Yesterday, I competed in IRONMAN 70.3 Syracuse. It was hot, hilly, and hard. Temperatures were close to 90 degrees, we climbed close to 3,800 feet over the bike and run, and the race was a true testament of physicality and mentality. I had trained for months, spending hours swimming, biking, and running. I even ran a full marathon 6 weeks before the race, with a half marathon every other week thereafter leading up to the race; culminating with my best placement ever in a half marathon! I was ready!!! So, I thought.
Race morning came quick and early. I had packed everything the day before and preset the GPS to the race site. All I had to do was grab my bag and drive. So far so good. I got to the race site with plenty of time to do everything I needed to do without any rush. Again, so far so good. As race time drew closer, I put on my wetsuit and headed down to the water for the warmup swim. Perhaps the only cool part of the day was the water, a brisk 69 degrees Fahrenheit. While that does not sound too cold, I always need a good amount of time to acclimate to having my face in that kind of water temperature. Still, everything was all good. Then came the lineup for race start.
As I stood in the shoot to start the race and thought about the cold water I was about to dive head first into, my mind started to wander, and not in the right direction. “What am I doing here?” I thought. “Am I crazy?” I was starting down a slippery slope which could greatly affect my race. One of the things I go over with the individuals I work with is how thoughts like the above are natural and a part of being human. We all have positive thoughts and feelings, as well as, negative thoughts and feelings. What’s important is that they are natural and not be fought from coming forth; rather, we have a choice when they come forward of how we think, feel, and behave after they do. And in the shoot for the race, I had a choice…would I would not allow these thoughts to take hold of mindset and affect my physical performance during the race??? The answer came a few minutes later.
As I entered the water and waded out to a deep enough spot to start swimming, I dove head first and was met with a nice cold rush of water! I still had not acclimated to its temperature. My heart rate elevated, I was breathing more often than normal, and I made the swim harder than it needed to be by not fully allowing my face to be in the water. I knew the swim could not continue in this fashion, and more importantly I could not. This was my choice…continue the way I was or remember the training I had put in, what I was capable of, and what I knew to be true. I knew that I needed to slow my heart rate down so I eased off the pace a bit. I knew I had to relax my breathing so I elongated my stroke and deepened my breath. I knew I would acclimate to the water temperature, so I slowly put more and more of my face into the water until I was swimming with proper form. And then something magical happened! I got into my rhythm, I was breathing properly, and the buoys of the course start coming closer and faster. It started with my choice of not allowing the negative thoughts I had at the start to monopolize the thoughts that came next and my behavior which resulted from them. We always have a choice in life!
I exited the water after the swim 5 minutes faster than I had every swam the distance before. My positive mindset had fully taken over. And it carried over to my weakest event of the 3 in triathlon, the bike. Pretty much the only thing said about the bike course of this race is it is hard. Specifically, the first 12 miles of the race present the greatest challenge by climbing approximately 1,000 feet within them. I had studied the course and planned my work. And throughout the race, I worked my plan. I knew I had to take the first 12 miles easier than I normally would before I got into the part of the course I could open up on. The entire time, my cycling coach was in my ear. “Use your gears. Keep your cadence up. Let the bike do the work for you and don’t put too much power to the pedals.” These thoughts came over and over again as I worked my way through the course; but, they would not have, had I made a choice earlier in the race to maintain a positive outlook and have fun! Planning my work, working my plan, and being positive resulted in the best bike time I have ever had over this distance.
Not a single time did I think about quitting or that I was not going to finish this race! And, as with the swim, something magical happened. The miles start ticking by, the end was coming closer, and the last part of the race was in sight. I could have tapped out when my legs started cramping; I could have thought to myself “I still have 28 miles left to go! What am I doing out here;” and I could have got down on myself when I had to slow down again later in the course when the second set of challenging hills appeared. But, I chose to stretch out my legs as needed when they cramped; I watched the miles tick by knowing that I was half way done, then under 20 miles to go, then 10, then 5 then, 1; and allowed the bike to do the work for, watched my cadence, and slowed my pace down on the last set of hills because, after all, I still had to run after getting off the bike. Staying positive made the challenging bike course possible AND enjoyable! AND, when we are having fun time seems to go faster and things seems to come easier. It’s a shift of the mind we are all capable of.
I got off of the bike and transitioned to my strongest event of the 3 in triathlon, the run. However, that was not going to be the case during the race. I started off at a pace I had expected to maintain throughout the race but soon realized that was not going to be possible and the day was going to longer than expected. Staring down more than 12 miles, I again, was faced with a choice. Move forward and enjoy the race or be hard on myself for being way off of my usual run time. As on the bike, never once did I think I was going to quit or not finish the race. I knew from my past experience I was very capable of completing a half marathon. The distance was not the challenge; rather, it was the heat, state of my legs, and the hilly nature of the course. My game plan needed to shift! So it did, without a single negative thought. I could have let pride take over or I could have let frustration in. Again, I had a choice to make. Making the choice to adjust my plan and have fun carried me through to the end of the race at my slowest half marathon time I’ve ever had; however, it carried me to the finish line of the hardest race I have ever competed in, and the sweetest feeling of accomplishment at the end!
Having previously made a choice to remain positive on the swim did not guarantee that would be the case on the bike or the run. It was continuous. At any point throughout the race, I could have let negativity in. And this is the same as the rest of our lives. We are continuously presented with a choice to either let negativity monopolize us or let positivity guide us forward. The power of our minds can truly take us to new heights. The choice is always there, and it is always ours!