On Saturday July 13, I begrudgingly drove to Carrollton, GA, to scope out my next triathlon, the Carrollton Sprint Triathlon on July 14th. Unlike my last race, I hadn’t been training as much, mentally or physically, for this one, and despite it being a simple lake swim, my nerves were already drowning me. We previewed the course and took a quick swim which was filled with good strokes followed by gasps and coughs. Fortunately, I have enough memories of successfully choking through swims and conversely, swimming smoothly through courses. Whatever was to happen would happen and I would survive the swim.
I’m not sure what it is about the swim, but when I get to races, think about races, see OW swims or photos, my heart races and my body freezes up. When I played competitive tennis in high school, the same thing began to happen at the end of my career. The pressure to win, succeed, or something, caused me to freeze and literally forget how to swing a tennis racquet. Now I forget how to swim, trying to sight and breathe at the same time which gives me a mouthful of water and a headful of fear and panic. As a Master Scuba Diver and Lifeguard, I know how to handle stress in the water, rescue people in the water, perform CPR, etc., but I turn into a panicked child who can barely dog-paddle. Ugh!
20 seconds before the race started, we found out that the gender-based wave starts would be changed into one mass start. So with 10 seconds left, I had to figure out where to position myself and how to keep myself calm. Oh shit! So with those positively pleasant and calm thoughts the race began! I got about 10 strokes in before I started sighting and simultaneously trying to breath at the same time. Big mistake! As I began taking in big gulps of of water versus big gulps of air. Safe to say the panic began along with half-assed dog-paddling and one-legged breaststroking….with over 400 yds to swim. At the first buoy I saw a young guy flip over and start backstroking. I knew I could go faster and maybe calm down this way, so I followed suit and began swimming as fast as I can on my back. Towards the end of the swim course, I tried to return to normal swimming which half-worked, allowing me to exit the water with a horrible swim time and a head full of negative, self-defeating thoughts.
At this point I assumed I’d have to be satisfied with simply finishing the race versus placing or even winning (right?!). Relieved to be out of the water, I tore off on the bike with my pre-race goal of a 40 minute bike split on my mind. Unlike my last race, I didn’t really watch my speed, simply focusing on keeping a fast cadence and steadily tracking down the people in front of me. I passed a few women, one early on a hill because her chain came off, then a young girl who was drafting with her father. I saw my wife up ahead as finished the last mile or two. Coming into T2 together was a welcomed relief after a crappy race start. As we headed out onto the run, I got my next (positive) surprise of the day. A spectator yelled out, “first female out.” My head spun around and I asked him if he was kidding. Nope, we were the first two females on the run course. Not only first female but fastest female bike split of the day (under 40 minutes). My first thought was, “HOLY SHIT! I could actually win this race!” Finally some positive thoughts!!
I’m a fast runner but many are much faster so I knew I had to run faster than I expected to win this race. For the first 2 miles, I kept the lead. Remember that chic I passed on the bike whose chain had come off? Here she was again! We ran together for the next 1/2 mile up and down some brutal hills. I finally needed to slow down, afraid I might have to walk if I didn’t. I kept her in my sights and tried to calm my breathing and savor the fact that I was still in 2nd place overall. Wow! Thoughts of settling with 2nd place came and went, supplemented by the fact that I could still win since she was less than 50 yds ahead of me. At that point I began to fill my mind with positive affirmations and memories of sprints and chasing people down in other races. I told myself to just, “shut up and run!” I began to pickup the pace about 100 yds before the last turn uphill to the finish. As I made my turn, she was only a few steps away from me, until a spectator yelled, “Here she comes behind you!” THANKS! She glanced back then picked up her pace. I knew this last 50 – 100 yds would be an all out sprint…and it was. Sprinting uphill is like torture, but I felt like a bicycle switching into easier gears in order to pickup the cadence and hopefully pickup my speed. With only a few yards to the finish line, I began to pull past her, crossing the finish line for the win by .05 second! Excited, exhausted, and in disbelief I congratulated her on a great finish then wandered off to the adjacent track to let reality settle in. “I did it! I can’t believe I pulled out a win, especially after such a disastrous swim start!” I cried and laughed and shook my head in disbelief, along with the occasional fist pump that decided to make a comeback from my tennis years. I couldn’t wait to tell Laura, who gave me a high five and told me to take off and win it when we started on the run earlier. I was hoping she would win her division as well so we could both celebrate individual wins (and she did :))
What started as a racing disaster turned into an experience of overcoming and accomplishing something I have been seeking since I began recovering my physical health 2 years ago. I learned that my mind is probably more powerful than my body and impacts me more in racing and training than I had realized. All the years of yoga and mental training now had another use besides the curbing of general anxiety and depression. I must train my mind as much as if not more than my body because when it comes down to race day. If my mind is weak and unprepared, then I might as well not even step in the water. Recently, I picked up the book, Mind Gym, which is filled with stories and exercises pertinent to mental strength via rehearsal, visualization, and affirmations. Check it out here along with some of my other recommendations for gear, books, magazines, etc.
See it, believe it, then DO IT!