How to turn off your brain when it starts to complain

Posted at 6:55 PM, Aug 08, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-08 18:55:11-04

Just when you’ve psyched yourself up to think you are on the right track to take on a big bucket list challenge, what happens? The mind starts to play games with our confidence and psyche.

For the past three months of triathlon training leading to the Ironman Championships in Kona, Hawaii, I have been faithful to my coach, April, and to my daily online Training Peaks workouts while juggling work and life in general.

I recently drove to Lake Placid, New York, to cheer on friends racing in the annual Ironman triathlon there, some for their first time. I also wanted to train on their course as a dress rehearsal for my own race.

I did a lot of cheering but didn’t meet my biking goals for mechanical reasons. One thing after another left me feeling deflated. I started thinking, is this a sign? The inability to complete the full loop set me back physically but mostly mentally, with my bike ride ending abruptly and needing to rent a bike I had never rode before the next day. Then I started imagining: What if I had been signed up for this race? How would I have managed to ride a completely different bike than I had trained on?

Ultimately, all these “what ifs” were a huge waste of time and energy. I was thinking about something that hadn’t happened, doubted my ability and was directing movies in my mind of worst-case scenarios. It’s so easy to let our inner insecurities get the best of us and chase away all the hard work up to that point.

The next morning was race day. Watching the swimmers make their two loops around Mirror Lake was exhilarating and pumped me up for my race in October. But then the heat set in. It was one of those wacky weather days where you never know what’s coming next. The heat and humidity hit the racers hard. I saw them wilting as they came up the hill into town and started to imagine again — if it’s only 80 degrees here and runners look like they want to collapse, what am I to do in Kona when the temps can soar to 100 among the lava rocks?

Again I doubted, worried and asked “What have I gotten myself into?”

But I’m not alone. Coaches and friends are there to help us get back on track. Nearly two weeks after seeing some of my closest friends and strongest supporters cross the finish line I am shedding these doubts. The encouragement of a pack, or even just one, is incredibly motivating. No one goes it alone when it comes to goals and dreams. Whether it is the emotional and financial backing of family or the cheering of friends and colleagues from the sidelines, or seeing similar self-doubters cross the finish line, it is all fuel and gas in the tank. At the end of the day it pushes me to keep putting in “the work.”

I know it’s going to be hot, humid and hellish but now I am preparing more mentally and physically for it. The setbacks at Lake Placid actually helped my mindset in the end; ultimately we don’t have 100% control ever. As coach April put it: “You realize if you had been racing Ironman Lake Placid, your bike would have broken on the course during the race, not before.”

Right. A bad dress rehearsal means a good show.