Perception Shift

Post Swim_Cropped

Six weeks have already passed since completing the Minneapolis Triathlon. It’s been my longest gap between races this season, which has provided me a lot of time to train and reflect.

I’ve noticed a shift in how I view my status in the sport, and how I view my own ability. For those that already know me well this will not come as a surprise: I’m pretty hard on myself. I set high standards. And even when I achieve them, I often don’t give myself enough credit.

Take this blog for example. When I launched it last December, I set the description as “An aspiring triathlete’s thoughts and perspective.” Looking back, I can see how I sold myself short, giving myself minimal credit. I had completed four triathlons by the that point – one in 2014 and three in 2016. Yet I used the word “aspiring” like I hadn’t yet earned the title of triathlete. Maybe it was because even though I’d competed in races, I hadn’t done well enough yet (I’m not even sure what my “well enough” standard was). Or maybe I didn’t feel like I had competed in long enough distances.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, I received the following comment from a fellow triathlete on my Minneapolis Triathlon Recap post: “Hate to break it to you, but you aren’t a “aspiring” triathlete anymore. You are a veteran working hard and making gains. You can smell the podium even at large scale events (which tells me that you will pick up a lot of AG podium hardware in the not so distant future) and you are looking at longer distances as well. Nicely done! Congrats on a great race!

Wow! At the time he wrote this, I had just completed the seventh sprint triathlon of my young career. I took second place in my age group at the Rochesterfest Triathlon a few weeks prior. I wasn’t far from age group contention at Minneapolis, a race that draws some strong competition. He was right – I was no longer an “aspiring” triathlete. I wasn’t trying to be one. I was one! It felt really good to hear it from someone who has completed long distance events, including Ironman Wisconsin. Confidence boosted.

I’ve also found myself answering questions and giving advice to not only friends, but also to athletes competing in their first ever triathlon. I remember my first event. I had no idea how to rack my bike, where to set-up my gear or what to bring down to the swim start. I had no idea about keeping my bike in a low gear for an easy start out of transition. I had no idea about a lot of things. That first race can be scary. It’s been a joy to share what I’ve learned and hopefully make someone else’s first race a little less overwhelming. Yeah, I guess that’s another sign I’ve become a veteran triathlete. Confidence boosted.

Most recently of all, I’ve pushed my limits in open water swimming and have noticed a change there too. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I don’t speak too confidently about my swimming abilities. I often reference my fear and panic that sets-in just thinking about the swim. It certainly does not exude confidence. Last year, I doubted if I could do the half-mile swim at Minneapolis, but I did it and it felt amazing to prove the doubt in my brain wrong. Just a few weeks ago, I doubted I could make the almost three-quarter mile round trip across Lake Nokomis and back. But I did that too. I’m realizing I’m capable of more than I often tend to think I am. It’s been pretty sweet to see that perception shift. Confidence boosted.

Lake Nokomis

Lake Nokomis

These confidence boosts couldn’t come at a better time. The Chicago Triathlon is just a few days away. There’s a lot of unknowns in this one for me. I’ve never competed at this event so I’ll be seeing the course for the first time on race day. Swimming in Lake Michigan sounds like an animal of it’s own, but knowing it takes place behind a walled harbor calms my nerves a little. I don’t know where the elevation changes are on the bike course, so no knowledge on where to save my energy and where to push hard. The run course is not a complete loop so I’ll need to pay extra attention to my watch to keep tabs on pace and distance rather than looking across a lake to see where I am in comparison to the start.

While the unknown can be scary, it’s also exciting. The lakeside and iconic skyline views are sure to be beautiful. Reports are stating 7,000 athletes and 50,000 spectators are expected for Sunday’s events so the buzz and energy level is sure to be high. I’m really thankful for the opportunity to compete and take it all in this weekend. It’s going to be an epic adventure. I’m confident of that!

Winning the Mental Battle 

Open Swim

Sometimes challenges and tasks just seem too big. We tell ourselves we can’t do it. Sure, someone else certainly has the strength or courage to do it, but we do not. We build it up in our head to the point where it seems impossible. Those phrases are familiar in my mind. They’re dangerous and have the ability to doom a dream, idea or challenge before it ever begins.

“Our greatest battles are that with our own minds.” – Jameson Frank

Swimming continued to mess with my head over the last month or so. I can’t totally explain why, but it’s been a mental battle — a battle which begins before I even get in the water. Let’s take yesterday for example. I had a plan to attend Open Swim down at Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis, MN. The course runs about 1200 yards (or 0.70 miles) round trip across the lake and back. The furthest open water swim I’ve ever completed has been just under a half-mile. I started thinking it would be too long of a swim for me. I started running through all the what-ifs in my mind. The doubt kept increasing.

Once on the beach, I gazed out at the marked and life-guarded course as I began the long process that is putting on a wetsuit. For some reason, it looked doable. It wasn’t quite as scary as seeing the tetrahedrons out on the water the morning before a race. But I had already built it up in my head as being too difficult. I began making a plan b. Maybe I’d just swim halfway out and then come back. Yeah that would be safe. That was my plan.

I waded into the lake, dunked my body to adjust to water temperature, took a few breathes and started swimming. My body became weightless and enveloped by the water. I was surrounded by other swimmers, yet I still felt alone, in a peaceful way. I settled into a groove and was at the middle of the lake in what seemed like no time. This was where I had told myself I’d turn around. But I wasn’t tired. And I wanted more of this weightless, relaxing exercise. I kept swimming.

I progressed to the opposite shore and turned around for the return trip to the beach. I was completely relaxed yet actively engaged in swimming against a light wind current on the lake. How was I doing this? I’ve been much more tired while swimming shorter distances. I blocked these thoughts out of my mind the best I could, focusing on each stroke. The moment was very present. All that mattered was moving through the water with efficiency. I could analyze it all afterwards.

I stepped back on shore and looked back to see where I had been. Wow. I did it. I swam all the way across the lake and back. My confidence was sky-high. Earlier in the day I doubted my ability. Now I had completed what I thought I could not.

This didn’t cure my swimming fear, but it’s one more piece of evidence that I can use against my own brain in the future. I’m already looking forward to next week’s Open Swim night. This boost was just what I needed with only a few weeks to go until the Chicago Triathlon. A new race is sure to produce jitter and doubt. But now know I can handle a swim longer than what I’ll encounter on race day. It’s me against my brain.

It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we set fear aside, tune-out our own negative thoughts, push our limits and just believe in ourselves. Cheers to the next challenge!