Do you like to be challenged?
If so, doesn't it feel good to be challenged at things you are really good at?
When it comes to triathlons - I'm in my comfort zone. It doesn't matter how hilly a course may be, how hard the wind is blowing, how wavy the water is, how hot it is outside or who my competition is.....I accept the challenge because I have experience and confidence in the sport of triathlons.
Throw me into a soccer game and we will have another story. OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE!
Like anyone, I am challenged all the time by life - things out of my control and suddenly I am forced to figure them out. They don't require the use of a Garmin, running shoes or goggles but instead, a mind that can make the best decisions possible and then learn from the experience afterward. There's nothing worse than making the same mistake twice so instead of viewing life's challenges as failures, I believe they are learning lessons.
And what's great about sports or anything that requires you to step outside of your comfort zone (ex. public speaking, singing/choir, being the head of a project/event, etc.) is that you are going to be challenged and that challenge (or challenges) will likely make a difference in how you live your life.
I use to beat myself up a lot when I made mistakes. I was really hard on myself and I would even call myself "stupid." That was never a nice thing to say about myself especially when I would make mistakes while in school - studying to earn my Master of Science degree or my RD credential. Obviously, I wasn't stupid but at that time in my life, I put so much pressure on myself to do things perfectly and be good at things that I forgot about the act of making progress. I don't have to be perfect, just make progress.
On 11/17/13 I returned to Clermont Florida for my 4th time participating in the Horrible Hundred cycling event. This was my third time doing the 100 mile option. Last year, Karel and I did the event around 24 hours after finishing a 10K race so our legs were really toasted.
This year, we did this event as the finish of our first week of our transition training phase and we were really excited for this event. A chance to catch up with our friends, ride the hills in Clermont Florida that our legs love so much and enjoy what we love to do with hundreds and hundreds of other cyclists and fitness enthusiasts.
One area that challenges me the most with my love of triathlons is running. But that is for reasons beyond my control for the biomechanics and physiology of my body keep me frustrated at times but I refuse to give up on being as smart as I can with my body and training for endurance events.
So that leaves me with another challenge which is cycling.
The Horrible Hundred event means more to me than just riding my bike for 100 miles or 5+ hours. For me, it is a way that I can judge my progress as a cyclist. This course isn't easy and it tests me in so many ways - my mind, my endurance, my skills and my power. Thanks to a lot of hard work and patience, I have come very far since I got my first "tri bike" in 2003 and I can judge my progress with this event.
The funny thing about cycling on the same roads/course is that it doesn't really get any easier. Despite gains in power, skills and speed, I still get tired but in a different way. I love that I can just sign up for this event and ride 100 miles. I'm grateful that my body can do that. But after the event, I was pooped.
Every year I am able to ride a stronger than the year before. I can challenge myself by riding with cyclists of a different level every year. For there is always someone faster and slower than myself and I like recognizing my limits with the relatively "fast" people for me each year.
After I registered that morning, I rode back to my car and did not hear the announcement about the change in the course and did not consider to look at the map (Karel has done this race at least 6+ times) so we were at least 15-20 minutes behind the front group which is Karel's pace....but not mine.
So, after feeling a little let down that Karel was not able to ride with all his buddies at the front, he had no choice but to pull me around the course for 100 miles. And not only me, but anyone else who was strong enough to hang on....which was very few.
We passed riders for over 2 hours and although I was having fun, Karel was a bit bored with his solo effort.
Whereas for me, I was being challenged.....tremendously. My heart was hurting, my legs were throbbing and I kept wondering how long I'd be able to keep up this pace. Especially when Sugarloaf mountain comes around mile 75 or so.
For over 2.5 hours, Karel was pulling me up and down every climb and all I could do was to hang on until I wanted to quit.
Around 3 hours, I was struggling. No amount of nutrition could help me ride faster - I was pushed beyond my limits. Karel told me that I needed to believe in myself but my main concern was how I would be able to hold on for 2 more hours??? Karel reminded me that I couldn't think like that. He encouraged me that I was doing great and around mile 67 or so, we would be stopping at a SAG stop to refill our bottles so only around 15-20 minutes to go. We were averaging around 20.5mph for the first 3 hours - a few slow moments for me to catch up to Karel on the climbs and obviously, a lot slower pace than if he was with the group in front...and considering he had to ride at least "slow" enough for me to suffer enough behind him without getting dropped in the first hour, that pace was fast enough for me.
So after a little pep talk from Karel, I needed to remind myself of how far I have come. Never did I think I could ride 100 miles at one time in my life..I grew up as a swimmer.
Then I thought about riding 112 miles for the first time....with Karel falling asleep behind me on his road bike as I was training for IMFL in 2006. :)
Then I thought about being able to run a marathon after riding 112 miles....now I have done that 7 times.
Then I thought about all the hilly courses I have completed - IMKY, IMWI, IM Lake Placid, Branson 70.3 with good cycling skills and love for riding my bike on those challenging courses.
And then I thought about Karel's "race" on Sugarloaf a few years ago. Five laps up Sugarloaf mountain with a sprint finish at the time. I remember this race as if it was yesterday and just watching him race on that day made my legs hurt. Karel placed 2nd at this race and every time I ride on hills in training, I think about Karel and his ability to suffer so amazingly well.
(Karel on the far right, 5th time up Sugarloaf, sprinting at the top for the final lap to place 2nd)
Motivation self-talk is an amazing thing. As a single-sport athlete, I have a lot of time to be one with my thoughts....and not always are they good thoughts. I know for Karel, when he raced bikes he would speak to himself a thousand times that he should quit for the pain was too much. It was like a checklist - ok, one more lap and then I will quite, ok one more.....the same is true for running. How many times have you told yourself, just one more mile...and then......one more mile.....
I feel challenged by cycling in a different way than in life. For in cycling, I know I can progress and it doesn't always mean training harder. Karel always knows what climbing cassette I need on my bike and with my complaints of my position on my road bike, that was solved with a shorter crank and a change in my reach to my handelbars - so no more right shoulder pain. I have much better skills and confidence on my bike and I really love being on my bike.
So even though I always review course maps in great detail (or drive the course) before triathlon races, I learned on Sunday that we also should have reviewed the course map ahead of time to avoid missing our friends. Lesson learned.
In life, sometimes we don't get second chances. And that sucks. Sometimes bad news is all the news we get. Sometimes there is no light at the end of the road, no rainbow to shine after the storm blows through.
Hopefully, you always have the chance to learn from your failures...or as I like to call, lessons.
One of the best things I have learned about life is that even though I am faced with challenges all the time, I have to be strong enough to move forward. Sometimes it takes a little believing in yourself...sometimes a laugh at a joke or a discussion with friends, family or a coach/expert.
But the key is to never give up. How can you learn from your mistakes, failures and lessons if you don't try again? Never let your failed moment be your last moment.
I can't tell you how many times I have wanted to give up in triathlons and especially with cycling and running. So frustrated that I wasn't "good" enough or that I could never keep up with Karel when we met. But the drive to get better somehow overpowered my fear of failure so a warm-up behind Karel turned into a group ride, which turned into three Kona slots, which turned into loving to climb mountains......
Now 7 years later, I can cover 100 miles with Karel...albeit, at a pace a bit slower than what Karel can do alone or with his cycling buddies, it was what I could handle uncomfortably and it is still a huge improvement.
For 5 hours and 10 minutes I kept reminding myself how lucky I am to be able to experience the joy of suffering with Karel.
There may be a day when I can not ride my bike for 100 miles but on 11/17/13, I was proud to be healthy and well enough to do what I love to do. Every year I want to become a better athlete and healthier human being. Every year I reflect and think about what I should have done better. It's easy to focus on what worked but it takes a lot of effort to focus on what didn't work and how to make yourself better.
The same applies in life.
If you do the same thing over and over, expect the same results.