For example, if faced with the Zombie apocalypse, a certain amount of fear can be useful. Just the right amount of stimulation to the nervous system gets the adrenaline flowing, and can help to put the fight in the fight or flight response.
But, too much fear can paralyze you – and BAM! Just like that, there goes your brains, a tasty treat for a rotting corpse.
So, that’s one thing that triathlon and running have in common with the zombie apocalypse: In order to survive, you need to keep your head.
I’ve had my share of pre-race fear, of paralysis, of flight rather than fight. At certain moments, fear has kept me from being the athlete I want to be, the athlete I need to be in order to achieve my goals. Fear has led me to speak in the language of can’t, rather than the language of can.
Perhaps most notably, my nerves got the best of me at Mont Tremblant last year, leading to anxiety-induced cramping from almost the very start of the race. After that race, I told myself that I would never let nerves get the best of me again. I would never let fear dictate my race day.
And so far fear, anxiety or nerves have not been a part of my race strategy. But, that didn’t happen overnight. I had to put quite a bit of mental work in to get the fear out.
A key part of this shift was my coach Vince’s post-Mont Tremblant advice: “More objectivity, less emotion.”
Less emotion from the Tri-Drama Queen herself. I am an incredibly emotional person – all types of emotions, and those closest to me know this very well. If you’ve read this blog long enough, you’ve very likely figured that out by now.
But, always the good student, I dutifully set about becoming more objective in my approach to training and racing, about focusing on the things I can control and forgetting about the things that lay outside my reach, about saving emotion for the finish line, about using emotion to work for me instead of against me.
When I look back at the comments I made in my training log, I see repeated references to being objective, to staying focused, to paying attention to what matters and ignoring the rest. For the past year, I treated the mental work of training as seriously as the physical, including visualization, meditation, and positive reinforcement as regular parts of my daily regimen.
And, it worked.
I approached each race this year – no matter how important or inconsequential – with the attitude of curiosity and commitment, rather than fear. I focused on my execution and the process, not the outcome. I was confident enough to believe I could achieve my goals, but humble enough to realize I would have to work hard – very hard – to achieve them.
After Ironman Lake Placid, John said to me, “You really got the mental part down. You were like a different person on race morning – fearless.”
While bringing more objectivity to my focus has been key to this mental shift, my emotions are an important part of who I am, and they should play a role in my training and racing.
Training and racing would no longer be worth it if I couldn’t embrace the joy of the long run, the excitement of the finish line, the fulfillment of goals realized. What would race morning be like if I didn’t allow just a few moments for a case of the joyful weepies?
No matter how objective I am, I will always have a place for these emotions.
But, there is no place for fear – unless of course the zombies start racing triathlon.