Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Peaceful mind for racing

"Inner peace, then outer results; not the other way around." ~ Mark Allen, The Art of Competition

Tomorrow I leave for USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals. When I think of my goal for the races, the Olympic on Saturday and the Sprint on Sunday, I find myself thinking only in terms of how I want to feel, not of specific numbers. For as numbers- and data- and spreadsheet-oriented as I am, when it comes to racing, it's all about managing my mind and how it processes what the body is saying. That's the challenge I think we all enjoy.

What I want this weekend is a quiet, un-distracted mind that drives the body with unfailing determination, commitment, courage, and belief.

I can clearly identify various states of my "training mind" when I swim, bike, and run.

On one end of the spectrum there is the anxious mind. This is the one that is worried about hitting particular intervals, paces, or splits, wondering if I measure up, questioning if I am working hard enough, and asking if I am tough enough. Do I have "it?"

On the other end of the spectrum is the peaceful mind that revels in the moment, is bursting with gratitude and appreciation for the ability to move freely, and is focused on the sensations of movement. It is here that I find flow and happiness. (Melanie McQuaid just wrote an awesome article on this state of flow.) Even as I type this, I can picture myself running down Luster's Gate Road and I can feel that peaceful feeling that I want. It's those times that I will report to Coach Jim, "too fast, I know, but I was running happy!!"

My truly peaceful mind frequently follows the release of the anxious mind. When I've hit the pace I want/need, when I nailed the interval, when I got past the tough part, I release the fears. It's as if all that energy that was needed to "feed the fears" is redirected into forward-propulsive ways. That's when I feel my best and when the speed comes more freely.

I began my last races at Colonial Beach with a peaceful mind and that's what I seek again in Milwaukee. I'm not saying I didn't race hard, and I'm not saying there weren't tough times during the race, particularly on the run, but I didn't cross over into that place of fear. It remained about what I could do, not what I couldn't. Not all my races go that way, particularly last year, when I was plagued by anxiety about my leg.

There are 205 women in my F45-49 age group for the Olympic Distance race on Saturday and 110 for the Sprint Distance on Sunday. Last year it was 137/53 and in 2012 it was 114/56. That's nearly twice as many women as two years ago. Those numbers will not enter my mind as I race.

I'm showing up to race with a certain amount of fitness and speed. If I can get that little bit extra out of myself, I will be happy, and to do that, I can't waste energy and thoughts on anxiousness.

Like 6x Kona Ironman World Champion Mark Allen suggests, "Inner peace, then outer results" and that is my goal.

Life is hectic for most of us. Training and racing is our opportunity filter out the white noise of the world, to step away from screens and updates and seemingly immediate demands for our attention. I look forward to having nothing to do during that time but manage my own thought processes. It's not to say my mind will be empty, but it will be focused on the basics:

  • Swim: reach, finish the stroke, head down, feel and pull, swim straight, draft if I can, narrow kick, catch that next person!!
  • Bike: suffer more, grab every bit of speed, catch that next person!!
  • Run: cadence, cadence, cadence, be patient, catch that next person!!!

When I began this sport I viewed it as a physical challenge, but the most difficult "endurance" part of the sport can be maintaining that sharp mental focus needed to perform at one's best. You can't let up, you can't open the slightest crack to doubt.

I'm looking forward to the challenge of the weekend's races, to race my best among the best, and to do so with a quiet mind. Well, quiet aside from it telling me to catch the next person :-)

If you are going to be at the Age Group National Championships and you happen to see me, please say hello!!! Safe travels to all - see you there!