“Try to look at your weakness and convert it into your strength. That’s success.”
I was supposed to be back at work today, but instead I am typing from my bed. (boo!) My sinus infection has gotten the better of me, and I figured my patients wouldn’t appreciate me coughing on them for 13+ hours… Not to mention that medicine head is probably not great for clinical judgement. The good news is that at least I am home in bed and not in a hospital bed, which is a huge improvement from my last triathlon. I am hoping on the next one we can just avoid getting sick altogether… that would be just fine with me.
Anyway, I figured I would use this mandatory downtime to update you all on the one other thing I learned about myself at the Timberman that I didn’t mention in my previous post. Basically, I found out I am a complete and utter wuss on the bike. Now don’t get me wrong! I am certainly not complaining about the amount of time it took me to finish the bike course or the race overall. (I actually was hugely impressed that I broke 7 hours on my first HIM, especially being under the weather and injured) What disappointed me was how quickly I unravelled mentally when the bike started to hurt.
Truthfully, I knew the bike was my weakest link going into this event. After all, of the three disciplines I’ve had the least experience with cycling. I have been a runner most of my life and had been solidly working on my swim for almost a year. The bike, on the other hand, I only had a few months riding beyond spin classes and time in the trainer, and even that time was limited due to injury and having surgery. All that being said, I realize I am being a little hard on myself… buuuuutttttt if I don’t honestly examine the areas I am weak in, I won’t ever improve. If I don’t improve, I’ll never make it to a full 140.6 distance race. Therefore, it’s all in the name of the greater goal.
The funny thing is, I can just run for hours and hours on end- through pain, blisters, chafing, sprains, falls, and spasms. I can tune everything else out and just keep pushing. I know my when my body has more to give and just keep on grinding. Meanwhile, on the bike, the second it starts really hurting I come completely undone. It’s just not pretty, and I hated feeling like an absolute wimp on that entire bike course. I knew I had better speed and power in me, but I just couldn’t get my body to perform. I was having a big ugly battle the the Doubt Monster… Man I hate that biotch!
Granted, the bike course was extremely congested making it hard to pass or ride at my own pace, and I was injured, and sick, and it was significantly more windy than the previous time I road it, but none of that makes me feel any better about just how mentally defeated I was by the bike. My inner critic was on heavy metal volume, and there was no tuning her out. I sang songs and counted miles, but mostly I thought about how improbable it was that I would ever make it through to the end. That Doubt Monster completely had her way with me, and that is totally unacceptable- sick and injured or not.
Yes, I am still proud that I stuck with it and got it done, but I also realize I have a loooonnnngggg way to go to improve. Bottom line: I need to spend more time on my bike. I need to get more comfortable with riding in general and knowing my limits. I need to get more God-awful rides under my belt so I am accustomed to what normal hurting feels like. I need to work on climbing hills and getting the hang of rocking. I need to get more confident in my handling skills and actually learn to drink and eat while riding. I need to get to a point where my mental grit on the bike is on par with running. At the end of the day, it’s confidence that I am lacking. The only remedy is more time in the saddle.
Timberman may have been an eye opener as to how far I still have to go before taking on a monster Ironman, but it is also a testament to how much closer I am to getting there than I was a few months or even a year ago. I am literally half way there, and that is kind of a big deal… especially when you consider all the setbacks and fact that this is only my second triathlon ever.
For those of you wondering how it is that I was able to grind out all those miles on the bike despite being racked with pain and filled with doubt, the truth is I went into “Ultra Mode”. I refused to think about anything beyond the mile I was in. If I allowed myself to think of the whole 13.1 mile run at the end, it would have undone me. I recognized the Doubt Monster playing her evil games, and I told myself to just get through the next mile… a whole bunch of times (just like in an ultra! Ultra Mode!)
It is so much easier to set a small goal than try to digest the entire magnitude of what lies ahead. Every time I race a new distance (first half, first marathon, first ultra, first triathlon) I have to fight the impulse not to get overwhelmed by the task ahead. Each time I fall back on focusing on one mile at a time and then set a simultaneous larger goal (ie. “get to the next aid station” or “just get through this segment”).
I know from experience that the worst part for me psychologically always falls in the middle of an event. For Timberman, that did not bode well for me and the bike. The thing is, I have learned to recognize that about myself, so I am prepared when it happens. I also try to remind myself that usually the races where I feel the worst are the ones when I’m doing my best because working harder means more discomfort and the miles seem longer (even if you are moving faster).
Another tactic I use is simply to remind myself that the pain will get better and a second wind will come. I know from experience that this is generally true. The trick is to just hang in there long enough and focus on my form in the meantime. I also try to sort out whether I’m actually in pain or just bored because when it comes to running, many times it’s the latter. Plus, I find it also helps to smile and remind myself that I’m doing something I love (though frequently it’s in the “I love you, but I don’t like you right now” sense). I take time to be grateful. Then when all else fails, I remind myself that every pedal stroke and step are getting me one step closer to the finish, and that as long as I don’t quit I will eventually get there. One step, one minute at a time until there are no steps left to take.
That, my friends, is what works for me. What works for you?