Fear and Toughness

Posted by on May 15, 2015 in Caroline's Blog |

Time for a long overdue recap of my races in 2015. There have been some tough ones. But, I’ve finally learned to give myself enough credit to realize that I too, am tough.

2014 ended on a high note, with a strong showing at the North Face 50k. I finished 6th OA, and 1st in my AG with a time of 5:01. It was a no joke course on a slippery, and wet day. I hope to do some version of that race every year…one day, the 50mile.

If there is a theme for this year, it’s the underlying equilibrium I’ve been trying to find between fear and toughness. Too much fear and you’re paralyzed. Not enough toughness and you’re doubtful. Too much toughness, you make mistakes. Not enough fear – well, I’ve learned that a little always helps.

First up, Puerto Rico 70.3. I finished 3rd in my AG (5:09), which sadly included a 5min bike penalty. My sister joined me for this trip, and it meant more to me than I can do justice with words. I know her presence helped me feel stronger and race harder.

I wasn’t nervous enough about this race, and this was my first mistake. I completely overlooked the swim, which is usually very nerve wracking for me, and that led to an extremely lackluster swim. My next mistake became apparent on the bike. I hadn’t read the drafting rules, and that’s because I would never, ever try to gain an unfair advantage over other competitors. (This is not to say I don’t think the rules apply to me, but more so that I never thought I would be in a position where the rules mattered.) My age group was the first into the water after the pros, which means we were caught by the older fast men. This is when it gets complicated. I took longer than 15 seconds to pass a male rider (who did not like the idea of me passing him, so began surging) and technically, you’re not allowed to ride to the side of someone else in Ironman events. So, add 5 minutes to my ride time, which meant I rode a little angry…..read: hard.

Onto the run. I kept it steady and smart and was proud of my result….rather than dwelling on a mistake I made on the bike, I stayed focused. I simply sucked it up, caught some girls on the run, and just kept thinking about hugging my sister at the finish line. In retrospect, the outcome of this race came down to pure toughness. I found no balance out there. It was a grind date. I lacked enough fear to properly prepare, mentally, for the swim. Yet I had the grit to trudge on, hang tough and keep a steady mind. Had I been more fearful of the swim, I would be been more prepared. Had I been a little more nervous about breaking rules during a race, perhaps I would have read them first and avoided a(n arguably ridiculous) penalty.

All in all, this race reminded me of two simple things a close friend always says, that is, “Don’t be a victim. Nobody cares.” In triathlon, time is the apathetic master that doesn’t care whether you read the rules or not, or if you had a stressful week at work, or blah blah blah, it. just. goes. on. So don’t dwell, just try your best to keep up with the clock.

Mid-April brought a stretch of back-to-back race weekends. First up, Napa Hits 70.3. I had heard this race was really challenging, so it was a perfect training race. Don’t over think it, don’t worry too much about time, and learn a few lessons. I did exactly that. With about 4,000 ft of climbing on the bike and over 1,000 ft on the run, I knew enough to be nervous and to respect the course…but at the same time, Puerto Rico was still fresh in my mind, and my toughness edge had been sharpened. It was prime time to race. I swam decently, and then rode/ran my way into 2nd OA, and learned that even when you’re cold, you need to force yourself to take in plenty of calories!

I woke up the next day and decided to race the Presidio 10mile race (5th OA). This was all guts, very little brains. Just run, push hard, hurt bad. This fitness carried me right into a fantastic day at the Boston Marathon the next weekend with a 3:09 marathon. And then, I lost the balance again. Too exhausted to feel tough, and overly fearful that I had dug myself into such a deep hole that I might not bounce back in time for Ironman Texas. But here I am, recovered from a nasty cold, and sharpening up for Texas on May 16th.

Right now, my balance between fearful and tough-as-nails feels right. My fear keeps me grounded in my inability to stop thinking about the race…my concerns over what is out of my control, what I haven’t thought of, what might disappoint me. Yet, I’m so pumped. When I think about this race, my limbs go numb and my mind clears. It’s a challenge I can’t wait to confront. But toughness alone is not enough, and fear alone will crush you. Yet when they complement one another, there is a system of checks and balances in place, and then you realize…you can’t have one without the other, and a blend of both makes you a better athlete.

So bring it on, Ironman Texas – you scare the shit out of me.