17 October 2012

2012 = Fully Committed! And I think it paid off

Looking back at my 2012 races, this is definitely the most satisfied I've felt overall about a season.  Sure it wasn't all PRs and fast times and perfection.  I had some low points, such as getting almost the EXACT same time at Quassy as I did the previous year and blowing up in Vegas.  Let's not forget that Ironman was a soul crusher once again.  And while I'm happy with the finish times I achieved, the bigger success in my opinion is that I'm learning more and more about how to race and what I need to do to find success, even when the outlook isn't so rosy.  This is a huge improvement over the past when, in the same situation, I might've thrown in the towel or not had the will to work hard and have a breakthrough.

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?
But then in 2009 and 2010, I got to a point where I didn't want to just finish, I wanted to do well in my age group.  I started setting time goals, many of them weren't realistic and I didn't achieve alot of them (see: when the going gets tough, the tough start walking).  There was a missing piece.  Then in early 2011, I went to my first JHC Triathlon Camp and it was there that something started to click.  Going fast and working hard were painful - embrace the suckage factor.  At one point before my first tri of the 2011 season, Jen sent me a fabulous e-mail that scared the crap out of me on one hand (suffer like a pig - really, do I really want to suffer like a pig on a spit??) but on the other hand, it amped up my motivation to work my tail off during a race, not give up, and see where it takes me (everybody hurts, the winners just hurt more).  I wrote down a bunch of quotes from that email and stuck it to my computer monitor at work and it still sits there today.  That was the turning point - when I decided that even though triathlon was just a hobby, it was worth it to me to make it a lifestyle and start doing the little things right, start learning how to race and not just finish, start setting goals and making a plan on how to achieve them, and - for crying out loud - STOP walking when the going got tough.  I was all in, fully committed, and ready to go after some goals and make them a reality.

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.


B.o.B. said...

Love. That's why we all keep racing. To keep evolving and embracing the suck. Even if it feels like being stuck like a pig. Or whatever that line was about pigs. Lol! I'd say you have made huge strides for someone who is already a great athlete.

P.S. Still waiting on my pie.

Kathy said...

That's a good post. It is interesting to hear what other people have as self-talk on the race course. For me, although I love to bike, I have always looked forward to the run because it means I got through the ride without a serious mechanical or other bike problem. But --- I am always afraid to think about the run when I am on the bike because when I have done that in the past, it has led several times to crashing the bike (in XTerra, where the landings are softer but the need for focus on what you are doing is perhaps a little higher). Maybe I can think a little more about the run than I have let myself in the past.
You did have a fantastic season! See you Saturday, I guess.

Allison said...

Congrats on making so much progress in 2012. I definitely still need to learn how to embrace the pain and keep pushing during running races. I know that I back down (slow down) sometimes when it really isn't absolutely necessary.

Mindy Ko said...

Just found this! Love it! Embrace the suckage - haha! And you have improved tons this year...can't wait for training to start in 6 months!

Katie said...

just thought you should know that I read this the night before my race. it helped (obviously not enough, but, well, you know).

Dawn said...

It's been neat walking/hearing about your transformation as a racer the last year or so--which is about as long as I've known you. I've learned much from you about grit and embracing the suck...it DOES feel so good! Enjoy your well-earned offseason to the fullest, thinking over your awesome 2012, and I'll be psyched to start training with you for 2013.