When the race does not go as planned.

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IRONMAN South Africa was a humbling one for me, not only as an athlete but also as a coach. I made rookie mistakes that will make you cringe and suffered at the back of the pack. BUT, I am writing this one up as an experience that will make me a better coach. Why you might ask? Well, how can I tell my athletes what to expect and what they might experience if I have not experienced it myself

  1. Never underestimate the race:

My first 140.6 in South Africa was amazing. The weather was perfect, the plan went well and I finished strong and well in time. In my mind I was hoping for the same. I have done this before and I know the course, so just keep going.

This year? Well, things went belly up really quickly. With my injury I was never aiming to beat my 5:30 marathon time (I fell three weeks before race day and injured some ligaments in my ankle). But I did think about it a lot. I had no pain and treated my foot better than my husband the last three weeks and it really felt good. My mantra was smash the swim and smash the bike and then handle the run. That did not go really well in the end…

  1. The swim:

The ocean was insane. It felt like swimming in a washing machine. I got sick, twice. They wanted to pull me out and I said no and forced myself to finish. When I looked at the clock on the beach the time was 1:53. A personal worst. The swell suddenly turned and I struggled the last 800m. Not only did the swell throw me around, the fumes from the jet ski’s and motorboats were overpowering and really did not help the nausea.

  1. Transition 1:

So the plan was to get my foot strapped in T1 so it had support on the bike. I could not swim with my brace and was saving it for the run. Being disoriented from the washing machine swim I had my bike bag in my hand, dumped the contents on the ground and just stared at the contents, trying to figure out what to do next. Finally got it together and got my stuff going. Went to the physio tent, got strapped and ran into a very empty bike park.

  1. Bike:

Checked my watch and boom…my HR monitor was not picking up my HR. I need to see my HR to know my zones and if I am pushing too hard or not hard enough. So 3km into the bike, I stopped my watch and had to start it again. Still no HR, so I decided to just go and see what happens. It did pick it up when I stopped at the first aid station for water.

This was the fun part. I just flew down the course. Couldn’t eat for about 30 min because I was still feeling nauseous, but I managed to stuff the gels and food that was in my transition bag into my trisuit, so at least I had more than enough food. At km 60 I started to feel very uncomfortable in the shoulders. Really a sharp pain in the right side. Couldn’t figure it out until I got up out of the saddle to pass an athlete and realized my knee bumped into my tri bar pad. It had loosened somehow on the bumpy road and dropped. I could not get it back in position and knew I had to stop. I kept going until I found the bike maintenance station where they took about 5-6 min to fix it. I wanted to go on without stopping but it would have been a very long and uncomfortable 120km and I knew the run was still coming. So 5 min is a small price to pay for much less pain on the ride. From there the bike went great and I managed to knock 30 min of my time.

  1. Transition 2

FINALLY!! I ran into a very full bike park… got my bag. Brace on and off I went. Mentally I knew this was going to be the tough one.

  1. The Run:

Boy, was it hard. 4 loops of 10.55km. First two went really well. Foot held up and I could keep up a relatively good pace. Plan was to run from aid station to aid station (about 2km apart) and then walk through the aid station and then running again. Last half of loop 3 my feet and body was so tired. After my injuries the past three months (yes, the fall was nr 3), I could not do much running, I basically ran my last long run in February this year before the proverbial poo hit the fan. So my body and feet were not used to running this long. The mind was willing but my body was not. So I walked. The strapping they gave me in transition was white plaster for which I am very allergic. Being stupid from the washing machine swim, it did not register with me and on the run my skin was on fire. (Horrible eczema to follow shortly). So while I walked I had company from a random drunkish dude running barefoot next to me for 4 km (yes, I was walking that fast). Athletes were less and less and we were about 20-30 people still out on the course.

Friend and family kept telling me to keep going. And I kept going. I trained too hard and long for this. I spent hours away from my husband, sacrificed dinners, parties, sleeping in on Saturday mornings and Sunday mornings. Okay, basically every morning.

Every athlete and spectator I passed told me to keep moving forward, I am doing good and I will make it. Then TV crew stopped me (that was pretty freaking cool, right? And then it was 200m for the finish and I broke into a run. The red carpet was ALL MINE!!!

This is all good and well, I am an IRONMAN again, but it means nothing to me if I did not learn from this. I need to share with you some thoughts I had on my swim, bike and run/walk, because you will probably have them too.

Swim thoughts:

  1. I want to stop
  2. I am going to die in the ocean
  3. Here comes breakfast
  4. Keep going. Don’t stop.
  5. I am never going to do this again
  6. One stroke, breathe. One stroke, breathe
  7. Screw the time. Just reach the beach.
  8. Well that sucked.

Bike thoughts

  1. Photographer, suck in stomach and smile
  2. Is my helmet skew
  3. What is my HR
  4. Screw my HR
  5. Calf, don’t you think about cramping you little bitch.
  6. I need to use the loo, will I have time?
  7. Last 15km, GO GO GO!

 Run thoughts:

  1. Just get to that light, just get to that pole.
  2. I am never doing this again.
  3. This was a bad idea.
  4. Keep going.
  5. My feet hurts.
  6. Live TV. Yikes? I hope I don’t have GU stains round my mouth, since my hair looks horrible anyway.
  7. 200m to go.
  8. RED CARPET!!!!
  9. YES, I made it.
  10. Daniela Ryf is so pretty in real life (Got my medal from her)
  11. When are entries opening next year?

The biggest lesson I learned was to never underestimate a race again. It does not matter how well you know the course. Weather and Lady Luck will make you humble again. Respect the course and it will give you the ride of your life. Underestimate it and it will bring you to your knees.

 

When the going gets tough.

Training SUCKED today.
My swim was horrendous. There is no other word for it. My stroke was all over the place, my pace off with more seconds than I want to admit. What the HELL is going on? Nutrition is as it always is, so there is energy in the tank.
I felt out of place in the water and because it is one of the disciplines I love it was, to say the least…CRAP. Struggled through the set anyway. I am here now, I can just as well continue splashing like a whale (one that obviously cannot swim).
Out of the pool, drive home and shovel lunch  (liquid I might add) down my throat. Time for my run.
Locking my howling dogs in the house, I set off, feeling like a very bad mom for leaving them behind.
2 Min warm up walk and then off we go. There is the beginning of a sandstorm outside. How the HELL did I miss this? Dust in my eyes, between my teeth and definitely in my ears.
15 Min in to this torture session my right foot starts cramping because the brace is too tight. Or at least I think so. Stop to loosen it. Start again and the cramping continues….best to ignore and shuffle on. Finally reached my turn around point. Yay??
No. My pants are chaffing me in a place that I cannot mention. Really? Now I am slowing the pace and focussing on my form (like a good athlete #takenote) while swearing to throw away my pants and HR strap (also chaffing BTW).
Last 1km to go and I am forced to walk again…SLOWLY….
2 Bull Mastiff’s are looking at me like I might be their mid-afternoon snack, latest kill or new chew toy. Now I am swearing at my pants and HR monitor, my foot is cramping from who knows what and I am frantically scanning the street for something to climb on in case the dogs start chasing me. Luckily, the owner pulls out of the drive and the gate closes without incident.
My training really sucked today, but I stuck it out and completed at least 80% of what I set out to do.
Not everyday is going to be smooth sailing when we train. 70% of the time, sessions bend us (not break) and push us to the limits. And of that 70% at least a quarter of those will have something in them like chaffing pants, dogs or sandstorms.  But those perfect training sessions are out there, waiting for you to reach a new threshold, to fly on the bike and to make your run seem effortless!
The sometimes crappy sessions are the ones where we learn about grit, perseverance. It’s those sessions that enable you to dig deep when you need to. So when the going gets tough, remember you are tougher!

Why you should have it all.

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Picture by Cathy Nguyen (love the shoes!)

During a recent conversation with a woman at the gym, both of us suffering on spin bikes, I had a real eye opener about how women perceive themselves in the world of endurance sport.

While spinning away, we traded stories about what we do and after mentioning that I do triathlons and did most of them while working full day, the first thing she said to me was that she will never be able to do it because she would feel so guilty. My response to that was “why guilty?” Her answer was simple. “I would feel guilty spending so much time doing something for myself and not on my responsibilities”.

I am very privileged to have a fan, aka husband, that is fine with me getting up and doing my thing, no questions asked. One question that did get stuck in my mind was if the small number of women in endurance sport due to the lack support or something else, because research indicates (there is a LOT of that) physiologically we are built for endurance sport.

I am fairly certain that your significant other, manager or director never actually said the words “Sorry, you cannot do a Ironman, because you have to work/cooking/cleaning to do”. In fact, completing an endurance event like a triathlon, makes you a hero to your kids and their friends, an inspiration to your co-workers and stark raving mad to your significant other. (They are after all the ones that see what is going on behind the scenes. From sore muscles that cries from fatigue to 1am cravings for protein and peanut butter…and they still love us).

The only conclusion I then could get to is that WE are the reason. WE are keeping ourselves at the back of the pack. As women we are putting everyone else’s needs before our own, because that is the way it is supposed to be and how we were raised. The spectrum of women accomplishing things are so broad. Women today are homemakers, mothers, wives, climbing corporate ladders and breaking through glass ceilings around the world. Except when it comes to what we love for ourselves. And if and when we dare break the mould or swim up the stream we beat ourselves to a pulp with the guilt, crushing that happy feeling before we have time to enjoy it.

Stop it. Just stop it. You owe this to yourself. To your heart, body and soul. Enter the race, chase the dream, cross the finish line and set yourself free. You can have the best of both worlds without the guilt, but that decision, lies with you. There are numerous support groups out there, filled to the brim with amazing women who decided to love themselves and do what makes them happy. Join a group and learn from them and before you know, you will be one of them.

Have no limits

The Coach’s Corner

My journey to my first Ironman was not easy. It was loaded with more downs than ups. This is my story and I hope you can learn something from my journey and think about this whenever you doubt yourself during your journey to the finish line.

I never really thought of myself as an athlete…more a dabbler in the art of expressing craziness through triathlons. Sometimes I am a rebel and will enter a half marathon or a classic cycle race…but mostly, I swim, bike and run (or crawl). Am I any good? Well, I can swim like a dolphin, kinda okay with the bike… and running? Well, let’s just say I end on the red carpet eventually. Juggling work, personal life, post-grad studies and training for triathlons make my schedule look insane and my sleeping patterns even worse. I consider myself to be sort of a type A personality. I need structure with my training and in my work, but as for the rest…Well let’s just say I can leave my house without making my bed. 

Most athletes are like me I guess, we all have jobs, families, kids, pets and relationships. I sometimes think it is a miracle that people like us are functional human beings. I wish life could be “eat, train, sleep, repeat” instead of “eat, feed dogs, train, work, work through lunch, eat lunch too late, train with heartburn, eat leftovers from last night, shower, swear at the foam roller, fall in bed, kiss husband goodnight, repeat”… but it never seems to be so easy.
Recently life happened to me in a big way. I found out in November of 2015 I have to relocate to another city. Quit the job I love, leave behind my friends and family. The big move is taking place the weekend after I do my first Ironman which is not ideal to say the least, but there was nothing I could do about it.

I thought I was okay with all of this. I carried on as usual, did my job, got up at 04:15 every morning to train, do big sessions over weekends…and somewhere in this whole process I got lost without even realising it. The tipping point? Waking up one morning to go for a run and instead I just turned over and started crying. I couldn’t do it anymore and worse, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to. As I lay there looking at the ceiling, noticing a couple of paint cracks, I was reprimanding myself because I am not a quitter. I tried shaking it off…went to the pool instead… I quit halfway through. Just stopped, got out and went home. I have never felt so hopeless in my life and I struggled to figure what was ripping my confidence to shreds and what made me lose my tri-heart.

What do you do when life happens? When you know you spent endless hours on the bike and most likely just as much running. The countless physio appointments to get rid of the aches and pains and going to bed early to be able to get up even earlier. Not to even mention the time away from family and friends that you can never get back. What do you do next?

Do you just say that is it…I am done. Or do you dig deep and find that sweet spot that makes you keep on keeping on? That is the trick isn’t it? That decision we have to make that will follow you for the rest of your life, either in a good way or the worst possible way. I have a sign in my office that says: “I’d rather look back at my life and say I can’t believe I did that instead of saying, I wish I did that”. I never want to say I wished I’d sucked it up and pushed through to do Ironman, but I also could not get myself out of this dark hole. I reached a crossroad and I had no idea which way to turn.

Self-doubt became the voice that kept reminding me that if I quit, my coach will hate me, my family will be disappointed. The list of people I would disappoint seemed endless…or at least I was making it seem endless. I forgot why I wanted to do Ironman and I needed to get back to being me.

In my journey to rediscover my tri-heart again, I had to face some truths, really hard ones.
I had to find my reason. Without it my motivation might never come back. So I took some quiet time to figure out why I am doing Ironman and how I got so lost in the first place. These are some of the things I have discovered about myself the last few weeks. Will it help you? I hope so. You might be able to identify with some of these, or maybe none of them. But the point is, eventually life might happen to you too…and this might just help you make the right decision.

1. Stop trying to be in control. All. The. Time.
First question to yourself when life happens is “Can I control this?” if the answer is yes, then you need to sit down and figure out what went wrong and how you can fix it. If the answer is no…let it go. And that is the hard part. We are inherently programmed to want to be in control all the time. Of work, of training, and of our lives. An impossible task we set out to accomplish. Letting go does not make you a lesser person, nor does it make you weak. It makes you human.

2. Be honest.
Brutally honest. It is the hardest thing to do. To admit what we deny deep in our hearts. Be honest with yourself, your support (in my case my husband) and your coach. Admit your fears and your doubts. We tend to deny that we are scared to attempt Ironman, because the people that we look up to for advice, either other athletes or coaches, radiates confidence. And so, we try to do the same. Hide the doubt and fear and it will eat you from the inside. Showing the fears and doubts …it’s almost like a rite of passage you have to go through as part of your journey. Embrace it. Learn from it. But never fear it.

3. It is okay to take down time. 
It doesn’t matter how many things you are doing and juggling. It can be work, family, studies…eventually a ball gets dropped. Stop being hard on yourself. One missed session will not make you unfit…in fact, it might give you the boost you need. I carry around this irrational fear that if I skip one session I will lose at least 50% of my fitness…I took 3 days off and I am still as fit as ever…Fear squashed. Still working on feeling guilty for not training, but Rome was not built in a day either.

4. Stop negative self-talk
Telling yourself that you are a quitter, that you will not reach a goal, is just stupid. It’s hard to stop because it is human nature, especially for triathletes. We put and immense amount of pressure on ourselves, because face it, a triathlon is not a walk in the park (or a 10km Spar Ladies Fun Run). But negative self-talk is just a way that you are letting your fear and doubts take over. You need to find a way to stop it in its tracks as soon as you start to even think about trash talking yourself. I have a “phone-a-friend” option…someone that knows this bad habit of mine and helps me to stop it and it only takes one call or text.

5. Kick self-doubt in the nuts.
When that little voice pipes up, telling you that you were stupid and crazy to attempt this. The constant self-abusive we put ourselves through is not only unhealthy for your mind, it will start showing in your body if you let it continue. Find your mantra, whatever it is and kick self-doubt in the nuts. Mine is…. Well that is a secret, but in works every time…

6. Cry. Yes, cry. 
For woman it is easier, because we are wired that way. Crying is letting go of the emotion we keep bottled up…because an Ironman does not cry. Well, letting it out helps to let go of the fear, the anger and the guilt we feel. Letting the emotion go makes space to notice the things we miss because we are dragging all this baggage of worry along. Find your space to cry… In your shower, in the car or like me…at the physio…not sure how that works, but every now and again I just have a little breakdown on that bed #needlesnotneeded.

7. Stop feeling judged.
By your family, colleagues and coach. Your family are the people that see (or hear) you get up early mornings to go and train and your colleagues are the ones that see you walk funny after a 7 hour cycle…and your coach? He/she is your soundboard for the fears and questions. Highly unlikely that they will judge you too. I kept a lot of feelings and fears locked up because I was afraid my coach will think they are irrelevant, not worth the time and judge me because of them…Boy, was I wrong. The relief was immense when I took the chance and just blurted it out.

8. Trust yourself.
When training for something like Ironman, it’s sometimes hard to keep the goal in sight, so when losing sight of the goal, you have to trust yourself to reach the line. Even if the path is not laid out perfectly. Take a moment to think back where you were two months ago or even a year ago? Even if you are not sure of the goal, a walk down memory lane will at least show that you are moving forward, towards something.

9. Why we tri.
Find the reason you started this journey. After you have addressed fears and doubts. Been honest down to the core with yourself, your coach and you kicked self-doubt in the nuts…The rest is up to you. No one can help you find your reason again. People can be your soundboard, your 3am text conversation and your cheerleader…but it is up to you to find the reason again. It may come back with a bang or gradually materialise as if it has been there all along. Just never give up on it…It might just be looking for you too.

I lost sight of my goal when life knocked me to my knees. It is hard and emotional to find it again and relocating and saying goodbye to a life I had known for 12 years is not making it any easier. I kicked my self-doubt in the nuts…it will most likely be back, but definitely weaker. I faced my fear that taking time out will make me unfit. I am starting to trust myself more and my confidence is creeping back.

I have not found my tri-heart yet, nor my reason for attempting Ironman. I am actually still figuring it out and that is okay by me. I am trusting myself and I know I am moving forward towards something.

* I found my tri-heart and completed my first IRONMAN in 15 hours and 20 min. I was inspired, made my passion my job and Infinitude Coaching was born.

P.S. I am still not making my bed.