Extra Life Triathlon Fitness

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Monday, July 13, 2015

The Longest “Short” Race Report in History: Carlsbad Triathlon 2015

“Short” because I DNF’d right as I took my first pedal stroke on the bike.

“Long” because, as with every race I have run, I have taken away a tremendous lesson which can be applied to life in general. So I provide some… ahem... detail.

One year ago, I posted a quick recap on Facebook summarizing my experience in the 2014 Carlsbad Triathlon:

Great race today in Carlsbad! Finished 6th in my age group, beating last year’s time by 10 minutes. Vast improvements on the bike and run. I had the fastest bike split in my age group! Zero improvement on the swim. I know what I’m working on this off-season.”

For those of you who know me and have read this blog, you know that in my short triathlon career, I have historically been a worse than average swimmer. As was implied in the bold section of the Facebook post above, I had trouble improving on it, and it was a point of frustration last season.

Last off season I did, in fact, work on my swim and made tremendous improvements in the pool. It was hard, it was boring, but I put in the work and I improved.

When I stood at the starting line yesterday, right behind the band of seasoned swimmers which would shortly be jockeying for position at the front of the swim pack, I had something with me that I didn’t last year. Confidence.

Well, technically, two things. Confidence and a Roka sleeveless wetsuit.

I hadn’t planned on trying to keep up with the lead pack on the swim. In fact, I had resigned myself to simply following safely behind and finding my own rhythm. But as I stood at the line 15 seconds before the horn sounded and saw the formations of a small set of waves coming in to greet us at the shoreline, my mind changed.

The swells were relatively large yesterday, basically a yellow flag kind of day which would imply possibly rip currents and larger, more powerful waves. Having grown up around the ocean, I am used to maneuvering through these waves - a situation you don’t often find in the calmer waters of the local YMCA pool or open water swim.

As the horn sounded, I kept my distance behind the “front line”, who charged the water as if a pinata had burst open over the ocean. As they hit the water, battled the incoming wave, I hesitated and dove as the water retreated. I was streamlined as everyone else was hacking the water.

Once clear, I began sprinting to stay with the lead swimmers and found a pair of feet aggressively kicking in front of me. This was a new experience for me, as the pace around me was fast, and I was caught up in it. I just wanted to make sure those feet didn't hit me!

I stayed with the bubbles of the frantic kicker until the first turn buoy, where he had taken a wider turn, and I was on the inside. I found myself in unfamiliar territory as I was now leading a group of swimmers. I sighted forward and saw another group off ahead. This was to be expected, as there were certainly super-swimmers in the bunch.

Things were going well. I was swimming a straight line, I was in front of all the racers I could see, and I wasn't tired or fearful.

My relative position, and inspired confidence helped me to keep a very high tempo, and keep me moving forward at a good pace. At the final turn we headed toward shore, and I again worked on timing my surges. I would take some relaxed strokes while looking behind me for incoming waves, and then increase my rate of turnover as the wave caught me. This served to speed me up, and save my energy.

Running up to transition, I was still relatively alone, but not sure what place I was in. The bike racks give an indication, however. I found a lot of bikes were left in the racks, which meant that I was toward the front. Time to go to work on the bike!

... Or so I thought. The second I got to the top of the hill, I tried to shift into a higher gear and nothing happened. I got off my bike and tried to see what the issue was, but everything was connected properly.

Meanwhile, all of the racers I had led out of the water began to pass me one by one.

I couldn’t immediately identify the problem, and since I couldn’t spin my way in the lowest gear through the whole bike leg, I decided to do the walk of shame back into transition.

It turns out that a connection inside the frame had become unplugged at some point between when I had racked the bike in transition and when I had finished my swim. Since I had shifted through the gears to test everything prior to heading to the swim start, I knew it was working then. How it became disconnected will remain a mystery, but the fault is on me for not being more thorough in checking the connections before the race.

I hate to not finish a race, and would do everything I can to finish regardless of how I am doing, save for injury and mechanical failure. Unfortunately this issue was out of my control.

Where this race was a victory was in the management of things I could control. My confidence, my swim training, my sighting, playing to my strengths. While things outside of our control can ruin a race, it is useless to dwell on them because there is absolutely nothing we can do about it!

Such is life. We control what we can, and accept what we can't. Sounds simple, but for complex beings, we often need to create complex answers. Not always the right path.

I later learned that I was 6th out of the water in my age group out of 37 people. I also learned, after seeing the results, that if I had biked and run the same splits as I did last year (which was entirely likely) that I would have won my age group.

For all intents and purposes, I should be disappointed. But how can I be when I set out a year ago to make a specific improvement, and I achieved that goal? I am stoked to have swam so well one year after committing to work on improving in that area, an area which had caused me frustration in the past.

Once again this sport has, even in the smallest instances, taught me about perspective, persistence, and acceptance. I am exceptionally grateful for having the opportunity to swim the way I did, and to learn to accept the “uncontrollables” as well. There’s always next year, and new lessons to learn.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Low Hanging Fruit

Throughout my brief time as an athlete, I’ve heard the phrase “focus on the low hanging fruit.” This was advice intended to help athletes to get faster at a specific discipline by paying attention to an “easy” solution. For example, fixing your body position on the bike would be low hanging fruit because it hardly requires any effort, but makes a dramatic difference in speed.

I think many people are reluctant to look at the low hanging fruit in their own lives. They are so focused on looking at the entire tree as a complex organism that they fail to focus on the branches right in front of them.

Perhaps they think to themselves “wow, that fruit at the top of the tree looks really good! I think I’ll try to get that one!” Then they fail, and then they give up.

Or maybe they look at the whole tree and think to themselves “how do I get all of the fruit off that tree?” That’s too hard, so they give up.

When you approach a staircase, do you try to jump to the top in one fantastic leap? No, you take the lowest step first. Then the next lowest step… Then the next lowest… Until the top step is the next lowest step.

The same is true for the fruit on the tree. As you start picking off the low hanging fruit, the fruit on the higher branches seems to suddenly become reachable. All that low hanging fruit is out of the way.

There was a time when there was a lot I wanted to change about myself. I found all of my flaws and character defects overwhelming, and it led me to believe that I wasn’t really a good person. To fix everything would be too challenging, and the big things I wanted to change seemed too far out of reach.

But there was low hanging fruit. I started to change little things about myself, such as my perspective on life in the morning, the frequency at which I communicated with God, the type of food I ate, my appreciation for little joys, my attitude, my gratitude. 

One by one, as I picked off the low hanging fruit, it became clear that the fruit on the higher branches was not so far out of reach, and the entire tree began to come into focus. I wasn’t a bad person with a set of overwhelming character defects. I was a human being on the path, picking fruit.

In order for athletes to improve, they must pick off the low hanging fruit which takes the least amount of effort so that they can begin to more clearly identify and set a course for ways in which they can improve. The same is true for all of us humans walking on the path.

As you look at the tree, don’t be overwhelmed by the volume of fruit. Don’t be discouraged by fruit higher up on branches which are out of reach. First grab the fruit right in front of you. All you have to do is reach out and grab it.