Wednesday, January 29, 2014

January letter to my racing self in May

I did some work for a race that happened this past weekend and as it was going on some 1800 miles away I thought about all the nervous athletes lining up at the start. Sitting calmly in my house, months from my own race season, I thought about how silly it is to get so nervous for a race! Yet I get nervous before a race too (case in point, pre-race deer in the headlights pic above).

There are all kinds of articles that tell you how to manage race nerves - visualize, have routines, repeat a mantra, seek quiet, use affirmations, remember why you do it, yada yada yada. For me, I just need to slap myself upside the head with a big reality/perspective check.

This is what my January self would like to tell my May racing self when I line up for the first race of the year. What would you say to yourself? Does any of this strike a chord in you?

Dear May racing self,

You aren't nervous, you are EXCITED! You have no reason to be nervous. You trained for this and you are ready. Baring a major random problem, you'll have a happy and successful race if you just do what you love to do every day in training. Race day adrenaline will take care of squeezing that extra bit out of you. Have faith that it will come.

This is controllable excitement and that's what you like. There aren't that many unknowns - there's water, roads, and paths. You know your bike. You've run in these shoes. It's not like your horse days - the bike doesn't have moods and opinions and you aren't facing solid cross country fences you have never jumped. OK, there is the weather...but you've raced in some tough conditions and were not as cold and miserable as you feared.

You don't need to get all worked up, you've got time out there. Triathlons are about who slows down the least. You're out there for one, two...five hours. It's not like a swim meet where it's like WAHHHHHH airhorn!!! and you go from standing around to V02 Max in 2 seconds. That is alarming. So don't waste energy getting excessively keyed up beforehand.

Even you don't have a great race, you will still have a good race. If you cross the finish line, if you know you gave it your best effort on the day and battled whatever challenges arose, it's still a win. It's not like your powerlifting days where you'd have to get all psyched and crazy for a five second effort that was either a success or a failure, pass or fail. There was no in-between. Today it's a measure of what you have on the day and in the past that's been pretty good.

Races are where you feel most a part of the triathlon community. You have an awesome group of triathlon friends near and far. They are driven, crazy, funny, honest, and caring. Races are the tie that binds and showing up and trying is what matters! 

No one is judging you. It's a clock and a time. It's not like your PhD prelims or defense where it was you and your PowerPoint with five faculty judging your every word and years of work. That was scary. Out on the race course you don't even have to think that much. Things are beautifully simple and you have only to manage your own inner dialog and corresponding level of effort. 

You are trained for this. You do this stuff every day! This is a supported training day with friends.

You love chasing and passing people. You do. Admit it, you love it a lot.

Frankly no one cares what your time was or what your place was and by tomorrow you won't remember either.

The stakes are extremely low. You are not a professional. Don't take yourself so seriously. Be happy and grateful in the moment. You chose to do this. 

Triathlon is a long-term investment in your mental and physical wellness. You are in it for the long haul and with that comes some highs and lows. Ride out whatever comes.

If you didn't have races, training would not have the same purpose. You thrive on purpose and goals! 

Racing has been the gateway for some tremendous life experiences - racing in London and Auckland, and experiencing new cities and states in the US.

Triathlon and all that goes with it makes you happy. It makes every day an adventure, gives your life some structure, and has made you a much more positive person. This moment, these butterflies, are all part of that happiness because they give you the chance to push beyond fears and see you are tougher than you think.

So what are you nervous about? You should feel nothing but happy and proud to be swimming, biking, and running in the great outdoors among friends. You should trust your body and mind to do what they have done for many miles and years now. You have nothing to prove other than your commitment to the sport and gratitude for the opportunity be a part of it.

So take a deep breath, put a smile on your face, and let it flow. Oh, and while you are out there, if you wouldn't mind, please suck it up Buttercup!

aka January self