The Coached Coach-- Part 4: Season Reflections- A Mental Journey through Anxiety
As my race season neared it’s close and I was gradually checking off my season goals: build endurance, race a 70.3, qualify for ITU Worlds there was an underlying feeling of dissatisfaction that I just couldn’t seem to shake. With the guidance of my coach, I had made big changes to my training approach, I felt more fit and faster than ever before. With the benefits of proper fueling while racing, being adapted to environmental conditions at away events, and having pacing strategies at hand I should have been crushing my races, but my performances were not reflecting my hard work., I had many races where performance anxiety reared its head and I finished frustrated, feeling that I had allowed my nerves and lack of confidence to undermine my performance. It was a dark and lingering feeling, and I found myself uncharacteristically beginning to dread race day for fear of repeating the feeling.
As I neared the end of the season, I took the time to reflect and acknowledge the toll my brain’s inner turmoil was taking. Since I married my passion for triathlon with my career when I began coaching two years ago, I have frequently found myself feeling a need to justify my turn away from a traditional work life to riskier entrepreneurship. I burdened myself with lofty expectations and a need to prove myself as an athlete to justify my career and lifestyle. Having mentally tied athletic success to my sense of self-worth, the resulting effect was an overwhelming fear of failure that was taking over the joy of racing and seeping into other areas of my life as well. I knew my perspective had to shift.
Another project I took on this season was meditation, and it has really brought home my need to focus, stay in the moment and let the other thoughts drift on by. During a final race-week ride, I was out spinning my legs and mulling once again on my state of mind when everything finally slid into place. Applying the goals of my meditation to the training session, I was focusing on a sense of calm, enjoying the moment and letting go of the things beyond my control when all of a sudden, I found I didn’t care if I had an epic fail. Whether I failed at my upcoming race, waned as athlete or flopped as an entrepreneur, it would be… okay. I would be okay. A failure at one thing would not make me a failure at everything. Epiphany! All the Greats out there are great because they were not afraid to fail, and when they did, they learned from it and often turned the "failure" into a springboard for success.
Shortly after this realization, I headed south to the Las Vegas Triathlon for my second ever 70.3 and final race of the season. I knew in my core that this race was going to be different; that I would be different. I had the confidence to push myself harder than my legs thought was wise and made tactical decisions without hesitation, even when that meant watching another rider hammer by as I held to my target effort. My training, strategy and execution were all on point, and I smiled a goofy grin the whole day. I was me again, and I was rediscovering the fun of racing. I was ecstatic, and the enthusiasm seemed contagious as fellow racers and I cheered for each other along the way. I was surprised and thrilled that my newfound confidence led to a win, but in all honesty, I could have finished dead last, and I still would have been elated. Having unlinked my success as a person from my success as an athlete allowed me to see my body, mind and race more objectively. I found the belief in myself that had been eluding me and knew that I had delivered the best I was capable of.
All in all, it was an amazing season. It was frustrating at times, but learning isn’t always easy. It’s taken trial and error to fully understand and follow the tenants of training I preach: seek good advice, follow your plan, fuel your body, and prepare to the best of your ability. Beyond that the season has taught me just how important it is to untangle my identity as a person from my success as a professional and athlete. And just like that, I’m back.