Fearing Pain

After not having a triathlon season without a setback since 2015, I was hesitant going into this year. I had to back out of my “A” race, AC 70.3, in both 2016 and 2017 and needless to say, that left me feeling defeated and hopeless. Since we believed it was the long hours on the bike triggering the setbacks, I decided to focus on short course racing in 2018. Having spent most of my triathlon career racing long course, this would be a new challenge for me and a different style of racing and training. To really push myself, I set my sights on qualifying for Age Group Nationals and then racing for a slot on Team USA.

I started my tri season at Riverwinds in April, dusting off a lot of cobwebs, and ended up executing a solid race. It was solid enough to qualify me for nationals so that box was checked off the list early in the season. Without thinking twice, I registered when I received my invitation and started putting my efforts into training for race day. After Riverwinds, I had another solid race at Upper Dublin sprint and then headed to Michigan for Grand Rapids Olympic.

In my post-race reflection write up after Grand Rapids, I realized I was numb about the race and the outcome. I didn’t have a bad race by any means but I didn’t have the best day of my life either. My swim was panicky and not smooth with the temperature being so cold and my first race of the season in open water (I always need a few OWS to find my groove). My bike and run were about what I expected after a lot of travel, very little sleep, and nonstop visiting with family and friends in the days leading up to the race. But with that being said, I managed to finish second in AG. Typically I would be stoked about placing but this time, I wasn’t overly excited. In fact, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t even the least bit excited. When I put my thoughts to paper for my coach, I wrote: “Eh. That’s how I feel about the race. I’m not happy. I’m not sad. I just kinda don’t care. Is that wrong?” And in that instant it hit me…that was totally wrong.

As I dug a little deeper into how I was feeling, I realized that it wasn’t so much that I didn’t care, it was more I wasn’t allowing myself to care. I was scared. I was scared of going all in, training my heart out and then having it ripped away from me once again. I wasn’t investing myself in my training or racing because I didn’t want to feel that disappointment that I’ve felt so many times over the last three years. It was so much safer if I just went through the motions physically and didn’t put my heart into it.

After going through these thoughts with my coach, and doing a lot of self-reflecting, I made a conscious decision that I was no longer going to fear my pain. Living each day worried something was going to happen was stealing my joy not only from training but from life in general. It was so consuming and at the time I never realized how much time I spent worrying about the “what if.” Always looking ahead waiting for the worse to happen wasn’t allowing me to enjoy the present moment. I wanted that feeling back. The one where looked forward to training every day and no matter how hard it was or how much it kicked my butt, I loved every second of it. I wanted the fire lit in me again, to go all in, see what I could do. And I if I were to stand a chance at Nationals, it was time to let go of what was holding me back.

And with that, it was like flipping a switch; I felt lighter, like a weight had been lifted, and for the first time in I don’t know how long, was excited about training again. I took it one day at a time, always squashing negative worrisome thoughts with belief and hope that my body wouldn’t fail me. I gave training everything I had in those final months leading up to the race and on August 11th, I raced among the top age groupers in the country having one of the most memorable races of my life. Even without snagging a slot of Team USA, I could not have been happier with the outcome. I made it through an entire triathlon season finishing it up with a perfect day. It had been a really long time since I cried tears of happiness and it felt so good to do it again.

My coach always asks me to tell her what I learned after a race and it’s like pulling teeth to get this info out of me. But I’m so glad I did this after Grand Rapids. If I never sat down and gave a voice to my fears, and my hope and commitment, I may still be sitting here just going through the motions. I learned a valuable lesson early this summer; we can’t live in fear of our pain. It holds us back from our true potential and stifles our joy.  My pain is there, it will always be there. It’s just no longer holding me back or controlling my happiness.

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