Monday, January 12, 2009

With Intent

January is now in full swing. It is finally the new year. I was so excited to start 2009 because it signaled a new beginning.

I needed a new beginning. You can start anew at any point during the year but honestly I wanted to put 2008 behind. 2008 was a year with many ups and downs. In early December I stepped back from everything – a coach, a training plan – and thought about the year. I owed myself the time to reflect.

It was not a good year. No one wants to spend a year getting worse at the sport – and that was how it seemed. After April my training and racing was crap. No better way to say it. I was finishing in times I had not seen for almost 5 years. All of a sudden breaking 5 hours in a half Ironman which I could always do easily was harder than ever. I was fatigued, my heart rate wouldn’t move and I cried - a lot.

The sport was no longer fun for me.

But I was in a hard place. I had left a rewarding career to not only build my own business but compete professionally. Not because I had dreams of becoming the next Olympian but because I wanted to grow and challenge myself. I wanted to take a huge risk to see – what if. What if I spent a year taking it seriously and giving myself completely.

Everything for me as an athlete went wrong. It was the first time in life I had ever failed – and that hurt. Yet at the same time everything with coaching went right. My business and my athletes filled me with happiness and hope in the sport and I am so grateful for that. In a year where everything for me personally deconstructed in sport, my athletes allowed me an outlet to grow in a new way and share their success. For every failure I had, their successes filled me up and kept me passionate about multisport.

Yet I was still not satisfied with myself in sport. Before I began 2009 I wondered if it would be worth doing it all again. When you spend a year seeing the worst version of yourself in something you used to succeed at you wonder what the point of it is any more. I had to ask myself what am I doing and why. Why keep at something you are clearly failing at? Why risk doing that to yourself again? Would it be worth another year?


True, it would be a risk but also the only way to find the best version of myself. And that is worthwhile. I realize my best is not yet out. When I walk away from competing I want to know that the year behind me felt like my best. I don’t have to win, I don’t have to make a living from it – I just have to be satisfied with myself.

And so I started in early December by looking to myself. What would it take to walk away from this coming year and regardless of the outcome – to be satisfied with myself? I took a complete training break for late November and some of December. I put myself on training break to regain my health and my perspective back. I took a long walk in a beautiful place, the Grand Canyon, and finally found a quiet in my mind. When all other thoughts left, the right ones entered. Purpose, perspective – it was clear what I needed to do with myself. If I was going to commit to another year, to spend another year of my life doing this I had to reinvent myself.

First, I had to look at the source. Me. My body. What is going wrong, what is going right. This started by working with a nutritionist who showed me everything I did wrong with eating and recovery. They also suggested I gain about 6 pounds or spend another year with overtraining or underrecovery. Same thing. Gaining weight was not as easy as it seemed. I took all of December to eat what I wanted when I wanted. You think this would be a dream come true. But after so many peanut butter cups you start to think – I don’t want to do this any more. This is not me. It took a complete reworking of years of emotions and behaviors about food and myself. And now, I feel like Fat Elvis but I realize this is what it will take to sustain health.

The next change I made was parting ways with my coach. Because I wanted to start all over again. Not doing what always worked for me. It was time to find new things that worked. And the things that didn’t work – it was time to find out why. Change is never easy especially when it involves leaving what you know or leaving a good friend. But I needed to take the risk again and move forward without regret.

Starting over always feel good but first I had to let myself get over myself. I have a lot of emotions about the past year; frustration, embarrassment, anger. Before starting the new year, I let myself feel them all as I spent a few hours looking back through my 2008 training logs. I got pissed. I got sad. I told myself to feel all of the emotions to reconcile with all of it but most importantly with myself. Could I trust myself again, my intuition about what feels right, how hard is hard and about knowing what is best for myself? And I decided yes. What I lost last year was my confidence in trusting myself. When I stopped listening and started doubting, I started hurting. I let myself do the wrong things. I was dishonest with myself. About how I was feeling. About letting myself heal and rest. Every day you are in your own body and make the choice for yourself. You must give yourself permission to trust yourself.

2008 is behind me now. I never regret where I have been but instead focus intently on where I am going. I enter this new year with intent. I am intent on being a better version of myself. I am on a different path now. It is always a risk to wonder if it is the perfect path but already I like where I am going and can see how it will get me to my goals. My body responds by being fresh, my mind welcomes the challenge and my heart is in the right place.

At the end of this year I could very well find myself in the same place - I realize that. But if I do, it will not be for nothing. Last year I walked away with "nothing" but lessons and perspective about sport. But unlike any medal or hardware, each of these was something I could integrate into becoming the better version of myself. While no one wants to spend a year failing, I also spent it learning. Life is about learning. Sometimes the lessons are sweet and sometimes they sour in front of you over and over again. Your job is not to judge them rather it is to look at each lesson to find a way to improve yourself or someone else. I am a better athlete because of last year. I am a better coach because of last year. I am smarter and stronger all around. When it all comes together I will – without uncertainty – surprise even myself.

I sit here now with an entire year of opportunity ahead. Looking back to the person I was a year ago, I am in a much different place. Like last year I am bold, I am brave but this time I am confident about the choices I have made and excited about the opportunities that lie within each day for myself. I trust myself – no matter where this takes me – because the possibility of where I could go fills me immensely with hope.

The important thing is this:
To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.
Charles DuBois

In this new year I am giving up what I know to pursue a new direction with myself. It is a new year to pursue my own dreams athletically and to continue to help others do the same. I leapt into the new year once again with a giant leap of faith. We make choices in life and must have faith. Faith that the risk is worth it, that we are worth it. Because in that risk you exchange who you are for who you could be.

If you gave the best of yourself completely for a year with intent - what could you be?

Let’s find out.


Anonymous said...

Your insight and courage to keep putting yourself out there amaze me, Liz. I hope the lessons you learned in 2008 pay off this year.

Keith said...

What an incredible post! Brave and honest and thoughtful. I would say those 'lessons and perspective' are *everything*! They will carry over into the rest of your life, for the rest of your life.

In order to get better, things have to change. And that means what worked before has to change, and it takes a while for the new to completely displace the old. In the mean time, it seems you're thrashing about to no purpose.

If it was easy, everybody would want to do it and then it wouldn't be any fun anymore. Hang in there.

Andrea said...

Looking forward to another year with you - as a coach and a mentor AND watching you and your journey!

Save this blog post and read it before your races this year. Remind yourself in July, when your mind is spinning, with the calm you felt in January.

This will be a good year for you! And if for some crazy reason it is not, at least you know you tried - even something new - and you will know where you stand...again.

We are all cheering for you! We will all be here for you!


Ulyana said...

Every time I read your blog, I think "me tooo, me toooo!" I just took off a month from training to recoup, I also need to find a new coach, and I need to rework my nutrition. This last year has been rough, but 2009 is gonna rock!

Wes said...

I hope you have a great 2009, coach :-)

meredith said...

this year will be better. i think 2008 was a bad year all around for everyone in many ways.

Marit Chrislock-Lauterbach said...

GREAT things are in store for you Liz, I know it! Last year may not have been ideal - but like you wrote, you learned and grew. And the person that you are today is better for having gone through that. :)2009 will be great - and I think that you'll surprise yourself with all the things you CAN and WILL do. :) And I'll be cheering you on all the way!!!

rr said...

I have similar feelings about 08. And similar goals for 09 - here's to a happier, healthier, faster 09. I think you should come do Honu - Hawaii is good for the brain.

Stef said...

Whoa. Have to say it (again) Liz. You practice what you preach to your athletes. I'm SURE last year helped you develop into a better coach. How could it NOT!

Congratulations! Such introspection like this takes guts, let alone to put it out there for others to read. Thank you.

Molly said...

I am very excited to see what you accomplish this year! I know you will give it everything you have and it will be wonderful to watch!

On that note, thanks for being such a supportive coach - I hope I can make you proud in '09 :)

Train-This said...

I think that very clearly 2008 was your most IMPORTANT year. What didn't come in terms of success in numbers or podiums came in the form of you. And this is what you want to build on.

:-) mary

ADC said...

What a great and honest post. I am sure the 2009 will be better for you. For new you! God luck.

Jennifer Cunnane said...

You will do great this year! Thanks for the great post.

Damie said...

I get it...good post. You are able to put into words much of what I would like to say. You are for sure better at it!!! Cheers and hope you come to Memphis again this year.

Stuart Maughan said...

Liz, great post. We all go through those good times and not so good times. They forge the metal within us. It just wouldn't be acceptable or honorable to take the prize without struggle. So get back up there and be the leader that you are. Visit us, we may have something that could be helpful.

Pam said...

Excited to follow you again this season! Thanks for yet another candid, inspiring post!!!

Marni said...

What a great post! I am battling with the same emotions (kinda). I took a year off from IM and now it seems like the training is near impossible. I am probably doing less volume than my off-season but the quality of the workouts is the killer! But thanks for a great way to look at things!

TriEVIElon said...

This post brought tears to my eyes! It is so heartfelt and insightful.

I think there are so many of us who can relate to what you write here. I for one had a fairly miserable season myself. My Zone 2 meandering pace is now my Zone 4 pushing it pace. I was dead last in one race and missed my marathon time by 7 minutes. I just wasn't physically there.

Reading this so inspires me to do the same self examination you have and to really look at what did and didn't work for me last year. That you are a pro and you are willing to share so much about your season and yourself is truly a gift.

All of this "learning" only makes us more prepared. Thank you for sharing and for always being both so strong and so vulnerable.

I will be following your season and cheering you on from lovely Maryland. Which, by the way is almost as cold as Chicago right now.

Our hearts are with you - all of us who read your blog. I suspect this year will a great one for you no matter what.