do well, win Ironmans and find the path that works for them.  It warms my heart and I can literally feel their joy.  It really does make me happy.  I mean that!  It's a great sport and giving back and building each other up only perpetuates something I love and care so much about.  I want to see young people take it up and enjoy it as much as I have through the years!  Those that I haven't found in the same boat, well, I take them for what they are, but I don't spend much time wanting to be around them other than what's required.  We all have a choice about how we view a friend or teammates success, and I hope you'll use it to be inspired and raise your game that much higher.
Jennie and I post Ironman Texas

Jocelyn and I doing one of the things I do best - wine tasting!

Beth and I after New Orleans 70.3 in April

9.  My support crew was ironclad

Even though this is #9, this is actually #1.  If you don't have people in your corner that love and support you no matter what, then you can never hope to be free to let go and not worry about falling.  I'm so so blessed in this respect and I don't take it lightly.  From my faith that is ever present in each aspect of my life and racing to my awesome husband who texted me back at 2am in the morning saying that he knew whatever was supposed to be would be and that he believed in me and my abilities wholeheartedly.  My coach, family and friends and ultra supportive and I know for a fact that I couldn't do this without them.  I can't thank them enough for their cards,email, notes, messages, hugs and prayers.  

Well, this has gotten rather long!  I know there's probably a few more points to discuss, but we'll start here.  Hopefully, it will give you a few things to chew on as you prepare for your 2014 season and life!  I'm definitely not saying I'm the expert in this area, but these are a few things that have worked for me!  Let me know if you have something that's really helped you through this season to have a positive experience.  I'd love to hear it!

Here's to 2014!!  Let's make it the best year yet!


Jennifer Harrison said...

This is a great post, Kim and oh SO true. I could say the same thing about longevity for me too with most of the things you mentioned. A great list. I wish athletes would understand just how much goes into success that is not in the training plan!
I have really enjoyed watching your success over the years! Yay...and I enjoyed our time together in Kona too.
Good luck in 2014!

Christi said...

Here is to a great year indeed! I feel we both are going to go at it hard and accomplish our dreams! I am in your corner, Kim, cheering you on from OK!

Jennifer Nottage said...

What an incredibly well written post about what it takes to be a champion; and one's own personal best champion. Thank you!! The 2010 Cozumel vimeo was just epic! Thank you!!

Alison said...

Great post... very inspiring with lots to think about. And congrats on an amazing year!

Damie said...

this is a great post!!!!