This past weekend marked my 4th triathlon and my 7 year-old son’s first. I was definitely more nervous for him, although he was as cool as a cucumber right up until he was about to start swimming. He eventually shared “Mom, I’m a bit nervous”, and I said “Great! Now harness that energy for your swim and smash it”. If only I could take my own advice! I also told him that it was normal to be nervous, that it was called ‘race jitters’ and everyone gets them. “Even Ken?” he asked (my coach who is at the top of his game), “Even Ken” I smiled, and off he went, smashing his swim.
I continue to learn some truly valuable lessons as a triathlete and the lessons aren’t just about triathlons. These lessons extend to every other aspect of my life and I feel as though they enable me to not only understand myself better, but they also strengthen my appreciation for the social side of the sport as well as the stories that we tell ourselves. So what were my lessons from this last competition?
1. Continue to reflect on your goals and adapt if necessary. Approximately 6 weeks out I realised I wasn’t going to hit my cycling speed milestone and it was a tough pill to swallow. I analysed my performance over the 3 months leading up to this point and noticed that I was cycling further, but not faster. The hills I had worked on the previous 3 months appeared to offer more substantial improvements in my speed and I felt stronger afterwards. But it was now the distance I required and in particular, I had to be able to perform the distance and subsequently run the following 10km comfortably. I adapted my milestone to accommodate the end goal of getting stronger on the bike, to feeling confident riding 60km and running distance off the bike. I gave all that I had on the bike course on the day and am happy with where I ended up, now to work on the speed. We need to be able to adapt when the data tells us to do so.
2. Be kind to yourself in your self-talk. When you’re challenging yourself in any endeavour, you’re frequently talking to yourself. I often joke around that I’m the dud in my triathlon group because I’m surrounded by these exceptional athletes who strive strong, crush their goals and even place well in their age categories. For me, imposter syndrome kicks in along with my inherent negativity bias. But this time it was different, I focused on positive self-talk. Leading up to the race I reminded myself that I had trained for this race, I was ready, I could do it and it would still be accomplishing a number of my goals. I had mantras that I told myself throughout training and on the day. I also reminded myself of my why.
3. Take advantage of your stress hormones but keep them in check. We all experience performance anxiety regardless of whether it’s meeting new people for the first time, speaking in front of a group, or participating in an athletic endeavour. As I told my son, it’s completely normal to get ‘race jitters’ and we have a choice. We can utilise those stress hormones for good, or we can let them get the better of us.
On race day I woke up early, meditated, did a yoga for cycling class and rode my bike to the venue. While waiting for it all to get underway, I practiced diaphragmatic box breathing and socialised. All of these preparations activated my relaxation response, dampening the production of stress hormones like cortisol and providing me with a flow of positive neurotransmitters like acetylcholine which catalyses increased focus and calmness. We need stress hormones in order to grow and to motivate us to take action, but we also need to keep them in check ~ find what works for you.
4. Sometimes it’s just about taking one step/stroke after another. One of the mantras I heard on race day was from Dory “Just keep swimming” and I used it to my advantage. I have this innate fear of ocean swimming, in the shallows I’m ok but on this particular day we were swimming almost 500m out. I really wanted to enjoy the swim and although I didn’t break any personal records, I enjoyed it and I finished it with a smile on my face. We can often get caught up in our fears and the sheer size of our undertakings, but if we approach our goals one step/stroke at a time, breaking things down into bite-sized chunks, anything is possible. Next race I'll shift from focusing on comfort to pace.
5. We’re all running our own race, for our own reasons that are unique to us. My why for getting into triathlons stemmed from two of my values ~ family and health. I was participating in this race to be a role model to my son and to improve my fitness, I wanted to feel inspirational and proud. Others in my squad had many different reasons for participating and were likely chasing different feelings. It’s so important to remind ourselves of that, to focus on our own journey and to look at the success of others, celebrate their success and adopt some learnings along the way.
6. Other people matter. The energy and support over the weekend was palpable and heartfelt and they top the list for my learnings. If we can encourage one another, regardless of our diversity in ability and beliefs, it can give us the strength to do more and be more. We now know that social well-being has an impact on our health, our happiness and our longevity. Thanks to everyone from Central Coast Triathlon Club, my coach Ken for not losing patience with me, to my friends Ed & Lachie on the day and to my husband and son for encouraging me every step of the way ~ I would not have shown up as I did on the day if it wasn’t for all of you!
Here’s to the next race and striving stronger!