"Everything you want is on the other side of fear." ~Jack Canfield
Once again, at a race this weekend, one of my teammates mentioned that she was really struggling with the question, “Why am I doing this?” on the morning of the race. She was worried and afraid. It wasn’t the first time someone had mentioned this feeling. I find myself writing about and thinking about fear a lot these days. I know that the end of the race always reminds us why we do this, but lots of athletes have moments of doubt, dread, or fear on the morning of a race. There are some good reasons why this happens and definite strategies for dealing with these emotions.
Why are you afraid?
Fear of the unknown: The conscious or unconscious understanding that events in a race are not within our control is a source of fear. We want to be in charge of our own fate, but in a race, many elements are outside of our control.Inadequate training: Experienced athletes know what it takes to be well-prepared for a race and they also know when that preparation didn’t happen. No matter the reason, inadequate training usually leads to poor performance and disappointment.
Fear of pain: When we train there is a cycle of easy and hard days, pain and relief. Not every training day is painful. On race day, if we do our best, there will be pain, guaranteed.Forgetfulness and mistakes: In a sport with seemingly endless equipment and steps to success, there is always the chance you will forget to do something important, especially as you become increasing “race drunk” and your brain is less and less functional. It is in this state of exhaustion that we make mistakes.
Fear of the swim: Do I need to explain this?
So what can we do about our fears on race day?Embrace the unknown: It is the unknown that is exciting, that is challenging, that is the point. The only person you are racing is yourself, and part of being successful is managing the unknown. Without the unknown, you are doing the race alone, in a pool, on a trainer, and then a treadmill. Winning isn’t just about finishing first. It is about dealing with the person that kicked you, the flat tire, the blisters. This is racing. Abandon your fear of the uncontrollable. Love the unknown.
Embrace the learning experience: If you know your training is inadequate, really feel this race. At what point did things start to go badly? What parts of the race still went well? Yes you’re disappointed that it didn’t go perfectly, but there is value in every race if you look for it. Figure out what hijacked your training. Learn something from your experience and adjust next time.Embrace the pain: As triathlete “Cort the Sport” says at her blog, invite the pain. Every hard workout is an opportunity to practice dealing with pain, and I encourage you to work on this. But on race day, accept that endorphins will only come through pain. Satisfaction is the result of pain. Accomplishment is revealed through pain. The road you must walk to achieve your goals is Agony Avenue. Accept it fully.
Embrace the errors: I can’t ever remember a perfect race. This weekend I forgot to leave out my socks and ended up racing sockless. (Actually it wasn’t too bad, but if I had ripped up my feet, I would have been kicking myself.) On race morning take out your plan and double check it. (Don’t have a race plan? Write one!) Rehearse your plan, over and over. Make it so much a part of you, that transitions are mindless. And when you recover, later that day or the next morning, review the race again, revise the plan, and never make those mistakes again.
Embrace the water: You were born from water. It is your mother. It is life. You do not need to swim faster than gators or sharks. You just need to swim faster than one other person. Just keep swimming. Period.
And it is in the end, as we cross the finish line, that we remember why we signed up in the first place.
We should not judge people by their peak of excellence, but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started. ~Henry Ward Beecher
From the Humans are Awesome Series. Fear. Some profanity.