Remember those t-shirts? From the 80's? Frankie Goes To Hollywood? Anybody? Ah, nevermind.
So I was thinking about this crucial piece of becoming Ironman a lot this last week: relax. It's valuable from many perspectives.
This thing is such a head game. It's such a physically grueling, draining, exhaustive thing - the race, of course, but the training certainly - but it's much more important to have your head in the game. I think if you're making smart decisions, using your brain, and approaching whatever's coming at you with a relaxed, panic free, methodical and detached perspective, you can probably punch your way out of the bag. You can have the physical training down, but if you don't have your head on, you're screwed. The same is not true of the reverse. I think you can go into Ironman physically less capable than that guy over there, but the smarter of the two of you will have the better day.
I remember my first open water swim, in 2004. I was totally, utterly unprepared for the boiling water - and it was just a small sprint race! I had the training down - at least, to that point - and so I was certainly physically capable of the distance. But when the washing machine began, I was so unprepared for the clamoring of bodies, the punches and kicks and flailing, that it very nearly sent me into a serious panic attack - and I've never been one to panic or have attacks from it. My whole system froze up. I nearly called for a lifeguard then and there. The week after the race, in fact, my body experienced a freezing fight or flight response when I got back into the pool - it didn't want to swim. I'd become afraid. It was crazy.
Now, I relax. I expect and absorb the inevitable blows. I do what's practical to protect my face early - tucking my head in when it's down, breathing quickly - but I don't freak out anymore. When a body crawls over my legs, when my arm strikes the dude next to me. Just part of the deal. Relax and stay in the flow. Last summer when I'd hit or feel a body, I'd immediately stop and change position. Ooops, sorry I was in your way there. Ack, didn't mean to hit you buddy. Not anymore. It is what it is. The more I try to avoid it the uglier it would get; you don't slam on the brakes and stop when traffic is heavy - you adjust your speed to the cars around you and go. Just stay the course and relax. Don't let it into your head. Don't let it affect your heartrate. Just swim.
I was cruising west on Highway 2 last week with a 25mph wind at my back, down long stretches of mostly flat and sometimes slightly descending highway. It was a 4-lane road, but still pretty busy. The shoulders were in pretty good shape, but there was the incidental crack or road debris. I was flying at 27, 28, 30, 31 mph on the road. Not for a little while on a short descent, but for 10 miles. I have to tell you, since the weird wheel wobble at 40mph in Wisconsin, I have not been the same descending. It got into my my head. I've found myself justifying reasons to lay on the brakes a bit on any serious descents. And on this road, I could feel myself getting faster and faster even when not descending. Not for that short 5 or 10 seconds of exhilaration, but over the course of long minutes. The bike felt fine. No drama at all. But fear still started creeping in. I'd glance down and see my speed, and suddenly concoct all kinds of scenarios for how it could go wrong right now. I know, I know - that's useless. And is so not my M.O. at all, in life or triathlon. I wanted to tap the brakes. Just a bit. Just slow down some, I'd feel a little more in control then.
But then I thought: no. I won't be motivated by fear here. I won't let it overcome me. So, I relax. Start with the face. Move to the shoulders, then the upper arms. Now the forearms in the aero bars. Finally the hands and fingers - no need for a death grip here. Relax, let the bike do its thing, and ride the wind. S'okay.
Was I glad to finally turn north and not be at the whim of gust and gale anymore? Sure. But it was well done, and another ghost was evicted. There are two kinds of peopel in the world; those that ride the wind, and those that let the wind ride them. I choose Windrider.
Be cool when the world is tense.
Be loose when the hold is tight
And with the wind in your hair singing 'Sweet Baby James'
You know, life can be alright.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006