Yes, We Can, Part III
Athletes train and compete for many reasons – the sheer love of competition, the satisfaction of achieving a personal best, or the feeling of pushing their bodies to the limits of their minds. Team camaraderie, coaches who inspire and motivate, and group workouts filled with laughter that infiltrates our souls all feed athletes’ fuel tanks.
But the one reason that tops my list of why I train and compete is that of stress relief. We all have demands on our time and lives. We all have stressful situations we can control, and those we can’t. Through sage advice we learn we can’t control race day weather – was that Coach Joe I just heard? Learning what I can and can’t control is a triathlon and life lesson I need to practice again, and again, and again. The more I run during cold weather outside, the more I bike on the those windy days when my hands are numb, and my back is sore, and well, let’s just leave out the rest of the uncomfortable body parts, and the more open water swims I take on will prepare me for whatever conditions race day brings. Life lesson = don’t take the path of least resistance now. Embracing the discomfort in the present will pave the path for better tolerance of future stressors. I need to practice, practice, practice this in life. 🙂
Another life lesson that I am learning is that our minds limit our bodies. This concept really got my attention before the Grand Rapids marathon this fall. Before the race, Coach Cathy asked Coach Jim Levesque if he was ready to meet what he just described as a very aggressive goal. His answer surprised me. He said, “I am ready. My mind is ready.” I had been anticipating him saying his legs were ready, his nutrition plan was in place, etc… But he knew what pace he had to keep and his mind was prepared to run that pace for 26.2 miles. He knew his body could do it if his mind was ready. He was trained. He was prepared. And yes, he did it! I will never forget that conversation. 🙂
This past summer biking up hills was my biggest hurdle. There were so many times I thought my body had nothing left, that I couldn’t do it. I promised myself if there was a decision to make, then my decision was to keep pedaling up the hill. If I couldn’t decide, well, then I was at the point of falling off my bike and at that point I exhausted all the options. Coach Suzy knew of my struggles, and magically, at just the time when my mind was going to “do I make a decision to get off my bike,” I hear the firm, “Don’t quit, Alyse.” My mind took over, and my body magically got up the hill.
Most recently, my runs from Starbucks start with a long warm-up walk. Ironically, this warm-up ends at the bottom of a hill. I start running at the bottom of the hill, and when I get to the top I am beyond beat. I went to Coach Cathy and negotiated trying to start running at the top of hill so I didn’t start my run with a challenge. I gave her three options and her reply was, “Or you can just start running at the bottom of the hill and get ready for Galena.” Didn’t know the Chilly Pepper was a hard ***, did you? Who can say no to the Chilly Pepper? So after weeks of training, I now can get to the top of the hill and I don’t feel like I am going to die. 🙂 Life lesson = we can get through things that are hard, and come out stronger and happier on the other side. We need the support of our friends, families, and coaches, and sometimes this support is tough love. We have to accept the cheerleading and the tough love if we want to grow.
I have digressed a bit and haven’t really explained the stress relief reason for my training. My biggest life lesson is learning that I must manage my stress through healthy means such as swimming rather than swallowing my stress with food. I have rediscovered my love of swimming this winter. And yes, Coach Sarah, we can cry when we swim. Oftentimes the tears when I swim that “flow like a drop of water tumbling in a mountain stream” are the release of stress from my body, and sometimes they are tears of sheer joy that my 50m time trials have decreased from 1:30 to 1:09! I have a long way to go in effectively managing my stress, but I am making progress thanks to all the wonderful people surrounding me inside and outside of Experience Triathlon and teaching me those life lessons. Go Team ET!