Dropping the Rope!
About a year ago, I started thinking that a full Ironman may be in my future. But I also knew that, for me, the most challenging aspect of Ironman would be mental…fighting those doubts and negative thoughts that creep in during training and racing. I had raced a 70.3 in 2016 and was plagued by negative chatter throughout training and the race. While I ultimately finished, it was disheartening to think of enduring that anxiety and self-doubt for months and months of training. To a complete a full 140.6, I knew I’d have to find some way to address the mental aspect of an Ironman.
Very early in my IM training, I came across an excellent article in a USA Triathlon newsletter. The article was written by a sports psychologist and offered a unique take on the strengthening your mental game. He likened negative self-talk to a good old fashion tug of war with the athlete on one end of the rope and negative feelings on the other end and in between the two- a great big black hole of insecurity and self-doubt. In a tug of war, both sides usually exhaust themselves-endlessly pulling back and forth. Eventually, the athlete grows too tired to pull back and the negative self-talk wins, pulling the athlete into the black hole of anxiety. Rather than continuing pulling back, the psychologist suggested another tactic- simply dropping the rope. If you’ve seen this in practice, you know that it throws the other side off balance and lets your side pull the flag over the line for the win. The psychologist suggested that the athlete acknowledge negative self-talk, doubt and insecurity, but then drop the rope- don’t dwell on it. Make adjustments, focus on positives and move forward. Having found an apt metaphor for Ironman training, I decided to make it my mantra-even adding it to my whiteboard in my home gym. But, what does that look like in practice?
Over the course of my training, negative thoughts would come. But, I tried to use each negative thought as an opportunity practice my new mantra of dropping the rope. If I was disappointed with my swim splits, I would acknowledge that while today I may have been slow, but the work out was still better than last week. Months of long hours in the saddle provided plenty of opportunities to practice dropping the rope! Every time I would see a hill and despair about how I could possibly go down it without jamming on my brakes, I would try to be a little calmer on this downhill and to try to ease off the brakes a little more with each hill.
Race day at IM Wisconsin offered plenty of opportunities to drop the rope! The first 500 feet of the swim was nothing but black, mucky water. The negative self-talk started almost immediately- ‘What am I doing? How can I keep going for 2.4 miles!?’ I had to acknowledge that this was going to be hard, but had I really trained for 11 months to stop 500 feet into the swim? I decided to focus on swimming past Monona Terrace. Imagining that I could see my family waving from the helix and thinking how great the run up the transition was going to be with the crowds!
The bike is my weakest link and offered the chance for hours upon hours of negative chatter. Riding on the stick out to Verona, I realized very quickly that my gears weren’t working. All my insecurity on the bike came back. I could have surrendered to that negative chatter. But, I made different choice. I focused instead on how even with malfunctioning gears, I was still making great time. I focused on the beautiful weather, the gorgeous scenery and counted down the miles until I would see my friends and family.
The run is my strongest discipline, but don’t let that fool you. After nearly 10 hours of racing, the negative voices came creeping back- ‘Why are you moving so slowly? Why can’t you run this hill-you ran it in ET Summer Camp?’ I had one final opportunity to drop the rope…I recognized that I was moving slowly, but I focused on the fact that I was still moving forward. I acknowledged that I was walking parts of the course that I had previously run, but I focused instead on how I was standing tall and would finish strong. And sure enough, after 15 hours and 2 minutes, Mike Reilly announced to the world that Kim Sharon is an Ironman!
I cannot thank Coach Joe LoPresto of ET Personal Coaching Services and all the Experience Triathlon coaches for making sure I was race ready, to my ET Teammates who pulled me through many a long work out and were so amazing! And my family- my parents, Susan and Dick, my kids, Maya, Avi and Dina for all of their support and of course, my number one, my everything, the reason I can do anything in this world, Isaac for taking this crazy journey with me and for believing in me always.