Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Are We Having Fun Yet?

I spent the past few days thinking. Actually eating a lot of ice cream and thinking. I like ice cream and only eat it after races. I do a lot of things after races only. I only drink wine after races. I only let down my guard after races, I….

I guess that’s what hit me. We were in Lubbock on Thursday and I was reading a travel guide. West Texas produces 45 percent of the wine in Texas. And you know I love wine. I wanted to go to a winery. I wanted to sit at a table and sample wine. Not go get drunk but just to enjoy wine. My metabolism is too fast and I am too Italian to get drunk on wine. Chris said no, we can’t, we’re racing.

Honestly, I didn’t like that answer.

And that’s when I (finally) realized that sacrifice, restraint is worthwhile if you are seeing a lot of progress. Your sacrifice is rewarded with a personal best or a breakthrough. But when you are no longer progressing it changes. And I finally admitted how truly un-fun that is and how unvested I was in racing. The old me would never consider wine before a race. But when you’ve spent over a year racing 30 minutes off your best times and fighting to not be last, what does it matter if you have a glass of wine.

The point is that I started thinking about desire. And just why I am doing this.

Truth be told, I love to compete. I am an athlete. I always have been. I remember being 10 years old while all of the other girls in the neighborhood were inside talking about boys or whatever little girls do and I was outside with the 6-year old boy down the street seeing how many laps we could run around his house. Years ago when my uncle Michael asked me Elizabeth, what moves you my answer was – movement. Being able to move and physical activity. That’s about all it takes. I just need freedom to move through time and space. I’m also terribly goal-oriented and fiercely competitive. All of that makes me a good athlete and helped me get good at triathlon. The sport was a goal, a challenge, some place to productively put my competitive energy and my desire to move

I am now a professional athlete. I found myself in the Lubbock airport on Monday after yet another sub-par performance as a pro. A performance that was a full 15 minutes slower than when I did that race 3 years ago, as an amateur, on my road bike with clip-on aerobars.

What is going on here?

And I realized that I am tired of wondering and trying to figure it out. So instead I looked for a book to distract myself. I have spent so much time trying to figure out what is wrong with me and why I race poorly that the pursuit of myself is becoming fruitless and melodramatic. I fear that if I don’t resolve this soon I will become like so many other pros (in any sport) who seem sadly unbalanced and only on a path to alienating others and risking their health all for the pursuit of…themselves.

I found a book entitled Integrity. It was the cover that struck me:

Integrity: the courage to meet the demands of reality

What is my reality? The reality is that I’m not a very good pro triathlete. I am a good athlete but I am not good at it professionally. And I am ok with that. And finally just letting myself say that is a huge relief. I don’t want to pursue something I’m not good at. It would be one thing if I was improving, setting personal bests or getting better with each race…but I’m not. So how much more proof do I need? How many times do you fall on your face before you finally lick the pavement and say to yourself – yup, that’s the taste of pavement, I’m down, I’ve been here before and I don't like it.

How much more time, money or life energy do you waste?

I was sitting on the plane, reading the book about integrity, thinking about my own experience when I read this:

Willpower and just trying to make good choices cannot compete with true desire of the heart, for that is where the passion is. The heart is always stronger than mere willpower.

I have the willpower to train and arrive at a race. I have the willpower to finish a race just because I can. But I no longer have the desire nor the heart. I simply cannot get fired up about showing up to a race and fighting to not be last. I don’t know why. Maybe I don’t believe I belong there. Maybe physically I am not prepared to be there. Maybe I am too tired. True, I performed well as an amateur but for some reason it is not translating to competing professionally. I have explored dozens of reasons why and I am tired of seeking answers. The truth is that I am not getting any closer to mastering this process and that frustrates me. But h
ow exciting it is that I can say that I gave it a try! I do not feel like I am giving up because for the past 18 months I have given it my all. That’s all I have. But now, I just want to have fun again.

I love this sport. I love coaching my athletes. I love traveling all over the country to meet with friends that are fit and passionate about what they do. I love helping others to achieve their goals. I love sharing my experiences with others – and feel like this entire journey (good and bad) as a pro has made me a stronger athlete, a smarter coach, a better person.

When I return to racing triathlon I want to do so with passion and desire for my goals. For now, I will have fun and just let myself be for awhile. I will drink wine. I will skip breakfast sometimes because I can. I will eat waffles for dinner. I will not download power files. Nor wear a heart rate monitor. I will not eat bars. I will not take another salt tab unless my life depends on it. I will locate my desire and find my fire. And in all honesty, I just want to find and be me again.

Life is too short to not have fun at what you do. Triathlon is fun - but right now racing has become unfun. Sure, it's not always supposed to be fun, I get that, but I'm not trying to make a living off of this, I'm not trying to be the next Olympian. I just want to enjoy myself and return to what was once my outlet and recreation. To take it all a little less seriously.

Are we having fun yet?


D said...

GREAT post. My words all year to everyone, "Have fun". We're doing this for fun, not cuz we have to!
Love ya :)

Colleen S said...

Follow your heart.. drink wine, eat icecream, go to bed when you feel like it and enjoy "movement", do what you feel like instead of what's on the calendar! You'll know when you find it...and it will be fun again.

rr said...

Welcome to my world, sister. You said it better than I ever could of course.. but come over to the dark side.. it's all fun and games. I rode my bike tonight because I felt like it. I calculated nothing, and didn't even time my workout. It was sunset, it was gorgeous, there were friends to chat with.. it was FUN.

ADC said...

Gosh, you are so right. I always say that I will do this sport as long as I am having fun. Once the fun is not there I will not do it. I hope you find that spark again - you are a great athlete.

Dave Jewell said...

Great Honesty! It's not easy to admit. I can't help but have a take. Why listen to me. For more than 10 years I either lived with professional triathletes or I lived at the house of the best Agent in Triathlon. There we had professional roomates year round. We're talking Ironman World Champions here. So I've been around! The step from Agegroup to pro is bigger than any step there is. It's the same as being a great college basketball player and then trying to play in the NBA. Few succeed. The athletes I was around, raced often, every weekend if they could and they got better and better. Last Sunday, Luke Bell raced in San Diego. He finished 2nd and picked up $750. It wasn't reported on Slowtwitch or anywhere. He's doing ok. finacially probably making 50 grand this first half of the year. The point is there was a race that paid and who else should have the money. Nobody saw Paula Newby Fraser racing often but she did. If there was a paycheck to be made she raced. My problem with "Pro" triathletes right now is you're too comfortable. Get uncomfortable, go anywhere and everywhere around Chicago and race. If you make $200 next weekend in Oshkosh it's important. Important to you. You need success and going to Lubbock and spending who knows how much probably isn't the success you need. Go out there and earn a living at it. The fire will come.

It's a good life....

Dave Jewell said...

Here is my post.

IronMatron said...

I think your post is true about triathlon, and true about life. I'm not sure I can articulate what I mean by that. The heart rules over will--but yet sometimes it is so hard to understand or even see what the heart wants. Following your passion is sometimes easier in theory than in reality... of course.

You are going to figure this out. (I know everyone says that and it's annoying.) I will say, however, that I'm relieved that if you return to the ranks of AG, you will never be in MY AG. Phew. :)

Alili said...

WONDERFUL post Liz. "To take it all a little less seriously." Such a necessity that many of us need to remember.

Train-This said...

So well said Liz, so well said. I just have this feeling about you...... that the moment you let go of it...... will be the moment you touch down, or actually in your case..... take off.

:-) mary

Andrea said...

You are so brave. So strong. Really.

You know yourself more than you think you do. You know what is right even when you think you don't.

It will come back to you some how, some way, that is right FOR YOU. I know. I've been there - smaller scale - but I've been there. It will come back.

Laura said...

[Insert justification that I'm not really qualified to give you advice here]

In my experience, I have found that when I just let go, stop thinking and overanalyzing every little detail and just be with it (whatever 'it' is), I get it. That may be exactly what you're getting at here....and I agree.

Wytosk said...

whatEVER you decide, you have a million fans and fellow racers who think the world of you and who will never be able to compete with you on your worst day. And that's not even important. Please write a book, you are so good at the words. I've only toed the same starting line as you (certainly not the finish!), but your blog brings wise words almost daily. In short, you're the shit! don't change. Recover well. I for one can't wait to read more about whatever it is you'll write about!

Erin in WI, blog follower, injured racer, struggler at the Rest phase!

Wes said...

Triathlon is all about fun. Sometimes the commercialism, the sponsors, the pressure, the money, that takes the fun out of it.

Doing what you love to do and making a living at it... That's priceless.


Amy Beth Kloner said...

Not so fast, sister. Steelhead first!!! Gimme a call and I'll talk some sense into you.

J/K. I get it.

You know what this means, though, right? Now you'll have MORE time to snuggle with Shaina while I'm NOT having fun out there. She's very excited about that. see ya soon.

Beth said...

I've always appreciated your honesty in your blogs Liz, something that's hard to do when you know a lot of people are reading.

In thinking about this very same topic (racing pro vs amateur) I came to the realization a while ago that you have to do what your heart tells you to do, what you love and not necessarily what is hard day in and day out and is anything but fun. And then not to worry what other people think or say about your decision.

Sounds like you are doing just that.

Sara said...

For what it's worth you sounded a lot happier after your 2nd place at the women's race or your 1st at Nutmegman last year. Maybe you don't need to go up against world champions at big 70.3 races in order to find happiness. Sometimes the small grass roots type races are the most fun and bring the most joy.

You are definitely an inspiration to all of us and I certainly would not be able to make it through my training on a daily basis without your guidance. Know that you are loved and appreciated every day by your athletes for what you give to us.

mattsull said...

Great post Liz! My coaches have a strong message that triathlon is just a game and it has helped me ease up quite a bit and enjoy it so much more. Turns out I'm having my best year yet. I think there's a connection. I hope you find that spark again soon! In the meantime, enjoy your wine and ice cream!

Eisparklz said...

I think that as atheletes (good or bad) we all have the ability to get too dedicated - we are full of fire and desire and that leads us to overtraining, fatigue, and emotional exhaustion. You have been battling this pro career for 18 months thinking nothing but train train train - If you are feeling uninspired, it's time to change it up. I have no doubts that you'll be toeing the line again in a way that is right for you. It's ok if you don't know what way that is right now.

Jenelle said...

I can really identify with this post. Bravo for finding yourself here and knowing it is ok. This is a good coaching message, too, for those who find themselves here. You know who we are...


BreeWee said...

Sounds like you should come to Kona and play in the ocean (we call that swimming), cruise on the bikes near sunset hour (we call it biking), and take jogs with baby's in stollers (running)...

Keep listening to your heart, its always right. Hey, have you read The Alchemist? This post reminds me of that book in some tiny way... maybe like you are searching for what it there all along... Hugs to you!


Liz, as usual, a very honest, thought provoking post. I would like to try to share briefly something I said on Saturday to a triathlete I don't even know.

We were talking about water temp (the outside pool I swim in is way too hot to do laps). She commented that I would therefore love the water at Racine. Not so much, I raced there last year and swam in the 53 degree water. Told her I wouldn't do that again, because for me it was just not fun. At my age, and as long as I've done this, I only do what's fun now. She asked, wasn't it always fun? I said yes, but, sometimes when we are younger and not as wise, we push ourselves to do things that aren't so fun to prove something either to others or ourselves.

Now, I've NEVER been anywhere near as talented as you are. True, now that I'm older, I do OK in my age group at small races. But I know that there will come a time when I don't continue to get better and faster, and that is OK with me. I truly love triathlon, and truly do it for the fun of it--plus, it gives me a reason to try to stay fit.

So, bottom line, I want you to have fun. You have an excellent perspective, and I think it will pay off in the long run. Do what you think will work for you, and you'll see some good changes.

As always, you are in my thoughts and prayers. Looking forward to more inciteful and funny posts.

Brandon said...

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

~Theodore Roosevelt

Kim said...

I heard about this post from a few of my non-blogger friends that knew I hadn't been on the internet all week. Yep, that's how much they have started to get into this, they read your blogs because they have become interested in the sport due to both my involvement and the amazing perspectives and insight that comes with it. They read your blog relgiously now (some of them without ever having done one triathlon). So, that's another story. They said this was a must read and they were right. I just can't explain how much I've learned from you writing about your experience Liz. You are a great athlete, first amateur or last pro (second to last pro - whatever) alike. You're thoughts on how and why you did this make more than sense to me. You did put yourself out there, you did need to take it to the next level. The reasons why it isn't working out quite like you might have thought may or may not ever be presented. That's just the breaks. It doesn't change the fact that I think you couldn't have done it any other way. It just wouldn't have been you. That's not how you roll. I respect you immensely for your honesty and you're ability to verbalize just how hard, how crappy, how confusing all of it is. I think you are doing EXACTLY what you need to do right now. You need to have fun, you need to go back to the things that make you happy. I'm a little in that place myself. I was actually a bit worried about a Kona slot rolling to me. I knew I probably would have taken it and I knew I wasn't in a place right now where I could devote myself to it like I would need to. I'm thankful the opportunity didn't arise because honestly, I think it would have been a disaster and it must have been "in the plan" so to speak. Take some time, enjoy yourself. Do the things you've wanted to do. Maybe everything will be that much clearer at the end. Ok.. I've said my peace. It was great seeing you and Chris. Sorry my 71 year old friend badgered you about being a pro. I felt terriable. I don't think he understands much about it. I do now, well, because of you!