Turns out, a year and a half away from racing was a good thing for me personally.
I very much enjoyed training this past year+ and genuinely wasn't sure if I was actually going to enjoy racing again. But here's the thing! 2020 taught me that I do not *need* to race triathlon to be happy. So hypothetically speaking, had I not enjoyed racing Honu, it would have been fiiiiine with me bc the alternative (just train, yo!) was something I'd come to realize I could do quite happily for quite some time. I think this was a huge piece of my ability to go into the race weekend feeling literally zero stress. It wasn't that I didn't care about my performance - I did! - or that I wasn't going to give my best all day - I would! - but just that I was not very concerned with the outcome of how it would all play out.
That was brand new mindset for me.
What's interesting is that I had a coach a few years ago who tried to teach me this mindset. Looking back I can see now that I was simply not ready to learn it at that time. To me, RACING meant it was me against you. One of us wins, one of us loses. My focus when racing would often be more about what other people were doing instead of what *I* was doing. That takes a lot of emotional energy. And spoiler alert, it was not working for me. Read back to just about any of my race reports over the last decade. Just about all of them include an element of dissatisfaction (sometimes deep/severe) and I can see now that was all stemmed from the fact that I was trying to satisfy my ego more than my soul. #deepthoughts
So what was the big change in 2020? Good question! ;) I can trace the origin of it back to the fact that Lawrence van Lingen modified his business plan to start presenting his knowledge online, which allowed me to have easy access to it. (Mahalo, Lawrence!) He started hosting live online classes and seminars, teaching athletes how to let go, unwind, reduce tension, live at the bottom of your breath... I'm not sure that's a method I would have necessarily embraced had life not taken such a drastic turn, but the timing of it was right for me last spring. My mind was open, I was eager to learn more, and as I immersed myself in his methods, I felt immediate and lasting benefits not only in the way I was physically moving, but also in the way I was seeing/interpreting the world around me.
When I get into something, I tend to jump in with both feet, and that's what I did with Lawrence's InneRunner stuff. I did all of his weekly mobility classes, Slinky Spine course, InneRunner course, etc. Then eventually I discovered that oh wow breathing deeply and slowly does actually make a big difference in how much tension I'm carrying around... so I added those weekly breath sessions in too. The meditation stuff he does took me a little bit longer to embrace but now I'm into it. I still have a lot to learn there but my Headspace streak is currently at 87 days in a row. A couple months ago I created a new morning routine for myself that includes a 10min brain training session via that Headspace app and given how I'm feeling it changing me for the better, there's zero chance I'm going to give that up any time soon.
So it was from this perspective that I went into the Honu race weekend. I had enough experience to know what to expect, but also with what felt like a brand new brain which allowed me to race with more of a Beginner's Mindset. I wanted to race with a sense of curiosity about what I could do, instead of with a tension filled sense of needing to get to the finish line at any particular time or before any particular person. If that sentence sounds completely foreign to you, trust me, it would have to me a few years ago toooooo....
Anyway, I'll keep the race recap to lessons I took away from the race experience. And I want to start with addressing the wind on the bike. The forecast was calling for 25mph winds, and it was not wrong.
So I don't have any real issues with riding in headwind, and I'm normal (in some ways!) so I enjoy tailwinds. I do not, however, enjoy riding in strong crosswinds. So when I got out on that ride and felt the first wobble with that wind pushing me sideways into the road, I tensed up and pretty much remained that way for the rest of the ride. I tried talking myself out of it... positive self talk!... Relax, breathe, keep pedaling, you're fine, etc. I tried singing songs in my head... Look around look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now... Angelica remind me what we're looking for... Eliza I'm looking for a mind at work WORK I'm looking for a mind at work... I remembered some of the brain training work I'd done... The problem is not the wind, the problem is your perception of the wind... I tried to stay present in the moment, while at the same time trying to just steel my brain that I was going to be out there riding forever so just settle in, while at the same time promising myself that this would not indeed last forever and at some point I would be able to get off that bike. So ya, I probably have more work to do there on that mental piece. #progressnotperfection
But you guys, what I did NOT do was start beating the crap out of myself for riding like a pussy. This is such a big win I cannot even tell you. It genuinely is fascinating at times to think about the way we talk to ourselves and compare that to the way we talk to others. I would never berate others the way that I used to berate myself when I'm not performing up to my own impossible-to-reach expectations for myself. So I'm currently in this place where I can accept that I need more practice again riding in strong crosswinds to redevelop my ability to do that confidently while at the same time not being a judgmental wench to myself about not nailing that part of the race. Whoa.
Here's another piece that's fascinating> Post race we're all standing around chatting and some people are with me whining about that wind so scary! Others, though, acknowledged that it was windy but mostly just brushed it off. What? How could they just brush that off? It was freaking SCARY out there!! Or was it?
The problem was not the wind. The problem was my perception of the wind.
Let's relate this back to the swim. Post race everyone has the same story... I couldn't see the buoys on the way back at all! There was genuinely a lot of concern about this, posted onto the Facebook groups and everything. You know what? I couldn't see the buoys either. You know how much that bothered me? Not at all. So why is that? Why were some people bothered by not being able to see the buoys but I wasn't? Probably for the same reason I was bothered by those crosswinds while some others were not. Likely our own perception of how big of a threat these things are to us. I'm super confident in my ability to ocean swim and I swim ocean all the time without specific buoys to aim for so I am comfortable just heading in a general direction and not giving it a second thought. For others with less experience in the ocean, I can absolutely see how that mindset would be as foreign as I think it is that they were unconcerned with the crosswinds... Our perceptions matter.
Anyway. Since I had no particular time goals, I left my Garmin at home on race day. I think that was one of the best decisions I made over the weekend bc it truly helped me to do what I suggested my athletes do out there: Focus on WHAT you are doing, not on HOW you are doing. I think if/when we start judging our performances in the middle of the race, we start going down a slippery slope. That's when it becomes really easy to throw in the towel... or even if you technically finish but you know in your heart that you gave up on yourself and didn't really give your best the whole time. That just sucks, right? So I eliminated that variable for myself by racing without a watch and I'll probably never use a watch in a race again. (I have also said with 100% confidence that I would NEVER do another full Ironman... #spoileralert #neversaynever)
Ok so the run story. This is how I ended up running with the CEO of Ironman for ~90 minutes. ;) My plan on that run was to be pretty conservative. I wasn't hugely confident in my run fitness and I've melted down on that course more times than I can count in years past, and I just really really really didn't want to have that experience again. So right from the start my plan was to walk all the little kicker hills but to not let my walk breaks ever be longer than ~20 steps. But I gave myself permission to take a walk break whenever I felt like I needed ones long as I got back to running as soon as I felt ready to do so. Very early on some guy next to me asked, 'What's your pace?' I showed him my naked wrist and replied, My pace is whatever I feel like running in each moment! I might have mentioned at that point that this wasn't my first rodeo... I can't really remember... but I think I did mention that this was my 14th attempt at this course. After a few minutes where he parroted my run/walk/run pattern, he asked me what my name was. Then, because I am not rude, I asked him what his name was. He told me his name was Andrew and honestly that was the first time I even looked at him and that's when I knew... Holy shit I'm running with Andrew Messick. So it took him a second but eventually he said, "MamaSimmons. You skewered me on social media!"
OMG talk about a moment... Ha! I mean all you can do is own up to that, right? So I laughed and admitted that I'm sure I did! The crazy part is that he remembered specifically at least one time where I was ripping him for the decision to start women's behind the men instead of one big mass start... People who know me know how I feel about this and that was an open invitation to discuss it again so oh man... I started into it... again... I got all riled up! Like to the point where I had to take a short walk break on a flat section because I needed to calm myself down... It went on like that for the whole first lap... then the second lap... He told me that he was genuinely interested in my opinions. I mean, as a CEO maybe getting to hear what people who have been at this for a really long time experience when they're out there on the courses is a good idea. I could tell he was listening so ya, I continued to just open my mouth and spill it! I was fair though and I gave credit where credit is due (yay return to racing!) he told me about the different caveats that different race venues were requiring and how it varies so much depending on the location. WTC as a corporation has been under massive stress (as you can imagine, if you think about their position at all!) so he said he's just happy the whole company didn't go under last year. And as much as we gripe about how WTC does some things, I mean, lets face it... How sad would we we if WTC folded?
Anyway, in our conversation, he asked me if I would take the local Hawaii Resident slot to Kona if I earned it. I replied that I was not sure. My thinking going in was that 1) I did not want to be concerned with whether or not I would end up in a situation where it was offered to me and 2) I was not going to put myself through that brutal Ironman again if I did not truly enjoy myself while I was out there racing. And since we were at mile 1 or 2 of the run when he asked that question, I could not give a straight answer. So far I had been happy enough, but 13 miles is a long way to go on a golf course in 90 degrees with full sun. As they say, anything can happen.
Let's sum this up, shall we? I ran the third lap on my own and was absolutely amazed that while it was certainly challenging, I was doing an amazing job at staying in the moment and running and being happy and cheering other athletes on and not even for a half a second being a judgmental wench to myself about not running faster. My legs functioned reasonably well all the way to the finish line and for the first time in a very long time, I threw my hands in the air and smiled so big as I crossed that line. I did not know my time. I did not know my place. But none of that mattered. I had achieved my goal of racing happy. Being kind to myself. It's the way, you guys. I'm telling you.
The next morning I got a text from a number I did not recognize...
So I currently find myself in a pretty cool position. I get to coach 8 athletes through Kona this year (!), one of those athletes being myself. I've never done that before, but I am very much interested in attempting it!