Today is Palm Sunday, marking the beginning of Holy Week, the most important week of the year on the Catholic calendar. Part of Lent (and part of being a Catholic) is the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Confession). The short of it: basically you go to a priest and tell him everything bad you have done/thought about doing/and things you have failed to do, all of which are keeping you from fulfilling your potential as a good person. The catch: it isn't as simple as just saying you did something wrong/failed to do the right thing. You need to actually want to change and not repeat your sins in the future. This is where it gets complicated - it requires some soul-searching, deep thought and reflection, as well as a desire to make meaningful steps towards change.
I find Confession to be one of the scariest and most humbling aspects of Catholicism and I'm terribly guilty of not going to Confession on a regular basis, even when it really, really matters during Holy Week. There is something almost terrifying about, not just thinking about things you know you've done wrong, but saying your sins out loud and recognizing that in order to grow and evolve and become a better version of yourself, you need to change. And change is NOT always fun, DEFINITELY not easy, ALWAYS humbling, and requires more than its fair share of self-reassessment. Because it is easy to put on the blinders and pretend nothing is wrong and plead ignorance. If you don't recognize and acknowledge a problem, does that problem really exist? How can you be responsible for making a change to something you weren't even aware was an issue? Once you admit fault, you no longer have the "out" of ignorance and change does become your responsibility.
So, what does this have to do with triathlon? Everything (in a sense). While Confession + meaningful change = ticket to heaven and choir of angels singing your praises; self-assessment/recognition of weakness + meaningful change = faster times/maybe even the podium. So no, not everlasting glory, but rather a healthy dose of self-improvement. We ALL have our weaknesses in sport, and the glaringly obvious is usually the physical weakness. I know the swim (as much as I love that leg) is my weakest (or it could be my run if I have a nutrition fail on the bike - it's super fun when I get both in one race, jackpot!). The first thought that comes to mind, when trying to fix a physical deficiency is TRAIN HARDER, LONGER, FASTER. That's the easy solution. More miles will lead to more speed and endurance, or at least more confidence (it can also lead to injuries and burnout, so....). And yes, if you are doing the minimum required to just get by, adding more miles, more speed will probably yield faster times. But what if you are already training at the top end of your training load? This is when self-assessment, reflection, and meaningful change can come in to play - both physical and mental. I know that I need to go to bed earlier, eat more fruits/veggies everyday and less unhealthy stuff. I know I also need to do all of my workouts, in their entirety and how they were intended (a 1hr 45 minute run is not the same if broken up into an hour in the morning and 45 minutes in the afternoon, for example). I know I need to stretch and foam roll and do strength training. I need to take rest days and not use those as "make-up days" for missed workouts. And in order to do all of these things, I need to look at myself and my day-to-day life and figure out what is it that I am doing wrong that might be preventing me from doing all of the above on a regular basis? And then ask myself two more questions: 1) what do I need to do to change my situation so I can meet the above conditions; and 2) am I truly committed to making these changes? Half-assing a change, not fully committing to it - don't even bother. The results you want won't be there and it will just leave you frustrated. It could be the perfect cop-out of well, I tried X,Y,and Z and that didn't work so why not revert back to my usual habits?
Attitude is the other piece of the puzzle, and probably the harder riddle to solve. At least with the swimbikerun you have data and numbers to use as benchmarks for improvement. Attitude - it is all in your head. I've found this aspect to be the hardest area for change to come about, but also the most meaningful and rewarding. When training, I need to go into every training session with the mindset of FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS and EFFORT EFFORT EFFORT, rather than just going through the motions and putting in the time. I'll need to utilize focus and effort on race day, and every training session offers an opportunity for race-day simulation, so why not hone my attitude, focus, and effort every time I swimbikerun? I've also needed to look at triathlon and figure out where the sport fit into my life. Was it just a hobby, something (expensive) to pass my time? Or did I want it to be something more - a lifestyle, an outlet for hard work and goals? Once I made the choice that I wanted to do more than just participate - that I wanted to train and race to the best of my abilities - THAT was when I started to undergo meaningful change as an athlete. I approached races with the attitude of I belong here and I'm going to outwork the others on this course and not give up. I still have work to do, as evidenced by the fact that there are still times where I don't race as hard as I know I can and I still have negative thoughts running through my head when things get tough. I know I still need to dig deeper, figure out what makes me want that goal enough so I push through the discomfort and race at a higher level. I still need to figure out the pieces that I'm doing wrong, the mistakes I'm still making if I'm going to continue to make progress. Sometimes your own potential is scary - it's almost easier not to push the boundaries and stay within your comfort zone because failure doesn't exist in your comfort zone. Usually there's alot of failure involved in trying to make progress and see what you are capable of. But those failures teach you lessons, make you stronger, and inevitably force you to look deep within yourself, make changes, and break down barriers, resulting in that elusive progress you have been searching for.