Sunday, November 15, 2009

In All Honesty

Saturday morning was race morning.

I woke up serious, determined, tapered and ready to go. I put my game face on. As well as a pair of comfortable walking shoes. This was not just any race. A world championship. Put me in coach, I’ve done the training, I envisioned the outcome over a dozen times. There’s no one that can do this better than me. I’ve done it before and been at this level.

I am a world champion spectathlete.

It’s a lot easier than it sounds. I’ve spent the past year watching more races than I’ve done. And when I look back on it now I realize it’s what I needed to do. Indeed I have seen the race from a different point of view and when I look back at the past two years I realize the only thing I have gained is perspective. Which is perhaps more valuable and rewarding than any medal or title. Perspective makes us value what we have, it makes us appreciate where we have been, and where we might go.

Perspective from the spectators point of view. You wake up just as early, you drop off your athletes. Then you drive 100 circles around the street to find parking. You go on a mission to find coffee. Start with the important things. You accept that you'll maybe (or maybe not) find food later. Then you walk over to the swim start. You stand waiting for the faces of everyone you know. This is perhaps the most exhausting part of spectating. You spend hours studying, searching faces looking for body shapes, uniforms, gaits, eyes of the athletes you know. It’s tiring. And finally when you do recognize someone, you wave and shout like a maniac.

Then I stood by a pier watching the pro waves go off. The women were off and then the men. It was quite entertaining – as is most of this race – only because it seems to have become a display of how ridiculous can things get and how far can race organizers turn their head to ignore it. Before their head completely falls off. I guess no one – not the officials, not the kayakers, the paddle boarders, the hundreds of spectators, the announcer, nor the over 60 men in the pro field noticed that while they started 90 seconds before the race AT the start buoy they kept inching their way forward, more, more, more until by the start cannon they were a good 100 yards IN FRONT of the start buoy doing what looked sorta like swimming already.

The crowd just laughed.

After all, it’s Clearwater. Does anyone take this race seriously? I mean no disrespect to those who competed or strive to qualify. It’s a world championship. That’s honorable. But it just seems that everything about this race doesn’t add up. The officiating seems a bit loose. The competition seems to have arrived with the intent that to get ahead in this race, you need to draft. Yes, you can race this race clean. Many athletes do. But to get on the podium? Maybe you need to race a little dirty. Maybe not. I’m not discounting any of the performances out there. There are some phenomenal athletes there, true. But like I said, something about this race doesn’t add up.

Another case of bad math.

After the pros started, I walked back to the transition area to watch athletes come in from the swim. I waited until I saw all of my athletes and then headed up to the causeway to situate myself for the run. The excitement started building as I saw the lead vehicles bringing the pro men across the bridge. They whirred by me in a giant pack of about 30 cyclists zipping upwards of 30 mph. But who can blame them. With the one lane and the traffic cones being carefully placed inside that lane they hardly had room to ride let alone pass.

I stood around mile 2 of the run cheering my athletes and friends on like crazy. I said a lot of things. Things that I would say to myself when I was racing. Things you need to hear. Things to keep you focused. So many thoughts and feelings go through your body and head. Pain, fear, discomfort, nerves. I could see the discomfort in their eyes, sometimes their gait. But I could also see the hunger, the passion. It’s the raw emotion of racing that fires me up to get out there again.

When they all passed me for the last time, I walked back to the finish line. Finally I started finding athletes. Congratulations, hugs, how did it go. Things went well! Kara ran her way to top 10 in her age group . Erich had an all around solid effort with top 10 in his age group. Rebecca set a new PR even with getting a flat tire by the tracks. It was a proud day. And Chris? At some point that will be a separate blog about my thoughts on racing pro. It’s safe to say he learned nothing that I didn’t already know or tell him. It’s different out there. Especially when you race that course alone.

By 2 pm I had been on the go for nearly 10 hours. I had consumed a bagel and a cup of coffee. I was trashed. Not to discount what the athletes do out there but us spectators are out there just as long without a steady stream of fuel and fluids. Plus I made the rookie mistake of forgetting sunscreen and dropping my salt tabs. But I was in the final stretch. You can do this, I said to myself. One last mile, one last person to find: Jennifer. I walked by the food line, weary, eyes tired from searching for faces when someone stopped me.

Hey, thanks for cheering out there today, said a woman who I remember from the course. She was wearing a top that said Practical Coaching.

I told her it was my pleasure, it’s what I do, I smile, I’m a professional spectathlete.

She looked at me like she recognized something and asked: Are you ELF?

Yes. Yes, I am. I am E.L.F. Although by marriage it’s E.L.W. But what is an ELW? She told me that she reads my blog. I thanked her for reading and then ironically ran into Kelzie-from-Kona, the one who shouted to me along Alii Drive I read your blog! We talked for a bit before I walked back to the group. All the way, of course, thinking….

We drove back to the hotel. Jennifer and Chris demanded pancakes. I just wanted to be by myself. I was done being cheerleader for the day. I went back to the room and looked at my running shoes by my suitcase. I was in no shape to run. I had been on my feet all day, probably walked over 5 miles shouting, cheering, low on fluids, and most definitely low on fuel. But I needed to run. This was my time.

As I ran along the streets of Clearwater I realized I was done being a cheerleader. I am done standing on the side. I’ve spent a year watching the sport. I am tired of watching. I am tired of being recognized as a spectathlete. I am tired of having conversations with athletes that I used to have in my head with myself. I am tired of putting myself off. In the past week I have had this feeling that the show must go on. I need to get back to what I like to do and get good at it again. I am not a good pro and don’t want to be. But I want to be a good athlete.

On December 31st I get to expire as a pro. I am ready for that. No, it wasn’t a mistake to turn pro. A mistake is something you regret. Instead it was a lesson. Yes, this lesson cost me the last two years but sometimes the best lessons are the most costly. In exchange for an elite license I learned a lot. I’m not sure all pros can say that. I see a lot of pros making the same mistakes over and over again in their races. At some point you have to be honest with yourself. You’re either not physically strong enough or you don’t have the head for it. If you been an athlete for xx years and you’re still dropping your nutrition/salt tabs/whatever on the course and still not going back for it you have to sit down with yourself and ask what the fuck.

When will you get it?

I got “it” in the past few months. I don’t belong. I am ok with that. Recently, I was asked what is the hardest thing about being a coach. Honestly, it’s resetting unrealistic expectations. It’s letting people down in that way. It’s convincing them that there is no magic on race day. If you don’t do it in training, you cannot arrive at ________. But this honesty is also the most important thing you can do as a coach (and as an athlete). Help athletes set realistic expectations, guide them to get there and feel like hard work was worth their time. Because if you set a realistic expectation you will likely achieve it. You will have success. Success then builds more success. It’s like climbing a staircase. You cannot jump from ground level to the top step. It’s progressive.

Unless you have a killer vertical.

Along those same lines, back in August, I asked someone to honesty look at me, my training, my paces, my power graphs, my results and give it to me straight. They came back at me with the best thing I have ever been told:

You should have never turned pro.

It was a huge relief to hear that. And I told them thank you; thank you for not wasting my time and thank you for being honest with me about that. Because the one thing we will all run out of eventually is time. You CAN go back and pick up dropped bottles but you CANNOT go back to pick up time. For someone to tell you honestly how to not waste your time with unrealistic expectations, well, honesty is worth its psychological price.

Which brings me back to Clearwater. Or the 70.3 World Championship. Until they move the location or change the format, I would not waste the time. You only have so much life energy, so much money, and so many miles you can race. Spend them wisely. There are better races out there. Maybe experience it once but be prepared for some dishonesty out there. If you cannot reconcile with that, then go out and race a different race. I’m not accusing, I’m just saying. And along with that just standing by and laughing with the other spectators as the pro men’s field moves farther and farther from the start line before the race starts….

And so this closes my 2009 season as an athlete turned spectathlete. I learned a lot from this side. But now I look forward to 2010, to racing and coaching. The show must go on. It is time. And in all honestly, it’s time for me to be an athlete again.


$Bill said...

Woo Hoo!

Pam said...

2010 is going to ROCK!!!! Thanks for another insightful post.

Stef said...

Hot DAMN! Love this post!

Scottie said...

Another great post Coach! Life is too short to spend your days being unfulfilled. I spent nine years in a very bad marriage and didn't really know what happiness was. Thankfully, I met Dee Dee and have been allowed to discover myself and what makes me happy. I now realize that everyday counts and the best gift you can give yourself and those you care about is following your own path to happiness, wherever that path may lead.

LizE said...

You've been inspiring me and helping me come to terms with being benched. It will be exciting to watch you get back into it and vicariously, plan my eventual return.

Haley Cooper said...

Usually, watching a world championship event online makes me want to be there participating. I wonder how I would stack up against the best in the world and am envious of those who get to find out. Not so much with Clearwater. I did the event in 2006 and it became quite clear to me that the race was a joke. I've never had the slightest compulsion to return, so I'm happy to let others undergo the "Clearwater experience." Can we change the venue already? Thanks for chronicling the past year with humor and candor - I look forward to more of the same in 2010!

Sara Cox Landolt said...

Well written - thanks for this post. Good run!

Jenna said...

Another great post. Your perspective is always conveyed in such an honest manner and that makes all the difference! Good luck doing your thing, your way!!

Audrey said...

I don't think you wasted your time. You might have spent the rest of your life wondering "What if I had turned pro?" It hurts because you already are so damn good at the age-group thing. And obviously fantastic as a coach.
And you are "hors categorie" when it comes to sharing your feelings and perspective..we see ourselves in you.
You want the nut! Go get it!

TriGirl Kate O said...


Amy Beth Kloner said...

Well put. And as for the honesty, that is what you will love and hate most about him. ;) It works though.
Now let's find a race to both do next year so we can let the babies have a playdate. Or just come back for another visit. But if you leave your rock again, I'm keeping it.

D said...

I'm, once again, satisfied in my decision to sell my bike. That is until I see the race location moved and then I'll be pissed that I don't have a bike anymore.

ADC said...

I am so glad that you have reached the decision that is good for you. You are an athlete Liz!!!!

Pedergraham said...

I look forward to following along with your 2010 adventures. Your personal reflections are an inspiration.

GoBigGreen said...

I pondered Clearwater as a goal but I am so glad i didnt and likely WONT make it a goal. And as for you, you are a fantastic and devoted coach and friend.
Enjoy your offseason and remember if it is cold in Chicago you can always come up to MN and I will hook you up for a pool or ride ( Bring your LAKE winter boots!) :)

Beth said...

Elizabeth! I am very excited to hear you talk about racing again and being excited to do it! Can't wait to watch you transform back into the athlete you want to be. I know you will be great.

As for your question: "Does anyone take this race seriously?" (meaning Clearwater) - Well in all honesty, I did take it seriously. The race and the goals I set for the race meant a lot to me. I suppose that makes me look like the dumb one! HAHA! But I also know I wasn't the only one. Anyway, I just wanted to mention that.

Thanks again for all your cheers and support!

E.L.F. said...

Beth, I see what you are saying.

I just think it's hard to take the results of that race seriously when some of the age group women are putting out sub 2:15 bike splits. I'm not saying it isn't possible, I'm just saying it's hard for me to take it seriously because of this:

Chris rode the Clearwater course in 2:15. Some of the top age group women put out 2:12 - 2:15 bike splits. So, these women going under 2:15, they could pull Chris? Hmm...

And if they indeed can legitimately produce those splits (and maybe they can, I don't kow) why are these age group women not putting out sub 2:15 bike splits at Eagleman (a course similarly a flat as Clearwater & comparable, Chris went 2:14 at Eagleman). The last I checked the age group female splits at Eagleman are generally in the high 2:20s/low 2:30s.

Discrepancies likes this make the race less serious to me. And I can't help but think to myself could I or any of the women biking those splits honestly ride with my husband?

I could, and they probably could his draft.

That's all I'm saying.

Beth said...

Yes, your point is very well taken. I agree that I don't think I could have acheived my bike split from Saturday anywhere else. I guess I just don't think the results and the whole race itself should be totally written off as a joke, especially for those that really did do their best to ride as clean as possible (which still wasn't clean I know). But maybe I am just feeling this way because of what the race was to me. I suppose it's just all a matter of perspective!

Molly said...

No way you wasted that time, it was in pursuit of a dream and you don't ever have to face the what-ifs. It will be great to see you racing again next year!!!

Michelle said...

You really did lift my spirits cheering for me out there (I'm the Practical Coaching athlete) and I appreciated it more than you know. I am happy that you have made the decision and it sounds like you are going to rock the age groupers once again.....but here's my question....are you in my age group? I hope not:) Oh, and I will not be going back to Clearwater. Athletes were clearly NOT avoiding the draft but in fact looking for a draft. I am very pleased with my race and did everything I could do race my OWN race. 'Nuf said.

Joseph Vinciquerra said...

Excellent post!

TriEVIElon said...

EXCELLENT BLOG! It takes a tremendous amount of integrity and guts to take news like that with such grace. The fact that you can share something so personal in such a positive way is amazing.

Pro or not, you are a brilliant champion. I can't wait to hear more about your racing next season. It's funny. I always feel like we are on parallel paths in some ways. For the first time in two seasons, I am finally feeling fit enough (mentally and physically) to race. The past two years have been miserable for me.

It's so bizarre. You always post the EXACT blog I need just when I need it. How does that saying go? When the student is ready the teacher appears ;-).

Heaven help the age group women who happen to encounter you next year ;-). We should all send them our condolences early... just to get a head start.

Go ELF! Kick A$$!

Kellye Mills said...

What an amazing post! I find all of your entry's so inspirational, and after having quite a disappointing year myself, I can somewhat relate to where you are coming from! I'm glad to hear that you do have your perspective/ heart back with you! I look forward to following your many successes yet to come! :)

Wes said...

You have always been an athlete. If you don't dream big, how will you know? I've read/heard that somewhere...

Triathlon is ready for you to race again, I believe....

Jennifer Harrison said...

35-39 Age Group: GAME ON!

And, you know how strongly I feel about you following your dreams. I have MUCH more respect for the athletes's that take the plunge versus the ones who don't....

Live life with NO regrets, FE! You are!

Andrew said...


At the end of the day, you can look back and say...I went for it. I raced as a professional at a World Championship. Few can say that, now it is time for you to chase your next dream.

As for Clearwater...
The rules were enforced the same for everybody, they were just not enforced as written in the rule book...the 10m rule was from the engine to the caboose.



Ashley said...

Hey Liz, I just read this. Great, honest, from the gut post. Hugs from SC. Hope you've found a way to relax.

Roz said...

Great post! Your honesty is awesome. Great meeting you at Clearwater. Just added your blog to my favorites and I will now be a regular bloglurker. Best of luck in 2010. Aloha,Roz