Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mountaineering 101

ITU World Championships wrapped up, which kind of signifies the end of another season. Or it would if EVERYONE wasn't doing late season races!

I've run into a number of triathlon-land people recently, who have asked how I've been, or commented on the fact that they haven't seen me in a while. I tell them that I'm doing great! Then they look at me strangely because I haven't been on a startlist in the last 2 years. This year was supposed to be my build-back year. In some ways it was more like the year that has yet to get off the ground... but I think it still might.

Through a strange set of circumstances I trained under 3 very different but great coaches, and got to work with a whackload of other amazing ones. That is a lot of knowledge and perspective in one year. In July & August, I was able to join some of the national and national development team athletes in Spain with Jaime Turner's Wollongong Wizards (I don't know why they call themselves that, but I assume it has something to do with the fact that both words start with W). It was a somewhat risky decision since I wasn't fully healthy, and was debating with myself whether the money wouldn't be better spent on racing next year. However, it felt a little bit like a make-or-break moment, so I gave it a shot. I'm very happy that I went. I was coached by the one and only Kyla Rollinson, and was held together by magical Marilyn Adams. I did 6 weeks straight of swimming and running and biking! It felt like the best training camp ever. Partially because I was able to re-see what it takes to be the best in the World, and partially because I was running and biking. The Canadian crew are my favourite training group, and dem Aussies weren't so bad either once they accepted our friendly-puppy canadian ways ;).

Meanwhile, another of my Aunts (my third), and my bestest cousin were and are winning their fights with cancer. My parents lost their home and most of what they've worked towards throughout their lives in the Alberta floods, but are getting closer and closer to finishing clean-up and settling into their rental condo. My little bro just got chosen to be Macbeth in Macbeth (after being Frankenstein in Frankenstein, and the one man in a one man play last year). I'm very proud of all of them.

I also watched our three U23 women all come top 5 at World Champs like I knew they could, and I followed along with all the individual battles in the triathlon blogosphere.

Vitoria- Gastiez




Sports highs-and-lows are just life's highs-and-lows smushed into the span of an athletic career. There are the peaks of achieving one's goals and, for a time, being invincible. Then there are the valleys of minor setbacks, of not achieving goals, politics, team selection, the devastation of having one's first minor injury, or of hugely under-representing your hard-work and potential when it matters. Then there is missing out on your first important race due to injury/illness, or the career halting setbacks that forces an athlete to really rethink their identity and adapt in some way. Helen & Paula's blogs struck a chord with me because I can see myself in their different stages of dealing with a longterm injury. They're the best of the best and I'm just me, but I'm sure there's a universal human parabola-like theory for dealing with disappointment (even if I haven't read enough psych textbooks to know of it yet). 

From what I've observed, professional athletes (the real deal professional athletes) are goal oriented. For the most part they work for the future, because nobody who is focused on the now would put themselves into that dark place day after day and still love their lives. Single-minded. The world is theirs for the taking if they work hard enough at it.

The body not fulfilling what the mind believes it should be able to is a betrayal to ones-self. Body-Mind sabotage. Athletes have a hard time wrapping their heads around their mortality just as much as teenage boys do.

A goal oriented approach to life is integral to the 'urgency' needed to make it in the big league, but it can also keep an athlete fixated on a utopian future vision... for better or worse...

Remember, life isn't fair. 

"I can do anything if I work hard enough. Except that I am broken. I need to be fixed so that I can work harder than everyone else."

I am not a psychologist, but happy people don't see themselves as needing to be fixed. When your identity is dependent on your body (and its limitations), I suppose this can make acceptance of the self (and consequently happiness) challenging. 

Taking ownership of the injury/setback with the belief that you can fix yourself can give an athlete that sense of goal-oriented self-belief that is paramount to their functioning. Jesse gives a great lowdown on how to deal with injury! Until it doesn't work. 

Doubt.

"I will never be healthy enough. Maybe I should throw in the towel now." Or in my case: "I haven't even proven that I AM even good at this yet."

Anxiety over life direction. Utopian future unravelling... 

 Identity CRISIS!!! 

At this point the athlete might get healthy and fast again, and the problem will be solved. They might find their identity elsewhere, develop a new niche/community separate from sport, and realize that they can in fact be happy as themselves, not just as 'so and so, the ridiculously fit professional triathlete'. Or maybe, they will let go of the goal oriented approach long enough to find acceptance in how they are now, not just how they want to be. Isn't this the solution to all of our problems? If there is a fourth  alternative to total train derailment, I am not sure what it would be, but maybe I should consult those sports psych textbooks... 

Here's what I've learnt about life from this year (Terrible cliche I know). You enter this world with the cards you've been dealt. You can't change that. Just about everything after that initial hand is down to choices.  Every once and awhile bad luck will strike and everything you've worked towards can be destroyed in a second. And then you have to figure out how to move forward. Good choices often lead to more good choices (as coach K says!). 

And when it comes down to it... if the hand you've been dealt involves being a triathlete, for any length of time, then you've been given a pretty damn good hand! 

Since I spent this year only partially training, and this season not racing again, I guess it is apparent that I didn't just magically become healthy. Shucks. Since I'm writing this blog, I guess I didn't throw in the towel either. It's a triathlon blog after all! My option 3 has been about being grateful. I have learnt so much from all of my triathlon experiences, and I know my whole future will be shaped by how much I've taken from it. I don't think acceptance is the same thing as complacence, it is just finding that balance between living in the now & for the future. This was my last year as a U23, but I don't wish that I were Ellen or Joanna or Amelie, who kicked butt at U23 Worlds this year, because that's their story. How they've played their cards. And they did a mighty fine job. So proud of them *sniff!  

If everything continues to go well I might go get my butt kicked in a later season race in preparation for 2014 (Why didn't everyone go on their break after London like they were supposed to!). My goal is to get on a start line. And live. Who knows, good luck can happen too!

Path to Success by Kyla Coates

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop & look around once in awhile, you could miss it. - Ferris Beuler