Friday, July 3, 2015

When Things Fall Apart

It’s finally here! It’s the week of the big race and you have trained hard for months, you have prepared physically and mentally and you are ready to go. Race day arrives and your stomach has as many butterflies as it did before your first prom. You have your routine planned, your goals established now all you have to do is complete the event and enjoy the celebration that you have envisioned for so long!  To borrow from advertising slogans from years gone by, “This Bud’s For You!”
Then it happens. Something unexpected transpires and adversity becomes the main attraction. Suddenly your dream race or event has been reduced to ruins.  All that hard work and preparation can come to a crashing halt in a matter of minutes leaving you in a pile of sweat, tears and despair.
Unfortunately, the above scenario is all too real for many people.  Hours, weeks and months of hard work and preparation suddenly dissipate when you face adversity or some unexpected situation. While adversity is not all that uncommon, how people choose to react or respond to that adversity is the key to survival and salvaging your race.
There is a form of psychology called positive psychology that has individuals focus on the positive aspects of a project, initiative or life in general. In his book The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, author Shawn Achor encourages people to journal three things they are grateful for every day. This focus on positive energy and attributes is said to make people happier, more relaxed and enjoy for fulfilling lives.
While I completely agree with Achor’s view of positive thinking, there is a time and a place for negative thinking.  Most athletes practice some form of visualization where they see themselves successfully completing their events. This is extremely important but leaves the athlete vulnerable to issues that may arise that they were not prepared for.
I am in the middle of training for my first full Ironman race in October in Louisville Kentucky.  While I am comfortable on the bike and on the run, having learned to swim as an adult I still have some respectful apprehension for the swim, especially with 2,500 fellow competitors.
As part of my preparation for the Ironman swim, I hired a Kim Webster, a Sports Psychologist and fellow triathlete to help me overcome some of the mental hurdles of triathlon swimming.  As Kim and I talked, I told her I was a fan of positive visualization and during every swim practice I pictured myself successfully and easily finish the Ironman swim without incident.
The advice Kim gave me was unexpected and may be one of the best things I could have learned.  She asked me what my fears were in an Ironman swim and what things that could go wrong that would cause me to panic and negatively impact my swim. I was able to name off about five items and she asked to visualize each of these items during my swim practices to live the emotion and devise a plan on how I would RESPOND to them.
What Kim gave me was the ability to see the Ironman swim from all perspectives and to try and feel those experiences during practice so I could devise a strategy to overcome each one in case they occurred. The lesson – not only look at positive aspects of your training, look at what can possibly go wrong, live the emotions and have a plan for how you will respond to each. It may make the difference between the sweet taste of victory and a DNF.

HERE’S TO BEING FIT FOR LIFE! Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer, USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach, Group Exercise Instructor, exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra-marathons, triathlons and other endurance events.  He is a member of the 2015 QT2 Systems Advanced Team.