Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Off To See The Wizard

The other day someone asked me about the wizard.

“I give up. Who the hell is the wizard?”

They weren’t alone. The next day I had two more requests to reveal the wizard’s identity. Who is this wizard you talk of? And where is he found?

"Seeing the wizard" describes that point in training where you push beyond yourself to breakthrough. It is a push that requires a major effort and a major risk. You are not sure what will happen if you push past it. You might blow up, you might breakdown. You are not sure because you have never been there before.


Imagine this; you are in the pool doing a set of 8 x 25 no breath. You can't seem to master it. You get a few strokes from the wall but then get scared so you take a breath. You were close, but you couldn't push through.

But then one day it clicks. You commit to make the entire 25 with no breath. It is not easy but you make it through. In those last few strokes you think you will either suffocate, explode, pee yourself or die. If you have ever been there you know this feeling I am talking about. It's that edge of fight or flight, pushing on to mastery or stepping away because of fear.

That is where you will find the wizard, right there.

Many athletes never see the wizard. Not because they are not worthy of the wizard or because they are weak – but because they never go chasing after him. To chase the wizard is to open yourself up to failure and pain. Those that chase the wizard are willing to do this because you feel it is a worthy risk. You have committed to improving yourself. You have accepted that improvements come with hard work. Chasing the wizard is hard work.

Other athletes stop short or don’t look hard enough. They ask how to see the wizard, why have they not seen him yet. What they don’t realize is that he’s already there. He’s just ahead, around that corner, at the wall, up that hill, on that rear wheel, running slightly ahead of you. He’s that little bit more you give when you think you have nothing left. Take one step or stroke further and you'll see him there.

Some don't realize that you can't just show up to a workout and expect meet the wizard. You don’t just go through the motions and magically he appears. You have to commit. You have to want it. I mean, grit your teeth and let the sweat drip from your head. Go after it. Hunt it down with animal rage. That is how you find your next level. That is how you break through. You go after it and want it – bad.

The difference with peak performers is that they put themselves out there – all of themselves – to chase the wizard when the moment is right. They have no fear. They realize that chasing after him is reaching to that next level. It is how progress is made. You cannot expect to improve by doing the same thing over and over again. At some point you have to push yourself. It has to come from within. And at some point you have to let go of fears and take the risk. Visit the wizard, if you will.

Obviously you don’t chase the wizard in each workout. He is best chased at select times. I mean, you can’t expect him to show up at a Zone 1 easy base building run. Or a drill-based swim. Or a recovery ride. But when you are in your 3rd week of build or doing a set of tests or on a training weekend – that’s when he’s there. That’s when you look for him and don’t stop until he’s found.

This past weekend I went to San Diego looking for the wizard. This was a select, purposeful training trip where I had been given permission from coach to find the wizard. And what I found is that he is the rear wheel of my husband as I push to hang on, he is in my sight at the top of a hill, he is slightly ahead of me at mile 10 of the canyon run. He is always one step ahead of me trying to convince me that I cannot hang on or go that fast. But this weekend I set out to make him mine. I found him, grabbed him by the robe and looked him in the face. Gave him a big mouthful of you’re mine.

But it’s not always as easy as that. There were times when the wizard eluded me. Times he was within reach and I couldn’t get a hold of him. Times that I couldn’t push past. Those times were just as important as my victories. I sat on the plane last night thinking through the why – why didn’t I catch the wizard there. I reflected on the reasons, wrote them down, then sent them to my coach. Together we will devise a way to strengthen those areas so next time I can reach past.

You can see that the wizard is highly individual. He is who you think he is. It is a point that each of us must find within ourselves. The wizard is something that you see or find at the breaking point. You know your own breaking point. And if you don’t you’re not paying close enough attention to yourself. Chances are seeing the wizard is in that last push, going over the edge, the point right before a breakthrough. Not knowing what will happen, not knowing if you will explode or breakdown.

And when you see the wizard what does he look or feel like? That depends but I have a feeling when you find him you will know. There is a feeling in your body that let's you know he is near. For me it’s the pressure that builds in my head, the burn in my quads as I bridge a gap, the feeling of almost losing control, sweaty hair under a helmet, wanting to heave after a hard treadmill run. You will know when you get there.

I’m not sure why the wizard was chosen as the character. But so far – for me – it has worked. When I think of a wizard I think of a mystical man in a large robe with cavernous sleeves, a tall hat, and crystal globe. A man that can make magical things happen in very secret ways. I think sometimes this is how we look at training – as if there is one magical secretive way to achieve great results. But if you are brave enough to look deeply into those sleeves you realize the magic is made in yourself. By pushing your own legs, pushing through your own limits. There is no magic formula, no crystal ball. It’s all within yourself.

Find your wizard. Go on.

7 comments:

Pedergraham said...

Elizabeth:
Thank you for this post. I think I get it now.
-Danielle

Marit Chrislock-Lauterbach said...

Wow. Excellent. I saw him recently. And I will see him again! Thanks for putting this into words...

brandon said...

wonderful. thank you!

Anonymous said...

The term "Seeing the Wizard" originally came from a friend of mine who had attempted to join the Special Forces and was going through BUDs (Basic Underwater and Demolition). BUDs is one of the first trails by fire a recruit goes through and typically 75% of them fail out within weeks. The term was referring to the incidents when a recruit would pass out or lose control of one(or more) of their bodily functions during these trials because they would be generally considered insanely hard.

The "Wizard" term was in reference to the scene in "The Wizard of Oz" when Dorothy and company meet the wizard for the first time, resulting in the Tinman shaking uncontrollably and the Cowardly Lion passing out.


-Chris

Mira Lelovic said...

I picture Dumbledore from Harry Potter. I caught a brief glimpse of him on the treadmill the other day when I thought my heart was going to explode!

Your trip to San Diego sounds like it was a success!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to have a term to use now. I met him, chewed him up, and spit him out once during a speed work session. I am going to find my wizard again when I succeed at breaking the 2 hour mark for my 1/2 marathon in April.

Bolder said...

Coach Karyn asked me to read this post...

well written, well done.

i've always described this as 'taking the safety tabs off'...

that's what i think about, it's a conscious decision to learn, and definitely more suited to breakthrough workouts and PR attempts!