Don’t you hate when Semi-trucks blow by you on the highway when it’s raining?  On my way home for Christmas it was pouring in Illinois and truck after truck sent my nerves through the roof as water splashed on my windshield like I was looking through swim goggles.  I mean, sometimes I get really close to panic because I can’t see anything.  I tried fast wipers, then slow, but nothing seemed to work, until . . . I stopped looking at the road. Yes, I’m not kidding.  I tried to relax and move my vision around.  Looking over at the truck a little, glancing to my right, then at the road, etc . . . A funny thing happened.  I was instantly more relaxed because I could see much better.  Why?  The only thing I can come up with is that I wasn’t completely focused on looking straight ahead (which seems like the biggest blind spot in those situations) but using all of my vision to get a grip on the entire surroundings.  

One of the things that’s always bothered me about triathlon is the repetitive nature of these long swim, bike, and runs.  Over and over and over, we do the same thing. In my heart, I’ve always believed that can’t be good for you.  It’s certainly not dancing, but . . . with the right mindset, it could be.

I’m extremely guilty of using the word focus.  Focus isn’t bad in theory, but intense focus has a strange effect on the mind and body.  Try staring at something for a long time and notice how it makes your body/vision feel. Everything starts closing in around you and you lose perspective.

It’s easy to get this feeling in triathlon.  In some ways it seems necessary to plow through the grueling task in front of us.  Every bit of energy is put into focus.

That doesn’t align with how I would prefer to tackle an IRONMAN.  In some ways it’s like shutting off your senses for 12 hours.

But, when my head is right, I refer to racing as meditation, and that’s the mindfulness I would prefer to let happen.

I’ve finished 3 IRONMAN races and clearly remember feeling the most peaceful in two events:  my Louisville swim, and my Chattanooga bike.  Not coincidently, those were by far my best times in each.

For lack of an better explanation, I believe that during those race segments I wasn’t “looking” but I saw everything.  Not just the road or water in front of my face, but the entire energy around me.  When I swam, I saw the shore.  When I biked, I felt the countryside.

On most of my training runs I “try” to look into the distance rather than at the ground. But this has yet to happen consistently in a race.  I’ve always had that limiting feeling . . . like the world has closed in around me and the only energy available is my own.

Whenever I “press” or “focus” on “crushing it” one of three things happen:

– I become tight
– I become miserable
– I burn out.

This happens in every day life as well.  We are taught to crank out the work, focus, and take control!  But when we allow ourselves to flow, everything, including racing, is easier.

So, as I start a new year of training, I’m going to shift my vision on the concept of “crushing” races.  I’m going to train in a way that trusts (and accepts) outside energy.  Opening my mind to embrace that mysterious animating-force in the universe that understands my direction much better than I do.

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The Biggest Challenge In Triathlon

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2 thoughts on “The Biggest Challenge In Triathlon

  • January 11, 2016 at 3:12 pm
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    Over a 35 year period I told my high school runners to “focus” whether it was a sprinter paying attention to the first two steps out of the blocks or a cross country runner knowing the terrain and of course always; “know where the finish line is!” Focus is great for a short period of time but would agree that the long haul requires a different mindset, especially for the non-competitive age group athlete. I recall looking at the mountains, moose etc during a marathon; sucking up the surroundings and never broke pace. I looked up and saw the mile 20 marker and thought “what the hell happened to miles 12,13,14,15,16 etc..It was light years more of enjoyment (and faster) than my first marathon and as you would say “crushing it.”

    • January 18, 2016 at 10:03 am
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      Thanks, Philip! Sometimes I think I get confused by the concept of focus… as a big believer in meditation and being in the moment, I think what I often mean is “awareness.” That can mean being aware of the surroundings and/or feeling in your body, etc… When I obsess with “the end” I tend to be uncomfortable on the journey and that feels like a bad approach to triathlon and life. So, like most things… work in progress.

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