This morning I did the sprint distance race at the Keuka Lake Tri. Two years ago, in 2010, this race was my first triathlon. I was so nervous that I only remember a few moments of the race, the most salient of which was during the last leg of the swim. I remember thinking, “It’s a good thing I like training so much, because this racing thing sucks!”
I was in a very different place in my life in June 2010; it was a month before I broke my pelvis and 9 months before I became single. Honestly, training was one of the few things that was making sense to me at the time…and for my first race, I did pretty well in terms of time. I was 6th in my age group, averaged over 19 mph on the bike, and ran just over a 9 minute pace on the run. Those were good numbers for me.
When I looked back at my 2010 times last week, I had this little sinking feeling that they’d be hard for me to reach this year. While I’ve become much more durable and aware of my body in the two years since my injury, I haven’t seen a 19 mph average ride since then. My head is in a much, much better place now, and I’d like to think that all of that clear-mindedness would result in speed.
But it was not the case. I was 12 minutes slower than I was in 2010. My bike and run splits were both slower. My swim was a tiny hare faster. And of course my transitions were absurd. This relative slowness was caused by 3 things: the weather, my new body, and the new rules I’m living by.
First, the weather. It was about 55 degrees with a 10-15 mph west wind when the race started. I was a little chilly waiting to start the swim, but once we started swimming in the 67-degree water, I was comfortable. My swim did feel much smoother than last time, even if it was only a smidge faster.
Then I got out of the water, and oh my goodness, did I get cold fast! I’d brought a jacket for the ride – thankfully, or I might not have finished – which I put on and started riding. I figured I’d warm up in 5 or 10 minutes. Nope. The headwind during the middle portion of the ride, plus the steady rain that started as soon as I left on the bike, kept me absolutely shivering. I employed every technique of relaxation, feeling rather than fighting the discomfort, focusing down the road , and so on, that I could find. The plus side is that I stayed relaxed enough not to cramp; the minus side is that I couldn’t quit shivering and eventually just had to focus on bike control and getting the hell back to transition. I have had some challenging bike rides in my life, but I have never been more uncomfortable on a bike than today. Crimi-freakin-ently.
The bright side of all this is that the run, instead of being my hardest event, became an utter relief! Finally, I could generate some heat! My first mile was really slow, as I was just trying to get the legs moving. I did manage to descend my pace over the three miles, which was good. But my overall run time – and overall bike time – were slow, even in my own context. Obviously the weather played a major role; apparently I just do not have enough body mass to handle the cold. This is frustrating.
And also obviously, 23 months ago I snapped my body apart and started building all over again. In the process, I’ve learned an incredible amount about how to facilitate healing and how my body is connected. I’ve learned that body regions are not isolated; I can relax tightness in my calves by settling my shoulders back, and I can resolve pain in the arch of my foot by rotating my hips outward. And I can relax most any pain by just not worrying about it.
But – my hypothesis goes – it will take time to build strength in this new body. I had a become relatively efficient at cycling and running using form that was ultimately not sustainable. (I was fighting achilles, calf, and shoulder issues even before my accident.)
Lastly, my Rules have changed. Two years ago, the only place I knew to derive motivation – for training, racing, working, whatever – was in avoiding failure. I enjoyed training, but it was always undergirded by this anxiety that if I stopped I’d get fat; I raced, but I was motivated more by a fear of NOT trying hard enough than a DESIRE to wring every ounce of ability out of myself.
Over the past two years, I’ve learned that it’s ok – and SO satisfying – to be driven by possibility of success rather than fear of failure. As a result, I’m infinitely happier, have more and better friends, am hopeful for the future, and had way more fun at this race than I did two years ago. I would love for that improved mental state to result in faster times…but maybe not yet.
So, my Rules:
1. Move from your core. This applies both physically and intangibly. It means, literally, trusting my gut and moving forward.
2. Don’t freak out. After testing the Freak Out plan on many, many scenarios, I’ve found that it never works. It just means you have to first quit freaking out, and then address the original problem. Goes hand in glove with Rule #1.
3. Be your own friend. For many years, I tried to pour myself out for other people without filling myself up. Not unpredictably, it left me empty. As I embarked on my singlehood, I realized that feeding myself – physically, mentally, and spiritually – was no longer negotiable. I had to be strong enough to support myself, and I wanted to be. So gradually, in more and more parts of my life, I’ve given myself space to relax when I need to, be less than perfect, and extend to myself the compassion I used to reserve for others. It’s made living with myself so much nicer. Like putting a fluffy couch and throw blanket where a wooden chair once was.
My new rules are staying. Even if my old mental patterns gave me enough frustration to produce a few more watts on the bike, I wouldn’t take them back for a million dollars. Because they were killing me. Maybe giving me something to run from.
So tomorrow morning I start training again, with a recovery swim in the morning and some yoga in the evening. I can’t wait. I still love the process, what I learn, how movement cleans out my mind and makes my body stronger. And I think – I hope – that if I build my good form, I can layer strength on top of it and end up with speed.
At the end of the day, I was healthy enough to race, had a great time with friends, and pushed myself in ways I didn’t expect. That’s why I’ll be back next year. Perhaps with a parka.