A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with my coach, Holden, about fear. Fear of injury (or re-injury, as the case may be), of not meeting my expectations. Holden said to me, “every athlete has to draw their line in the sand. To establish their limit as to how far they will go and how much they will give for their athletic career.” The professional athletes many of us admire on TV or aspire to be draw their line FAR beyond where the average, logical, person would. Think about pro cyclists barreling down a mountain pass at 60+ mph; or an athlete working through injury after injury. When sport is your career, and when you are in pursuit of lofty goals, on the road to excellence, there is no room for fear.
So as I bobbed in the water awaiting the starting horn at ITU Chicago’s age group race yesterday, I had one line in my head: “There is no room for fear.”
Holden had left the decision to race entirely up to me. My ankle has been very touch and go, but Dr. Peplinski and Sharone Aharone, both of whom I have been working with to rehab my foot and return from the dreaded walking boot, told me it was time. My foot still has strength and mobility to find, but I had been nursing it long enough and it was ready to be tested… the question remained: was my mind?
As a figure skater, I worked extensively with a sports psychologist, and boy was my mind TRAINED. Trained to block out my competitors, my surroundings, and that inner voice that just sometimes will not shut up.
While I have maintained many skills from those days, I must admit I have slipped. In the week leading up to the race, I would catch myself scared: scared my 3 weeks of no swimming due to a wrist injury would mean my race was over before it had begun; scared that pretty much no training above endurance/base effort since last summer would keep me from finishing the race; and most of all, scared that my foot would give out and I would be left where I was after Philly Tri last year. Injured, and on the couch. I would catch myself thinking these things, and then get mad, and sometimes even then scared of being scared…. If that even makes sense!
So going into the race, I had two mantras repeating in my head:
- "When you race, you race – there is no half way,” and
- "There is no room for fear"
By the time the horn went off for my wave, the rain clouds had cleared and it was shaping up to be a warm morning in Chicago. There was less chop than usual and a light breeze coming from the south (note to self: USE the tail wind when biking and running north, high cadence coming south). I was shocked when I wasn’t completely blown away at the start of the swim. There was some jostling around for positing in the first third of the swim, but I bridged up, nudged myself in between two girls’ feet, and got into a rhythm. The swim felt like eternity, but whenever I had a doubt creep into my head, I forced it out with: “there is no room for fear."
I didn’t push super hard on the transitions – I wanted a strong race, but I also wanted this to be the START of my season and didn’t want to risk any kind of stupid injury from hard running, barefoot, on the pavement. I had a pretty smooth wetsuit removal and before I knew it, was off on the bike. I knew this was the one area I had any chance of doing any damage, so I set out to pick off athletes (male or female) one (or five) at a time. The race course was SUPER fast, and riding Lower Wacker was a blast. It felt like I was flying. That distant but familiar feeling of burning in my glutes and ham’s set in before no time, but every time I was about to back down, or began to worry that I was going too hard for my fitness level, I would remind myself “there is no room for fear."
I rolled through T2 quicker than expected and headed out on the run. I had chatted with Sharone before the race, expressing my nervousness about the run, as he had been working with me on my strength/biomechanics through the spring. He recommended I focus on being loose and just finding my stride; settle into a rhythm, and then depending on how I was feeling, start pushing the pace little by little. I did just that. In the first lap, I was shocked that I wasn’t getting passed by one woman after another, as I honestly had been anticipating. Stacy Hague, who had an awesome race, passed me in the second lap and I thought “hereee we go.” But then followed that with a “No. Keep the cadence up, strong core, upper body loose. No room for fear."
And low and behold, I got passed by only one other woman in my age group throughout the run! As my body began to complain more and more about my lack of run training, I channeled all those days in bed/on the couch with my foot under a bag of ice, longing to be outside running, and putt one foot in front of the other to the finish line with a time of 2hrs 10min. It was far from a perfect race, but I overcame fears that had been putting down roots over the past year. I overcame mental hurdles, which was more important in the long-run than results (but if you want to see those, go to: http://chicago.triathlon.org/results).
Some might say I was being a over dramatic going into the race. It’s not like I’m a pro right? Well, not yet. But one day I will be. I will be racing the Gwens of the world, and I believe you have to think like a pro and treat the sport like a pro before you can actually be a pro.
So with that, I will leave you with two quotes that I recently came across and really hit home for me. The first is from an athlete who has recently returned from injury (and is crushing, I might add!). The second is from an athlete who is grappling with the frustration that comes from recovering from one injury only to face another. I admire both so much for their determination, passion, and perseverance and can only hope that I have the honor of racing both some day.
From Helen Jenkins: “You put so much into your events. You have really bad times, but you really want to come back and have those good times again. I had a long period out with injury and I didn’t lose that desire to get back.”
From Paula Findlay: “I’ve cried all the tears out of my body, so I’m left to figure out logically what to do next. A few people have questioned my motivation and enjoyment of the sport. Sometimes it’s freaking hard to find enjoyment in the day-to-day… struggling with a stubborn injury, or not seeing fitness return as quickly as you want… I have no lack of motivation. Actually, I’m more motivated than ever… I’m determined not to let these setbacks derail my whole season, or my whole career."
To my friends, family, and to all my fellow athletes: you are more than you think. So before you draw your line, go out there with a vengeance. Do something worth being scared of and remember that, no matter what, there is no room for fear.