Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Pride and Shame

(Photo courtesy of Iron Wil)

They say, character is what we do when nobody is watching. If so, that is why I was so disappointed in my race day at Wildflower. If I had been by myself, if no one had been watching, I would have quit. I am not pleased with that feature of my character.

This picture, however, shows something else about character. We are not alone. I was not alone. I knew that people were watching and I did not quit. I was a member of a community, and one of the creators of that community is right there in the picture, looking on as I struggled to the finish of my worst race ever. The other is behind the camera taking the picture and cheering my name.

Worst race, I say, but one that may turn out to be a key foundation in any future Ironman finish. The race revealed my true self, my errors, my weaknesses, and how to attack and correct those shortcomings.

My day started with a LOUSY swim. Part of this was because I should have warmed up more thoroughly (like I did at the Lone Star HIM) rather than standing around worrying about the swim. But the swim is not a physical limitation. I have easily swum 3k at a time and completed 2 prior HIMs, but Saturday I could not find my freestyle stroke, and it was almost entirely mental.

My breathing was restricted from lack of a warmup. I swallowed a lot of water in chop and boat wakes that I was not prepared for and suffered panic that was not rational. I had to resort to breast stroke because I could not bring myself to keep my face in the water. Then, I allowed my self-disgust at breast stroking to effect the rest of the day. I was ashamed of my swim and overall performance, but too proud to quit with people looking on.

Mental weakness then led to self-mortification for being so weak. (Isn't it great being complex and introspective? Arrrrrgggghhh!!!!) Add this to an extremely overtrained state and a bike setup that was not conducive to all the climbing required on the course and all the times after the swim came down as well. I cracked with 10 miles left on the bike. Obviously, riding 150 miles two weeks ago and attempting this mountainous course with no compact crank and an 12-25 rear cassette was disregarding my own limits by several orders of magnitude.

After the bike crackup, I basically could not run unless I had a gravity assist on a downhill. Even so, I did not run to my physical abilities because my mind was weak. I actuall made good tempo with a nice stride in the last 2 miles. I should have done that for much of the middle miles. I just didn't.

The key, for me, is attacking my mental game, principally by becoming confident as an open water swimmer. Courses will always be hard, and every race has things that will go wrong. I cannot control conditions, but I can control how I react to them. From this day forward, I will do so.

I am taking a week off of training and hopefully will return to health. Then, the gameplan between now and Wisconsin includes:

1. Sign up for every tri, no matter what the length, within ez driving distance in order to complete as many open water swims in traffic as possible. I don't care if I DNF the rest of the race in order to pursue Ironman focused training. I just want the swims.

2. Swim with the tri-club at Twin Lakes every Friday if possible. Hopefully I can find someplace closer to do a weekend open water swim as well.

3. Go to Galveston as many weekends as possible and swim in the Gulf of Mexico until I am comfortable swimming in waves and chop.

4. Read and absorb "Mental Training for Triathletes" which was ordered from Amazon today and arrives tomorrow.

***Full Stop****

Enough narcissism about me. Again, if I had been alone, I would have failed. I would have quit. But I was not alone. I was surrounded by a community of friends, all of us on our own adventures, all of us discovering something new about ourselves. I guess character is what we do when nobody is watching, but we were not meant to exercise "character" all by ourselves. We were meant to exceed the limitations of our character within communities. I will not end this post without a note of thanks to those who helped create our community.

Iron Wil, Kahuna, who would have thought that a couple of blogs and an amateur podcast had the power to build connections among talented and yet ordinary people, and even go on to motivate them to do extraordinary things? Of all the pride on display this weekend, that should be first on the list. All of us who toe'd the line, crossed the finish line, or even watched and started dreaming our own Tri Geek Dreams owe you a debt of thanks. Consider this payment number one.

Thank you.


Wil said...

About made me cry there Grey...you did an amazing job - don't be so hard on yourself :) It was awesome to see you again.

Bigun said...

And here I thought I was hard on myself - wow - Grey, you set the standard! Man, everyone has bad days - and you said it yourself, you kicked your own a@@ with 150 miles 2 weeks ago with no time to recover. You seem to be on the right path with scheduling open water swims - the only way to build the confidence in the water is to swim. And that from a sucky swimmer.

Don't let this race go down in your history without finding SOMETHING positive to take from it - there's always something good - you just have to find it. Jees, you lawyers, always so dang negative....;-)

Joe V said...

Grey - don't beat yourself up too much. I had a similar day this weekend in St. Croix. For the first time since my first half, I couldn't run the entire half mary. Myriad of reasons why, some very similar to yours. There is no shame in finishing, learning and moving on.

Donald said...

Tough days happen - yours just came at a bad time. Think of it as a test that you've survived, and now you'll have confidence in your ability to pull through when things get difficult again.

The mental side is tricky - you can drive yourself crazy with it. I found that the better condition my body was in, the better my mentality tended to be.

Keep working that swim. The mojo will come back.

stronger said...

The best part is that we're with you at every race to pull you to the finish...always remember that. Maybe we can get in an open water swim in July. Better yet- the second annual Bolder/Chris/Stronger underground tri while everyone is in CO!

Spokane Al said...

Greyhound, you have grit and you have game. Keep rocking!

21stCenturyMom said...

I'm going to pass on to you what someone said to me today as I suggested I might be humiliated by my WF performance. Actually there are 2 things. First she said, "why in the world would you be humiliated when you faced up to something 85-90% of the population would never even consider?" In your case we're going to make that 96-99%.

Second she quoted another trainer who said, "when you judge yourself you break your own heart". So stop breaking your heart. You learned a lesson, I learned a lesson - NEXT! (that's a not so subtle way of saying 'move on' - you win some you lose some, right?)

Brent Buckner said...

T-dawg, thanks for the report.

If working on mental toughness is what you want, for sure endurance sport gives every opportunity!

To me as an outside observer you're scoring very highly in addressing positive priorities (e.g. MS150).

See you at IMMoo!

Shelley said...

Your character is great...and hell yah, we were watching you!!!! I love your attitude and I just know you'll kick butt in your next open water swim!!!

Chris said...

I love this post. It's raw, honest, and gets right to the heart of things. I think one of the greatest things about this sport is how it has that ability to tear you up and leaving you a wrecked mess. It's only when we're able to see and live in our faults that we're able to change those things that we don't like about ourselves and are able to make improvements to become better people.

Outside of the the race times and the event itself, the journey is what really changes and molds us.

Wendy said...

Rest. Recover. And come back stronger.

Nytro said...

glad you never gave up...

as for everything else, let me say this: everyone has a race that just blows. when things just aren't running smoothly. everyone thinks about quitting and then question their own characters that they could even have those thoughts. the important thing is that you didn't quit. that's why we have fans... those fans aren't just there to cheer on those that had a great race... they're there to encourage those that are struggling. don't be so hard on yourself. you have had basically a month of some serious races. it only figures that your body decided it needed a break at wildflower, even if your mind and spirit denied it. don't overtrain by doing too many races. IMMOO is too important.

proud of you.

seaducer said...

Anybody can cruise through a course, or PR, or whatever. It takes a real tough SOB to fight through adversity and finish anyway. The guy who came in 1st didn't have the best race. You did, because it revealed things to you about yourself that you didn't know.

You didn't finish because other people were cheering you on. Motivation to fight through pain and humility comes from within. And THAT Mr. Greyhound, is character.

Phoenix said...

Character is also measured by the number and quality of the people who were there to cheer you on. The fact that you were/are not alone is a true testament to your character. And toughness isn't never wanting to quit - toughness is wanting to quit and continuing anyway. Like you did.

I thing you're amazing - and amazingly hard on yourself.

Iron Pol said...

Just remember, character is what we do when nobody is watching. When people ARE watching, what we do is role model.

They always say the original IM folks said, "You can quit, and they won't care," and I disagree. People watching care if you quit or continue. If you quit, they are concerned for you. If you continue, they are proud of you.

You toed the line and set a great example. You finished a tough race and set another example. You finished in spite of your wishes, setting the best example.

No Wetsuit Girl... overseas! said...

Did you ever think of looking for open water races? Every coastal town I've lived in had tons (of varying distances) within an hour's car ride every summer. Usually local masters teams put them on and you can find them on the regional masters web sites. And best of all, they're cheaper than triathlons. I'd hate to see you burn out on racing after all your fierce soul searching and good intentions!

TriSaraTops said...

Good races come and go.

Good friends don't.

I'm proud of you.

ironjenny said...

Ah, buddy -- I feel your frustration. This Wildflower was harder than any of the FULL Ironman races I've done to date. To beat yourself up on this one may be going a bit too hard on yourself.
But I'm glad you had an opportunity for some self-discovery. You are made of Grit and Grace, friend, and I am so glad I got to spend the weekend in your company.
Take care.
Hugs from MN

Amy said...

It is so easy and some times so tempting to roll over and play the possum in some races or even just some days but it's not worth the mental anguish of quitting for lack of mental strength. I am so proud that you fought through the negativity and the doubts and found that inner strength to carry on.

Matt said...

Great thoughts on Friends. Glad they are there for you. Rely on them.

tri-mama said...

I've been doing a little soul searching too hounddog, and Heb 12 is working right for me. In particular, endure hardship as discipline...our Father brings hardship for our good in this long endurance race- what doesn't kill you as a triathlete makes you a better man-

you are a very good man indeed and it was a pleasure hanging out with you this weekend- looking forward to CO.

Myles said...

I comiserate...had a severe blowout at IMAZ this year.

Keep marching.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you need to build this "character" through more intense Training. Try taking this on for a few months and see how your character develops!!

greyhound said...

And so it continues. Someone who is completely uninformed and wants to say something snide and ugly doesn't have the guts to reveal even an internet identity. Wow. Really impressive. Very brave too.

I suppose you're a real tri-stud, and so it slipped your notice that my problem was that I was completley overtrained and should not have ridden two centuries and one 150 mile ride and done a marathon and a half-iron triathlon since January. Oh, and don't mind the coming back from a spinal injury either. I assume studs like you don't get injured, so that would be beyond your capacity to understand.

Until you have something to say that you are willing to put your name to, you have nothing worth hearing.

Check that. I doubt I care what you think even if I knew who you were.