Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fear Factor

Am I on Fear Factor? Because that is how this is starting to feel.

Remember the chair lift from yesterday? Some place you don’t want to be if you don’t like heights. And then there was another challenge yesterday, after dinner. We decided to go for a short walk along a riverfront trail. The river was actually a Category 2 – 3 white water kayaking river. I’ve never seen water move that fast! But up the trail was something even more fearful – an old train trestle. We decided to take a look.

The last time I was on a trestle was a few years ago in Danville with Meredith and her at that time boyfriend. We had just gone for a run in Kickapoo State Park. What I remember about that day is that Chris had really bad bedhead during the run and the trestle was about 300 feet above the ground. Someone thought we should walk across it. Not a big fan of heights but always finding myself in risky situations thinking if you chicken out on this it will become a metaphor for what you will not accomplish in life. I’m my own worst enemy what can I say. So that is how I found myself on my hands and knees trying to cross a trestle with vertigo as I looked down between each track.

The trestle along the river last night was not as bad. Nor as high. But it was kind of rotted in places and didn’t look like it was saying walk across me. Chris went ahead and convinced me it was ok. I was not as convinced so he came back and held my hand across. Very gentlemanly but did not make the 100 foot drop into the river any easier to accept should my foot fall through a track. But I made it across and – you could say – overcame myself a little bit along the way.

Fast forward to the race this morning. Fear factor of a different kind. In the water, the start line. The pro wave going off with both men and women. Standing there as they announce the world champions, the two Ironman world champions, the Olympians that are in your wave. And then there’s me! Hey guys, I’m here!

Anyways, I will write more about the race when I lose the pounding headache. I will say this – it was hard and I hurt. I hurt a lot. In a whole new way. I was just telling someone that I have never worked so hard to finish last in my life. I have never finished last until this year. I’ve had a very good athletic life of working hard and reaping "rewards" – wins, titles, awards. But then this year – I work hard and the reward is different. There is no hardware, no awards, no call up to a podium. But what you realize is that is not what racing is about. It is about giving it YOUR best, saying I could give it no more at the end of the race. Even if you are in last place.

So should I give up because each race I find myself at or close to the bottom? No. Because everyone has to start some place. And you can’t expect to master something in a year. Sure, some athletes can but they are very rare. Most work at it for quite some time. In that time you have to wait, learn your lessons little by little along the way. But trust me - in that waiting you start to fear – what if my success never comes. What if I keep coming in last? But if we fear being last does that mean we should not try? No – because failure is from a lack of effort. Not from arriving at last place after giving it all you had for the day; that is actually a success - to me.

Sometimes all of this is hard to swallow but I realize this is all part of the fear factor. And each race that fear factor gets a little less. I learn a new lesson. I race a little smarter. I make another right step. Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to just give in to the fear factor and give up. But then I realize how much I like to try because of what I learn. I like to try just to keep proving to myself yes I can.

I had many exciting new things today. The best part about being a new pro is that you are learning how to race the sport all over again. Each race is like a test where you get to pull from your training, your last race and the advice given along the way. I remember last year every race started to feel like a day at the office. Competing as a pro is definitely nothing like that! I might be in the same “office” but I have a completely different job now! And with something new comes a lot of firsts...

For the first time ever I led a pack on the swim. I had women pulling my feet the entire time. That was probably one of the most exhilarating things I have ever felt in a race.

For the first time ever I out transitioned the other women that entered transition with me. The wetsuit strippers – sounds silly, eh? But I was out of that wetsuit in 5 seconds. No hands!

For the first time ever I had someone in my sight for most of the bike ride – except the last few miles. That gave me hope. When you are competing in a wave with 14 women and you can see ONE nearly the entire time – that is really exciting.

For the first time ever I was gaining ground on the run. The only problem was that I ran out of ground to gain. One day they will do the 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 26.2 mile run event. And I will win!

The hardest part in all of this is staying grounded and not becoming overwhelmed by my fears. I think back to all of the fears I had when I started the sport 9 years ago – fear of descending on the bike, fear of my hair looking really bad on the run, fear of the open water, fear of injury. These fears can hold us back or keep pushing us ahead. Each time we overcome one or get past it, we become a better athlete. I started the swim today realizing there were about 30 other fears standing in the water with me. They had world champion, Olympian, course record holder, Ironman legend behind their names. I had every reason to not even try. I suppose that is really what you could say about this entire year – I had every reason not to give it a try – fear of failure, fear of getting lapped on a two loop course, fear of being really slow, fear of coming in last place. But if I gave in to that fear – or any fear, I would get no place. And looking around at the start line I realized that all of those fear factors standing with me - maybe 9 years ago they were standing in the same place as me – surrounded by their fears, taking them on one by one and becoming a better athlete along the way.

Could you imagine if they had never given it a try?


Beth said...

Huge congrats Liz - for more learning, for many exciting new firsts and most of all for not giving into your fears!

Andrea said...

This post is so inspiring and so ... well, awesome.

You are a super hero to me (and likely, so many others)! Truly.


Kim said...

Its so cool to hear about your journey. Way to face your fears today, and thanks for inspiring others to do the same. It really does!!

Leah said...

I like the analogy of being in the same office with a whole new job. I totally get that! Thanks for your honesty and for continuing to inspire!

BreeWee said...

I seriously looked in at your blog about 900 times today because I cared so much to see how it all see what you have going on in your mind. Liz, you are such a wonderful person/athlete... the way you never give up and keep on going despite the humbling moments- that is such a characteristic of a champion. You are one... YOU are one!!

Train-This said...

You STAY THIS COURSE LIZ..... YOU STAY THIS COURSE. You are in this place because you had a dream, you are in this place because you have the GUTS to be, and you will STAY because you know that YOU BELONG THERE.

Make the reach for the wall sister!

Eileen Swanson said...

Liz, you wrote this so well! You are so right, so, so right! We all have to start somewhere and only those that never give up and keep the amazing attitude that you have will make it. Yes, you will make it, you know it. Just keep pushing forward giving it your all. I believe in you!!

See you in several weeks!

Danni said...

It is good to see that even the pro's have/have had some of the same fears that the rest of us do. It is inspiring to see how other people face them, and it is eye opening to think that at some point most of the athletes went through some of the same fears/doubt.
Liz, you can add this race to your learning bank; another race as a pro is in the bag, you keep getting better, you keep learning, you are getting closer.
Rock it girl!

Wes said...

I say this a lot to people who bring up the back of the pack. Knowing that you experience the same types of feelings is just another link in the chain. If only you could see yourself through our eyes for one moment, you would realize what a champion you are, finishing at the front of the race and all.

Just sayin...

Erin said...

I love the comment about fear of how your hair looked on the run. Hilarious.

But even more, I love how honest you are about all this. For us back-of-the-pack age groupers, it is so inspiring to 1) see such tenacity as you have, and 2) to know that it isn't ever easy, even for those at the top of the game. Thank you so much for this.

And like others have said, stick with this. It'll come.

Stef said...

That trestle looks GREAT! Reminds me of this very high footbridge in this forest in Vancouver that we crossed a couple of years ago.

Look forward to reading more about your race and your thought processes.

rr said...

Leading a pack on the pro swim is HUGE. Way to get out there and chase some girls down.. I am SO waiting for the half with a 26.2 mi run.

Maggs said...

Great post! I've been reading your blog since Rachel talks about you a lot. I think I'll bookmark it and reread it the morning of Kona. It brought back a lot of memories of my first triathlon and first half-ironman. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing about fear. I'm having a really difficult time transitioning to my clipless pedals and have really started to fear my bike. I love swimming and running, but the bike part has me almost paralyzed after a really bad training ride where I fell 3 times for 3 different reasons (including a dropped chain on an uphill). I am desperate to feel confident and comfortable like I used to on the bike, but I'm not sure how to get there. Reading that someone at your level has to address fears still makes me feel a tad less overwhelmed. Thank you.

Terri said...

For anonymous with the fear of clipless pedals. Haven't we all been there, however, here is a really helpful article that I found beneficial:

TriGirl Kate O said...

I'm sorry we didn't get to meet up for coffee--my crew was anxious to go see some whales! This was one of the first races I've done where 5 minutes into the swim I wasn't saying, "why am I here? I don't need to do this." I guess I've finally arrived at the place where I feel somewhat comfortable racing--but so much of that has come from reading blogs like yours and realizing that I'm not alone in being nervous, or afraid. Thank you, Liz!