I'm a different triathlete than I was when I started in 2008. Back then, it was more about finishing in one piece than anything else. Going into my first Ironman, crossing the finish line was a wild card - I'd never done anything that long. I didn't work terribly hard during the races and if the going got tough, the tough started walking. I was lacking the desire and ability to push through the discomfort and take my racing to a different level. I was content with where I was and my goal for every race was to finish with a smile and still want to do another race. Completely acceptable.
|First half ironman. Maybe it was better I didn't know that the run would be a death march?|
So - what is it about 2012 that sets it apart from earlier years?
- Focus: I've made an effort this year to stay focused and plugged in from the moment the start gun goes off to the moment I cross the finish line. During the swim, instead of letting my mind wander as I've done in the past, I am now completely aware of my body position in the water, how my stroke feels, the turnover, my sighting, my breathing, finding and drafting off fast feet. It's no longer just about getting through the swim, it is all about getting the heck out of the water as fast as humanly possible. I'm out of breath when I'm swimming and now my arms and shoulders are sore for a good 2+ days after a race. I take this as a sign that I'm finally starting to work the way I need to during a race. During the bike I'm aware of when I need to eat and drink and take in salts. I'm constantly focused on cadence and how my legs are feeling and whether or not I can push it just a little harder. I'm in search of that line of working to my full potential without blowing up. And the run I don't let myself think too far ahead, I stay in the here-and-now, and just like on the bike, I'm trying to redline it without going overboard. THAT takes focus.
- Positive mentality: Even though running was my background (nothing serious, high school cross country and recreational marathoning), it was often the least fun of the three disciplines during a tri. Probably because it is last and my legs usually wanted to be propped up on the couch in front of the TV at that point in the race. I'd get off the bike in T2 dreading the run, knowing I'd probably not feel great - and this attitude usually led to a pretty craptastic run, regardless of distance. Over the past few races, I've made an effort to reverse that negativity and come off the bike in T2 raring to run. This usually requires me to say to myself - out loud - during the bike ride: You love to run, YOU are a runner, YOU can't wait to run (I'm sure my fellow racers love to hear me talk to myself). Crazy-talk aside: this seems to actually be working. I'm actually excited to run and I'm seeing this translate into faster run times and a better overall experience on the run course.
- Embrace the suckage: I would read the blogs of some triathletes and sometimes their races sounded miserable - upset bellies, working so hard on the bike you could barely get any food down, nausea on the run, quads on the verge of cramping from working so hard, having nothing left in you as you cross the finish line. Gawd, who would want to DO that to themselves voluntarily? But then you read onwards and realize that they were also having a breakthrough out on the race course - making it through these discomforts once makes it easier to handle them in the future. You begin to realize that discomfort and fatigue does not need to automatically spell doom. In Poconos, I felt pretty darn good on the run - until about mile 10 when my legs hurt like no other and I was starting to feel sick. Coming out on the other side of the finish line was the epitome of the line hurt so good. Giving in and walking or slowing down, missing out on the Vegas slot, would've been much more painful than pushing through to the finish line. It was an awesome feeling to push myself right up against that red line and not back down until it was over. Suckage at its finest.
The little things: Sufficient sleep, early bedtimes, clean eating, making workouts a priority, visualizing my race. No, I didn't do these things 100% of the time - but I did them a whole heck of a lot more often than in previous years and I think it made a difference.
I can't tell you how happy I am that I fully committed myself to letting the sport change me this year. For once, I wasn't afraid of putting all my eggs in one basket and risking failure. I have started to realize that half-assing it and not fulling committing was a road to failure in and of itself - and once I had that realization, it made it easier to have faith in myself, my coach, my training, and my capacity to succeed. I'm learning that this sport is a process - an evolution, if you will - and it will continue to change me for the better if I let it.