Overcoming & Accomplishing…Mind over Matter

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.

mass swim startI’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.

LR carrollton bikeAt 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 impfinish line closeupacts 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!

Rest Day!

crooked sleepingRest days are considered vital to recovery, strength, and endurance.  It is not just the doing but not-doing that makes us stronger, healthier, and more successful athletes and human beings in general.  The notion that we have to be “doing something” to get in shape, burn calories, increase muscle mass or develop our endurance is only partly true.  When people don’t sleep, they go crazy because sleep is when the internal healing and growing within the body takes place.  Our conscious body needs sleep so that the automatic, internal healing mechanisms can take place.  Remind anyone of that quote, “Be still and know…”  We cannot do it all and we cannot take credit for it all either.  I love to use the example of breathing.  Do you think about breathing?  Do you remember to breathe while sleeping?  Most people say, “No, of course not!”  But we have the ability to pay attention to our breathing and somewhat control the depth and quickness of it when we want to.  This is result of having two types of muscle tissue in the lungs: striated and unstriated.  One set is automatic and out of our control (i.e. it keeps us breathing when we are too busy talking or working or watching TV), the other set is what allows us to take a deeper breathe, control our inhale/exhale in a yoga class or on a run, and even hold our breath when we go underwater.  So if our lungs have a fail-safe then so does the rest of our body.  If we don’t take our rest days – and sometimes we need more than one per week – our body will begin to break down via injury, illness, or simply exhaustion.

I usually don’t look forward to “Rest Days.”  In fact, I’m usually forced to take days off because of injury or illness or exhaustion then beat up myself for being human and still healing.  This week is one of few that was successfully traversed leaving a rest day before my long run & ride this weekend.  While those hurdles are still to come, I have had huge successes this week. 1) Continued swimming endurance with decreased times and only some shoulder stiffness.  2) Finally able to RUN 5-10 minute repeats with NO knee/IT band/hamstring pain.  Guess the strengthening, icing, foam rolling, and RESTING is finally paying off.  Here’s to respecting, enjoying and looking forward to rest days!

Think like a bee. Train like a horse.

Quick Overview:

1) Believe in yourself. Never doubt you can do anything you set your mind to.

2) Trust your training and your process. Be consistent and stick to the plan.

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(From Joe Friel ‘s Triathlete Bible)

“Not long ago NASA scientists found interest in the bumblebee for its flight abilities. They extensively examined the bumblebee to determine how such a hairy round torso could be lifted by a relatively tiny wingspan. After much study, they finally made their conclusion: the bumblebee is incapable of flight! Fortunately for us, this scientific deduction was not told to the bumblebee, which happily and effortlessly continues its flight. The bumblebee thinks it can fly, so it does! The power of positive mental thought…

Think like a bumblebee.

Racehorses have also been studied, not perhaps by NASA hoping to make a scientific claim, but rather by individuals who desire to understand such ultimate performance on race day. Interestingly, the equine competitor shares similar physiological traits as a human and thus is trained much like an endurance athlete, with interval training, endurance runs, periodization, rest, and good nutrition. Differing from the human however is the psychological aspect. Racehorses do not question their training protocol, they do not wonder if their workout is tough enough, they don’t go into the field and run a few extra miles “just because”, and if they have a bad day, they leave it behind and don’t take it with them back to the stable.
When race day approaches, the horse demonstrates signs of anxiousness similar to that of a human athlete, but the horse is not caught considering the size of the equine’s legs next to him; instead its one and only focus is the purpose at hand: run and run fast!

Focus and trust in your training… Train like a horse.”

“Think like a bumblebee; train like a horse.”