Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Chatter




The other day I was out for a long ride – 90 miles.  I’m training for an Ironman.  Actually, I’m just about done training for Ironman.  Taper is just around the corner for Ironman Texas.  I didn’t realize I was training for an Ironman until the last 4 weeks or so which is around the time I started to hate training.  Not surprisingly, as fatigue builds, so does my disdain for training!  Not so much that I get tired from the training (that’s actually the FUN part), I just get tired from fitting the training in around life. 

(Life is fun too but when combined with training it can get, well, difficult)

On this particular ride, I set out at 6:45 am.  It was cold, windy and I was (mostly) alone.  In 90 miles, I passed 3 cyclists.  I’ve endured some fairly long rides in preparation for this early season Ironman.  There have been countless 4 ½ rides on the trainer.  There was even one that lasted 6 ½ hours.  Those were easy – climate controlled, fuel at hand, headphones, internet to keep me busy for hours. 

In contrast, the long rides (and runs) outside are perhaps the only time these days where I’m totally disconnected and alone with the voices in my head.  And, boy, do they talk loud.  The more tired I am, the louder they talk.  The first 45 miles of my ride were a constant chatter of hatred for everything – Ironman, my training, my bike shorts, myself.  What was I thinking – train for an early season Ironman, 8 months after a baby, with mostly indoor training and setting out today WITH NO CHAMMY BUTTER!?  What is WRONG with me?  It was around 2 hours into the ride when I found myself bare-assed in a ditch off of Grove Road taking a pee, actually peeing on my bike shoe.  The wind was whipping 20 mph from the east.  I was tired.  My legs hurt from a long run two days before.  Even worse, I had set out for the ride without coffee. 

I couldn’t help but wonder: am I the only one?

Your Twitter feed is full of pictures of perfectly executed workouts of nothing but awesome done with tailwind at your back and nothing but sunshine.  No one posts pictures of themselves shorts down, peeing on their bike shoe and one pedal stroke away from crying because the thought of going another hour into the wind is that overwhelming.  No one takes pictures of those meltdowns.  No one takes pictures of themselves with hands over ears at mile 38 saying trying to silence that voice in your head that says you’re slow, you should stop, what were you thinking.  I want to see that picture.  That’s real life training. 

Someone humor me next weekend, please?

The voices in my head run constantly.  If I’m not doubting myself about parenting, I’m doubting my ability to be a good wife, mother, coach, athlete.  Self-doubt is sometimes the backdrop of my mind.  In my moments of weakness, my self-doubt is a comforting friend.  See, I told you so.  Nearly 40 years old and I have yet to figure out how to silence those voices.  The older I get, the more that is thrown in my plate, the louder they get.   

The only thing I have learned to do is let the voices run while I keep moving forward.  I can hear them but it doesn’t mean I have to listen.  If they choose to stick around for the ride, know that at some point one of us is going to give in.  And hell if it’s me.  I don’t give up easily.  So I challenge those voices to keep up.  My hope is that I will outlast them.  I might be 80 when that happens but at least I know I’ve given it a good fight. 

Between the chatter, the winter, two kids, trying to regain fitness/race weight after pregnancy, training for this Ironman has been a challenge.  I’m not one of those people who nurses their way to race weight.  At times, I counted calories.  I’m not one of those people who ran all through pregnancy and emerged just seconds off of my old pace.  My first runs back were still 2 minutes per mile slower, which was slower than some of my pregnancy runs (HOW?!).  Needless to say, there have been very few magical days in training.  No glorious sunny days to capture in photo and post on Instagram.  Most of my runs were done in the dead of winter.  No warm weather triathlon camps to escape life and focus on ME!ME!ME!.  I’ve done my training in the maelstrom of every day – those days where everyone needs something all at once, all before 7 am, all at the exact moment I start to put food into my mouth.  How can all 3 living things under 40 lbs in this house need to crap SIMULTANEOUSLY!?  

NO magic.  Instead, it’s been nothing but a grind. 

(and if you don’t know what the grind is, watch this:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNL_DAI19_I)

Real life pulls at me in so many ways that skipping my training or giving up on my goals feels like the easier way.  When I was in my late 20s, even early 30s, training for BIG things was easy.  It was all about me.  And a little bit of my husband.  And a small house.  These days, I feel like ME gets the shortest reserve of focus and energy.  I need to remind myself that I’m worth it, that my goals are worth it.  The voice in my head tries to lure me to a more comfortable way of life by way of guilt or doubt.  It tries hard to undermine me.  At times, I feel like my own worst enemy. 

Some people get all pent up about the chatter their head.  They listen, get scared and cower back.  They think it means there’s something wrong with them or that they lack self-confidence.  In the past 24 hours, I’ve had two athletes talk to me about their own chatter.  The impression I get is that we  think that once we start hearing the voices, we have to listen and then we are doomed for failure. 

Trust me, the chatter doesn’t mean you’re broken, weak or not meant to be a winner.  Some level of doubt is normal, even healthy.  You can be highly confident in your abilities yet at the same time full of doubtful voices in your head.  Those doubts are just helping you do your homework.  You see, if anything, the voices in my head have kept me honest.  It’s tougher than any competition.  It’s me against me.  What are you doing, Liz (I better know my WHY).  It knows exactly what button to push and senses my weakness.  It constantly does calculations, looking for the distance from where I am to where I want to be.  It tries to convince me I’ll never get there.  If I want to get there, I’ve got to be able to do what it’s telling me I can’t do.  You’re slowing down (better work harder).  You’ll be out here riding all day (better find a way to push more power).  You’re crazy for even trying (I better reconnect with my motivation).  I’ve got to rise up above myself. 

On race day I expect there will be voices.  I know it’s going to get tough – no, ugly.  I expect it to be sweltering, competitive and long – after all, it’s an Ironman.  I expect to have moments of feeling totally awesome but even more moments of feeling like I want to quit.  I know the chatter will speak the loudest when I am at my weakest and most uncomfortable.  I know, too, from going there in training that all I have to do at those moments is keep moving forward.  Sometimes I hear the chatter go on and on and on about how it’s hot or the legs are tired or how I’ll never be fast again.  Yet I never change what I’m doing.  I just keep going with chatter ticking away in my head.  At some point, I figure I’ll outlast it or very simply get the workout done. 

And at its most basic level, that is the purpose of training: to just get the workouts done day to day.  The pay off from the grind is a very potent variable called consistency .  Training can feel like a grind and still be very, very effective.  It doesn’t need to be magical or life changing!

When you hear the chatter – don’t get scared or think there’s something wrong with you.  I took a huge step forward in life when I just embraced the inner voices, let them chatter on and stopped trying to control or wish away every little damn bad thing about myself.  They’re chattering for your attention so don't give it to them!  We make mistakes when we change our course of action based on what those voices are saying.  Instead, I've learned the best way to manage the chatter is to just stay the path, to move in a forward direction towards your goals or the end of the workout.  Chances are you'll get fit, finish or surprise yourself.