–By Elaine Sheikh, Team OAM NOW triathlete
It was a week before the first triathlon of the season for me. I was starting my season later than many of my friends – the end of May instead of attending collegiate national championships in April. I had kept a close eye on the registrations. I was being told what others were capable of. I was well aware of the strengths of some of my other competitors. But instead of being motivated by that, I was petrified. I had so much self-doubt that I would just panic any time I thought about actually racing. Despite that fear, that race went on to be ok and I PR’d my 10k off the bike.
The same thing happened before the Grand rapids Triathlon. I saw a competitor’s bike come in to the shop where I work and when a co-worker joked that she was going to crush me because her bike was so fast (not to mention that she is an amazing runner), I had to take a break so I could leave the building to get control of myself so I could actually do my job. I learned from these experiences that negative emotions are not only uncalled for, but are extremely damaging and waste a lot of energy that could be focused towards racing and training. Of course I’m still nervous when I have a race coming up. But instead of focusing on how bad I feel, I am working towards making a conscience choice to breathe, and have confidence.
Someone once told me that I am not capable of an “ok” race. I have great races or I have catastrophic races. My goal for the season is to change that. I don’t have unrealistic expectations. I know every race will not be a “great” race. But instead of having a race spiral down into catastrophe, I want to practice mindfulness and mental toughness to turn that race into something that is “ok.” I got a taste of that at my most recent sprint tri of the year. I came out of the water in 5th, 3 minutes down from a collegiate swimmer who was leading the race. On the bike, I moved myself into third. I felt strong and knew that I should be able to run right around 20 minutes for the 5k. I had put in a big training day the day before and was fatigued, but I know what I am capable of on a good day and a bad day. However, catastrophe struck as I finished off the bike. It was tight to get to the dismount line, and a man braked hard in front of me as I was getting my shoes off. I was forced to dismount with one foot still stuck in my shoe on the bike. As a result, I wasn’t aware of the position of my shoes and one caught the ground as I ran into transition. My bike catapulted through the air and crashed onto the asphalt. I bent over to pick it up and tried unsuccessfully to get it on the rack.
As I struggled, I knew I was wasting precious seconds. I finally got it on the bar and headed out on the run, trying not to think about the potential damage… just to have both hips lock completely. I felt completely fine cardiovascularly, and I had so much more to give, but I couldn’t run. I ended up averaging around 35 seconds per mile slower than I was capable of averaging on a “bad day.” I crossed the finish line and the announcer called out that I was the second overall female. I knew I should acknowledge it but the fact that I finished a sprint triathlon and I wasn’t even breathing hard was a terrible sign. On a good race day I would be on the edge of passing out because I would have run that hard. But that day my heart and lungs had so much more to give. I struggled with it for the rest of that morning. But then I realized – catastrophe is what you make it. Maybe that race was a catastrophe for me on a personal level, but was it really? By most people’s standards, my race would be considered “ok.” Sure, I don’t want to view my life through the lens of other people’s opinions, but I think my goal was met that day. I had an “ok” race… because that’s what I decided to make it. I could have chosen to view it as a trainwreck, but I decided to accept it, cry, breathe, and move on. Racing is just as much mental as it is physical. Even if your results aren’t up to your expectations, if you gave all you could on a particular day, adjust your mindset. Giving your all and having it not be enough is not a catastrophe!