Years ago, as a struggling age grouper, I remembered thinking to myself, after observing a professional triathlete glide across the finish line after a full Ironman, how she was able to get there so effortlessly? She was coherent, fluently talking to reporters and carrying on as if she hadn’t worked out for nine straight hours. Why was finishing strongly so seamless for her and so difficult for myself and the majority of age groupers plugging away to compete in a lot slower time?
It is impressive to watch professional athletes in a multitude of sports achieve remarkable feats consistently. I have always wondered how Roger Federer can travel across multiple time zones to parts halfway around the world and play to the best of his abilities. How does Lebron James fly on a nightly basis from city to city and bring his A game for nine months out of the year? They make it seem so smooth when most of us struggle to maintain the right balance in their lives, let alone be the best at something.
Now, after being a professional triathlete for more than nine years, I still am in awe of other performances. Even though I am going faster, I am also human, and no one is above pain, sick days, horrible workouts, and failing multiple times. The struggling age grouper Meredith from nine years ago still has some of the same doubts even with the experience of age and ample racing. How do my competitors do it or how do some of the age groupers perform so well when I can barely talk or move at the finish line?
The reason I am writing the above is to say the thing we all inherently know but sometimes gloss over; pros, just like age groupers, struggle to achieve their goals and it doesn’t get easier. No one is bulletproof even if it appears that they are and everyone faces a battle that we know nothing about. However, the challenge is why we all keep racing, and this is the human spirit. Roger Federer and Lebron James are fighting battles that we rarely see, or they don’t want us to see to keep up the illusion of their superhuman abilities. I wanted to take a step back and tell you about some of my personal failures which are part of the process of learning and getting better. There is no such thing as that perfect workout, lead into a race, or race; there is always adversity and things that don’t go the way you envision or diligently prepare for every day.
I believe that training, racing and navigating through life is a mindset. The slightest shift in our mindset can make or break so many things in triathlon and life as well. We have to train this mindset to deliver in practice and on race day. This thought brings me to what I like to call "WEB" workouts (WEB = why even bother) or “WEB” days. If you let those WEB workout days go without dwelling on them too much and put them in your back pocket, it makes the fantasy epic workouts (and days) take precedence in your mind.
I believe that preparation breeds confidence and comfort. Not only preparing the body for what we put it through yet also preparing the mind. This is where I would like to dive into the art of GETTING COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE.
Within specific (BUT certainly not all) workouts/racing/mindsets, it is these raw, tender, gentle moments of discomfort where the magic actually happens. I have seen people question this “magic” if it’s deemed as ‘uncomfortable’ and while I respect that mentality for some, that is precisely what enables us to grow and prosper in both sport and life.
What I am touching on is that every workout has a purpose, even those where you feel awful, and you wonder why you are even doing it. As an age grouper, a lot of my workouts were ‘pointless,’ and even now as a pro, I sometimes am not feeling vibrant and productive in many sessions. This is OK because these workouts will get you through those tough times during the race! In the dark North American month of January, there were times I was on my cycling trainer wondering what I was doing because the body wasn’t matching up with the mind. This was three weeks before a month-long racing trip to New Zealand with Challenge Wanaka and Ironman New Zealand. I knew not to fret because it is nearly impossible to crush it every workout.
As with WEB workouts, there are also times where we fail in training. I experienced this just last week after an emotionally charged two races in New Zealand, countless hours of travel, and jet lag. My workouts couldn't even be classified as WEB they were so goth! In one of them alone, I got off my bike and went to go take a hot shower since my son was napping. A shower was far more productive than the bike session that I was royally failing. Sometimes, you need to listen to your body. You are not wimpy or not tough enough to get through it; you are being smart and listening to your body that has gone through a lot of trauma that you may not even realize. There is a difference between a WEB workout, getting comfortable being uncomfortable, and not hurting yourself further.
A significant aspect of training and racing that is not really talked about is how mental and emotional stress can affect your body. This is outlined in our book, Life of a Triathlete: Race Preparation, where it is described how much I try to control things that are controllable to reduce stress in intense training or race time. This could be as simple as having your partner Sherpa all your gear and drive to all the destinations in your travels or limiting unnecessary clutter from your daily life during race week especially. We don’t know how the stress of driving in a foreign location can put a strain on the body so, eliminate it to help your overall chi. I recognized my chi was drained after a long month of racing and travel so I decided to stop my workout halfway through; no harm no foul and move on. Your body will thank you.
So now it is understood that pro athletes sometimes stink in their workouts and may shut down a training session completely when something is not right. My last thought is dreaded sickness but how the body is resilient if you have practiced WEB workouts, getting comfortable being uncomfortable and failing. I distinctly remember flying from Dubai to Auckland, a few years back, and being violently ill. The chills were turning to uncontrollable heat and back again. It was one of the worst flights of my life! Coming into Ironman New Zealand, my body was a wreck, and I had four days to snap out of it.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my preparation helped my body get through the funk and perform admirably on race day. The body was resilient, and racing practically cured my illness. In fact, to this day, that was one of my better Ironman races which you would absolutely have not thought was possible even 1-2 days prior to the race! We are all human, and your body is not immune to the threat of sickness but you may surprise yourself so don’t lose hope when that dreaded bug hits.
We have all heard stories of Michael Jordan playing sick to will his team to victory in the championship or athletes playing hurt only to come through with a fantastic performance. I am by no means in the same category as Michael Jordan, but he is an athlete, just like all of us with constant curve balls being thrown our way in the game of life we all play. So, do not get down if your training has been compromised. Your body may surprise you when the time comes to perform. Find comfort in that resilience and gusto!