Sunday, October 14, 2012

Kona Thoughts in a Conch Shell

Well, another Kona in the books.  I did some hard core couch spectating yesterday and it's left me more tired than I thought it would.  And sore!  How can anyone sit around on their butt most of the day?  Yeowch!

I have had a few weeks of the written word, and I have still to put up a few bloggo's into the blogosphere, but I feel inspired to write today.  And it's pouring rain out too.  So a wonderful time to procrastinate a 'jog' in the fog/rain/puddles/wind/grey/muck/leaves/dirt.

It was so interesting for me, to watch the ongoings of the Ironman World Championship all day - these are things you don't get to see when you're in the race.  And things you don't really appreciate about the course until you've actually done it - the video footage now makes much more sense than it previously did (yes, I have watched multiple Kona's on the interweb).  So it was a treat to watch and armchair spectate - I now have more respect for those that come to watch us compete!  And we weren't even in 100F weather (although I would have loved to be.....would trade that for the previously mentioned weather system above).

But these are my own ramblings and likely not super interesting to you.  Well, what the heck, I'm going to ramble a bit more anyways.  I've not been overly supratentorial lately, likely due to me recovering brain cells over the past 6 weeks.  Oh wait, I don't think you can actually get those back.  Oh darn.

One of the things that struck me about the women's race (besides the top 5 women being scary tough kick ass women) is that in the top 10 women, a 46 year old with a smile on her face, and a new mom came across the line.  For me, this was heartwarming.  It means life outside triathlon is possible, it made me feel like there is less of a rush, to surge to the top, to take your time and become better with age and experience.  In reflecting on my past year, things went by quickly, and it at times felt like a vice grip having to get better all the time, that only steps forward counted, that steps backward were a waste of time or worse, a fault.  At times my year also felt so wonderful that I almost couldn't handle it all too, so, there was a balance.  I'd like to think most of the time was spent in the middle ground, which is made up of good solid training without much psychological complication.

Flash forward to yesterday.  I am tired from a year of busy and successful racing.  I am an athlete who does well regardless of conditions.  I do well because I want to.  I want to do it because I love it.  I define what racing 'well' means for me, you can define it for yourself however you want.  I had just raced in the Goodlife Victoria Marathon (race report to come) last weekend and had fun and ran hard, and did well.  But the end of the triathlon season still lingered in my mind and my ability to 'race' was compromised.  But doing 'well' and 'racing' are really different things.  This is all mental.  I'll explain.

To get performances out of your body that go above and beyond what you ever thought was capable takes one simple thing.  A positive mind.  I don't think it is much more complicated than that.  To remain positive while you are in a great deal of pain, when you are scared, when you don't know what to do.  So, a positive mind (yes, this needs to be trained, no, it's not a genetic hand-me-down) is your platform, really it is the equivalent to the body you have been training all these months.  I would say even more important that your nuts and bolts.

Now what you probably think I'm going to write is that I had a semi-positive mind, and then I wasn't quite confident in myself to get up there and run with the top girls.  Nope.  Guess again.  I was quietly confident and positive with myself.  I had a race plan and had to readjust part way through, but didn't panic.  I missed my goal time by minutes but didn't really mind, I did well given the conditions.  And I was happy with it all.  It still felt like I won the race coming across the line, and I think that speaks volumes to how much my win at Ironman Canada has affected me - it is becoming more and more firmly lodged in my brain as part of my psyche (It probably helps that Steve King was the announcer for the Goodlife Victoria Marathon!).  It is becoming quite a powerful weapon in my psychological toolkit.  That is quite cool.

So how does this tie into watching yesterday's race?  I knew in last week's marathon that I only had my physiological strength to go on.  I have given all I had to give for this year's intense efforts, I don't think there are easy words to put to it, but that mental 'thing' is taking a rest in me.  Watching these women gut it out on the pavement of the race, that 'thing' for them is well and lively and completely intact, regardless of whether they've come 1st or 10th.  It was amazing to watch.  Sure physiologically they are very impressive creatures, but they are roughly the same (maybe apart from leg length - wowza) - it is the brain that separates them.  So you have to bring that 'thing' to the race, and it is your responsibility to get that 'thing' to the line, and that is where I see the greatest challenge of all in Ironman, keeping the balance that gets you to be your 'best' when it counts.

For me personally, I think it is easy to get sucked up in a rush of success.  It feels good to win, and I think it is very easy to get pulled away from what you 'need' in development to what you (or others) 'want' in development.  So in looking at someone like the men's winner, Pete Jacobs, who declared 8 years prior that he would win the World Championship, I'm willing to bet he's put a pretty good plan in place to get what he 'needed', and not always what he 'wanted'.  I think similar reports have come out from the famous Brett Sutton, to get his olympic champion athlete to stick to the plan regardless of desire or distaste.  But you all know this already - so my point being, it is hard to say 'no' to the flash of being at the top when you have the chance to be there.

I will openly admit that I have fears in stating that I just want to train.   I want to improve, and not let racing and that culture of winning, get in my way.  I think it is a bit of a red herring, to worry about racing and winning or losing too much, and I think this is something that many, many people are guilty of.  I think this holds a lot of people back in their dreams and goals.  But racing and winning is so paramount in the culture of athletics, I think, to a fault.  This might seem somewhat ironic considering all the praise I've given to the winners of the race, but it's not a black and white issue.  Everyone will find their own way through life, but as you may remember from high school, times can be tough when making your own decisions.

I won a big race, and 6 weeks later, I'm still feeling like I am winning the same race as I cross a finish line.  And there are even 'bigger' races than the one I won.  So I'm wondering if something is lost in the shuffle if you just bang out a race and move onto the next, without fulling appreciating what you've done?  And you don't have to win either, because I think people will bang out a crappy race only to try to forget about it and move onto the next.  Big mistake in my mind, but that's just me.  I think people need to spend more time appreciating what they do instead of just 'doing it' and hurrying along to the next thing.  You are spending SO much of your life and resources into training for this one thing and then you whisk it away for the good or the bad too soon?  I think life is too short for that.

So if you have just raced Kona, a race that many people dream of racing, my stern advice to you is to really think about the day you had, to appreciate it for everything that it gave you, and you gave to it.  Being one who has raced at this race, I know the extent of your life's resources that are invested in such a thing.  Be true to yourself and those around you and honestly evaluate what this experience has meant to you.  Take your time.  Let it sink in.  It has surprised me how long things take to come to the surface.

For me, looking down a road where I feel I have potential, I am heartened to see that I can formulate a plan where life exists with flexibility and balance, that it is those that truly stick to their guns that come out on top.  That you can do it your way, and make your dream come true.  I don't think this is the same in all sports, and I feel very lucky to be part of a sport where I have freedom to be me.  It is exciting.

Those are my Kona thoughts in a conch shell.  Did I miss being there?  Yes, absolutely, was it the right time for me to be there.  No, absolutely not.  Unless it was a papaya eating championship :)

So, now it's time to run.  In the cold, wet, purposelessly and as slowly as my brain or body needs to.  I will admit it is a bit odd not to have a target on the wall right now, but I think it is ever important to be in a new space to become a better athlete.

Happy training, and if you're in Vancouver, I feel your soggy laundry piled up pain :)