A few weeks ago I received an email from a woman from NY. She had some rather detailed questions about training and racing, but ultimately what she was getting at was how she could learn to develop greater confidence, or reduce “fear” in her racing.
Apparently she was having some difficulty getting past some of her fears; these were becoming performance obstacles for her. In her email she gave several safe, protective details as to what her fears were, but instinctively I knew she wasn’t being completely truthful. “If you want to conquer your fears, whatever they are, you have to admit them – and then face them”, I said confidently.
I spent some time responding to her query and asked her to specify what those fears were (to herself). Once we can truly name our fear, we can then look to conquer it. I felt myself a bit of a hypocrite with my counsel and realized I was not being so truthful with myself.
A few weeks ago I was trying to decide if I should consider racing the Gulf Coast ½ in PCB, Florida (May 9, 2009). I would be going there anyway to continue to promote Trakkers at this event, and entering the event certainly occurred to me.
But I was afraid to enter the race. I had incredible apprehension and anxiety just in entering the stupid thing. Why? Granted, I’ve only been back at the training scene since January and after 19 months of inactivity a half Ironman is enough to humble and frighten anyone who isn’t in shape to do it. I was right to be rational as to its purpose. But… but… being out of shape. That wasn’t it.
I called JZ to seek her counsel if I should do it.
“Why?” she asked. “You’re not fit. Why would you?” I love how she has a way of reducing anything to brass-tacks. She’ll cut right to it and I love that about her.
She had a point. I’m certainly not fit (but I am fittER). Why did I want to race? What was it that was compelling me to do it? If I were an honest woman (and in the privacy of a public blog open to the free world, why not be revealing about one’s insecurities??), I would admit that secretly I was hoping JZ would forbid me to race. Then, I could blame someone else for my lack of courage. “Don’t be an idiot!”, I was hoping she’d say. But she didn’t. “As long as you have no expectations and just want to give it a shot, then ok.”
I tossed and turned for days. I was uneasy with this choice to race. I didn’t want to. I really DIDN’T want to. WHY?
Yet I had to. WHY (again)?
Am I seriously this mentally handicapped? (Don’t answer that!)
Since 2003 I have been closely working with a sports psychologist named Sue Walker, PhD. I decided a call to her was in order. There was some significant bullshit going on between me and myself. Sue would sift through it, as she always has with me.
After 30:00 of preliminary chit chat, the hello’s (we hadn’t spoken in about 6 months), and the introductory information that I was considering a race but was absolutely terrified to do it, Dr Walker took me by the proverbial gonads.
Dr Walker: Why are you afraid to race?
Carole: Sue, if I knew that I wouldn’t be calling you!
Dr Walker: Bullshit. You know.
Dr Walker: Well, you’re not afraid to fail. We know that.
She was right and we both knew it. I am not afraid to fail. In my entire triathlon career, I have had many more races where I’ve totally bombed than have gone well. I have a pretty good ability to let unsuccessful races roll off me and move on.
Going to Gulf Coast and “performing badly” was not even remotely a concern. Maybe it should be… but the anxiety going on… it was not about performance. This I knew. So did Sue.
Dr Walker: Are you afraid you’ll hurt yourself? Could you potentially thwart your progress with recovery by racing?
Carole: No, I don’t think so.
Dr Walker: ....because that’s legitimate, Carole. No one wants to go backwards with what finally became progress.
Carole: No, I really don’t think I’ll do any damage. I wouldn’t even consider racing if that were possible.
We talked for another 10 min or so. She continued to ask probing, revealing questions and refused to let me off the hook – soon enough she got to it.
Dr Walker: Tell me about what the day itself will be like for you. The race. Tell me about it.
Carole: I think it’s going to be great. I’ll be back out there again. I’m going to see some of my dearest friends. I feel really grateful I can do this at all...
Dr Walker: Don’t evade this. What’s the race going to be like, Carole?
Dr Walker: (again) What’s the race going to be like??
Carole: I think it’s going to hurt.
Dr Walker: ABSOLUTELY. Any why does that concern you? That’s your strength.
She was right. For years a lot of the work I did with her was deciphering the mind of the athlete (me) and rectifying/understanding how I was able to tolerate the pain levels I could while racing. I don’t have it anywhere else in my life, why did I have it there? I made great strides in understanding this about myself, and how it could work to benefit an athlete, and ultimately I came to truly respect this about myself. What I lacked in DNA I was able to make up for in my ability to suffer. I relied on this almost exclusively with my racing.
Carole: What if it’s gone?? .....
Dr Walker: What do you mean? You’ve been working with tremendous pain and discomfort for all these months, trying to rehab from your crash, and heal your back from the years of damage you did to it.
Carole: Yes, but think for a minute. Have I REALLY been doing that this past year? Ok, I do the exercises, and I am in discomfort…. But what happens when I ride, or run, or swim – and I hurt? What has the pattern been for the last 18 months? WHAT?
Carole: I’ve stopped. I’ve quit. The moment something hurt, I backed off.
Dr Walker: Carole, you had to. You were in REHAB...
Carole: Yes, but consider the point. If my strength is relying on an ability to tolerate pain, and I have been working for months doing the exact opposite – training myself to be more SOFT... Just like we have to teach ourselves to absorb pain, I think you can teach yourself to give up. To quit.
Dr Walker: And you’ve quit. Is that what you think? You won’t have what it takes anymore to take it?
Carole: ... yes...
Dr Walker: And that’s why the race scares you. Because you’re going to have to go to that place, the place where you have always reigned, the place inside you that can suffer...
Carole: I think I’ve lost that, Sue. I really do. I am so pathetic now. I always stop. If something hurts I always quit.
Dr Walker: And what scares you about that?
Carole: I’m going to need it. I’m going to need that part of myself that helps me get through the tough moments and it won’t be there anymore. I will be a weaker side of myself. I’ll quit. I don’t want to face that person. I don’t even want to know her. And she’s there. She’s not only there, she has taken over.
Dr Walker: Then you need to get Carole back. OUR Carole. You need to go to this race and reclaim her. You may not get her back completely, but you need to try. If you don’t try, your weaker side will win with no challenge. And that’s not you. You can’t be afraid of fear, Carole. You should only be afraid of not trying.
“YOU CAN’T BE AFRAID OF FEAR. YOU SHOULD ONLY BE AFRAID OF NOT TRYING.”
As I hung up the phone with Sue, I put into perspective my fears. Knowing I am about to come face-to-face (pardon the pun) with a side of myself I fear will be stronger, this terrifies me. But Sue is right. I don’t care if my fear is spiders or swimming in open water or flying in an airplane... or being afraid I won’t be able to suffer... if I don’t TRY, I will never, ever conquer.
I’m frightened of this side of myself, this weaker side, because I have grown reliant on her. She is easier on me. She lets me have excuses. She lets me get away with things. She authorizes me to quit.
Sue is right. I must take steps to reclaim my stronger self. I know she's there. I must at least try.
And that is why I am preparing to go to Gulf Coast, to walk up to that start line, and fight MYSELF. I don’t give a rats ass about anyone else, or anything else. I don't care how I finish. Results reflect fitness so let's be real here. I absolutely must find the courage to race because this is about myself, and my journey. If I can push through the moments of incredibly discomfort I know are coming... if I don’t give in... I will be rebuilding myself. My self respect. My self confidence.
“YOU CAN’T BE AFRAID OF FEAR. YOU SHOULD ONLY BE AFRAID OF NOT TRYING.”