Training for the mind

My training journey has been one full of learning. I’ve learned how to use clip in pedals, drink while running, eat while biking, tape up blisters, blaze through transitions, and otherwise how to be an ironman triathlete. But aside from the physical skills of this sport, I’ve started to learn the mental game.
The past eight weeks have really put me to the test. With a torn MCL earlier this year, I was limited in my training for six weeks, and then just as I received clearance to run again, I took myself out with a cold, which can only be described as the plague. For almost two weeks, I was only able to lift my head for violent coughing fits, or blowing disgusting amounts of snot from my nose. As I replaced running marathons with sleeping marathons, I wondered if I would ever get back on track. Everything seemed to be going either in slow motion or backwards as I tortured myself by counting every workout I missed. I realized this was the part in the journey where I was either going to sink or swim.

Dealing with adversity is never easy, yet it comes with great teachings, that, in the end, can build a resilient and smart athlete. I have learned how to adjust and adapt, which are two very important abilities for an ironman athlete to obtain. Racing is unpredictable and the best triathletes are those who make dispensable plans – if one doesn’t work, throw it out the window, and go for Plan B, or C, or Z. Understanding that training and racing comes with many variables, also means I have learned to accept uncontrollable situations. Sometimes shit happens , that’s just part of life. In acceptance, I’ve also learned that sometimes I will have bad workouts, sometimes I might come in dead last, and I might get ill or injured – accept them for what they are and move on. It doesn’t mean settling, it means accepting that every day is not perfect. And by foregoing perfection, I have learned how to change my expectations and be ok with it. If my muscles are aching, or I’m sick, or overtired, I can’t reasonably expect the same results if I was rested, healthy and pain free. Once again, not every day goes according to plan and neither does every workout. Most importantly I have learned that training smart is better than training hard. This by no means suggests that half-assing all workouts is smart – there is no substitute for pure hard work. But there are some days where pushing the envelope can be detrimental. If I listen to my body and go with my gut instinct, I’m less susceptible to going down a path of disaster. I’ve finally recognized that my training schedule is not the bible. On some days, what coach says might not be what my body says. Like I said, adjust, adapt, accept, and be smart. And when it all comes together, celebrate the successes. There is no such thing as a small success and every hard earned effort should be recognized, otherwise I’m in for a dark, unhappy ride. Lastly, no one likes a pity party. Everyone is enduring their own battles of aches and pains, and my aches and pains don’t make me special or entitled to whining about it. This doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to my feelings, but not everyone needs to hear about how tough life is all the time. Scream into the pillow, kick up some dirt then put on the big girl panties and keep moving forward.
If I can mentally out tough this journey, then I know my body will be able to do the rest.
Despite the set back in my training, I’m still clinging on. I’ve taken the past eight weeks to apply my learning and keep pushing towards my goal. This past weekend, I finished my first race of the season with the lingering effects of the cold. For the entire race, I coughed up phlegm, snotted all over myself, breathed heavily and otherwise felt heavy. There would be no PB’s or impressive splits, but I was there doing something that eight weeks ago I thought was impossible. I was relaxed and care-free. For the first time since finishing a triathlon, I did not care about my performance, placing, or time, and as I crossed the finish line, I raised my arms in celebration and with a smile on my face – something I’ve never done before.
You can teach someone how to swim, bike and run, and all the other physical elements that go along with becoming an ironman athlete, but developing the mental grit, is almost more important and doesn’t come without its challenges. Cruising along in calm waters all the time can be dangerous, because once the storm hits you won’t be prepared. Endure a few swells along the way, and you’ll learn how to survive and smile while doing it.

2 thoughts on “Training for the mind

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