Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Why I’m Not Afraid: Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2015

I’ve spoken to hundreds of athletes over the years through my travels to races, speaking events, camps, conferences and locker rooms.  What I’ve learned is that we all have our own reasons for taking on challenges, training, competing and learning a new athletic skill.  The consistent ones (you know, the ones that race you for the 5am front parking spot) usually have deeply rooted reasoning that has allowed them to develop habits of consistency and dedication to achieve their goals.

One of the many things I find intriguing is how we view the competition aspect of any endeavor.  I love hearing athletes in other parts of the locker room talk about the local upcoming 5k or the adventure race that they’ve finally decided to do and how they frame it in their mind, along with how they describe it to others.  I also find the crowd intriguing who has decided racing in general is just too much pressure and stress, and yet they are still willing to train for 15-20 hours a week, for their own reasons, involving no finish lines.  One group is not better than the other, and each (hopefully) has the benefits of health and emotional well-being to reap from their journey. 
 I, personally, love the competition aspect and would have a hard time preparing the way I do without a chance to test myself.  It gives me great pleasure to compete with myself in training and know what I face there and the areas of improvement will be tested in the same way on race day.  For thousands of years, people have enjoyed pitting themselves against one another and seeing what happened as a result.  I do believe for some of us it’s in our nature.  Were you the kid trying to take the training wheels off so you could race with the other bigger kids down the block?  Were you the one seeing who could hold their breath the longest underwater or swim the fastest to the other end of the swimming pool?  Competitive nature is developed over years and fostered through team sports in high school and then for some in college.  Our toolkits of mental and physical skills are added to slowly and deliberately over time through experiences.  The times when we didn’t take first place were just as important, if not more important, than the times that we did. 

People ask me all of the time if I’m afraid to compete as a professional triathlete.  Certainly, fear of failure or disappointing myself or others must be greater at this level of a larger stage where what occurs might be a bit more on display.  The true answer is that while I may have a passing moment of “What if this doesn’t go well?” the overwhelming sentiment is that it’s a great opportunity and honor to compete at any level and I’ve earned my spot at this particular one.  When I was in college walking onto a Division one cross-country team (which I really had no business being on), I got the nickname “Rudy” because I knew this was a once in a lifetime chance and I wasn’t going to waste a second of it being afraid of the consequences of not performing.  Every time I performed under the weight of that pressure I became a little stronger and a little better at handling the mental aspects that allowed me to succeed.  Those mental skills are essential to any athlete wishing to continue to improve and excel at their sport and there’s only one way to get them, get your butt on that starting line or into the match and learn.

There are a few key phrases I have used at any given time to help me as I come face to face with the inevitable moments where it hurts so badly that I want to pull the plug and walk off the side of the course.  If you don’t have a strategy for meeting these moments then the fear before the race can get the best of you.  You can waste time and energy that is vital to your performance worrying about how you’ll handle these instances.  As with anything, preparation for all aspects is key.  

“Lean In”

You’ve probably heard this one before, but for some reason these two little words are incredibly powerful.  I’ve used them at some of the most pivotal times in my career knowing that so many good things were on the other side of that pain and that there was only one way to truly find out what they were.  Sure, it hurt, it hurt like hell.  The alternative of not going in 110% was scarier than what would happen if I did.  The alternative meant always having to ask “What if?” That wasn’t a question I wanted to ask after my time as an athlete was over.  The more I leaned, the better the results got, and the more I learned to deal with being uncomfortable.  My muscles screamed, my body baked in the sun as my temperature rose and somehow I’d get another inch out of myself that I didn’t know was there previously.  I’d recall the workouts where I’d leaned in fully, despite my reservations, and hit my wattage goal or ran a split I thought was virtually unachievable. Those moments gave me confidence in the process and trusting that if I did what was asked, it would be worth it.  This phrase has now become one of my go-to answers to mile 18 through 26.2 of the Ironman marathon.  Simple, yet effective (because I’ve found my mind is fairly fragile at that point and can’t handle anything too complex). 

Here I am doing a little learning on a 2 x 15 min interval set last week in prep for the race!

“Not Today”

Another two-word zinger phrase that really helps me take things to the next level.  I like this saying for multiple reasons.  I like that it calls us to rise to the occasion if things aren’t going as we planned.  During any event, things are bound to not play out the way our mind’s eye had hoped.  We can either wallow in the “Why is this happening to me?” place, or we can rise above and find a way through.  Today is the day we’ve waited for, race day.  There are days when we can be off our game in training, but on this day we must be at our very best.  There’s no room for negativity and doubt.  I use this phrase when visualizing certain areas of my race, specifically the swim start since it’s an area that is critical to making the decision to hang on no matter what the pace and go to the dark place in order to make the break away with a group.  My visualization centers around a gap forming and me looking ahead, knowing the girls who I want to be with are right there, four feet in front of me.  So, the difference between swimming well, with others, vs. swimming 2.4 miles by myself is a choice and it’s happening right here, right now.  On other days I may let them go or not be able to make it, but “Not Today!” Today make a choice and I choose to do whatever it takes to make that group.  It’s helped me achieve another level on multiple occasions when there’s been a moment that I could accept what was given to me or I could find another way.  

Having a strategy to deal with the mental aspects of race day is what helps me to not fear the race or be afraid of the outcomes.  Having the support of my husband, family and friends, regardless of how the race goes is also a big piece of what allows me to step up to the line confident in my abilities.  We have to know that we are more than a result on a piece of paper and whatever lesson we need to learn will be revealed in good time if the outcome isn’t the one that was desired.  Therefore, there are no real consequences.  Luckily, this isn’t a Medieval times or Game of Thrones type of situation where the loser has to lose their head or be banished to a far away land.  Sure, I’ll be disappointed as all get out, but I’ll know that if I did everything I could, then it was worth it to see what happened and there will be another opportunity to achieve the result I was looking to attain down the line.  In addition, everything I take away can be passed on to my athletes and others looking to excel in the sport.  I won't be doing this forever, and it's important to think of the bigger picture knowing that it's not just about me.  No one will remember what place I came in this weekend in three years, but they'll remember the way I made them feel, helped them to grow or inspired them along their way. Those things make me who I am today and trump every trophy or dollar of prize money.  That’s the sign of a healthy, resilient athlete that loves the sport and the process more than the accolades that come with it.  

Thank you in advance to my sponsors who have supported me through thick and thin,

my husband who will be running an amazing charity event, Camo Cares, this weekend, my family, friends and local support crew, specifically, my coach Jesse and the one and only Linsey Corbin who will be out in full force on Sunday! 

Follow along on starting at 5:30am Pacific time and look for good things from #38!  I have a lot of faith that however the day turns out, I’ll give it my absolute best and consider it a huge gift to be doing what I love all day long. 

No comments: