Small Wins.

It was around mile 70 when I could start to feel the tears welling up in my eyes.  My legs felt like lead.  I was dropped and watched the rest of the group ride away.  Last week at this same hill, I felt so good.  This week I could barely pedal my bike.

Keith dropped back and as I slowly rolled up to him he asked, "How are you feeling?"
It was hard to breathe because I was crying.  "I'm having a hard time.  Today is a bad bike day."

Yes, this did happen.
With the physically and mentally challenging day I had experienced, I was perfectly fine riding back at my own pace since we were only 10 miles away.  His answer surprised me.  "You didn't work your a$$ off for 70 miles to ride home alone.  We're all gonna ride back together."

The last 10 miles were a tangible reminder that in life we are never alone- there are people who act as our steady wheels, shielding and blocking the wind from us so we can arrive at our destination in one piece.

Was able to do this with the wisdom of my teammates and coaches.
In his book The Power of Habits, Charles Duhigg presents the concept of "small wins."  A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power.  Once a small win has been accomplished, it fuels transformative changes that favor another small win. This chain reaction and momentum that is created can convince people that bigger achievements are obtainable.  Even in difficult or challenging times, this momentum still continues to propel you forward.  Pyschologists refer to this as the "science of small wins." The concept applies specifically to business and work models, but I found it can equally apply to sport. 

Thinking back on past training workouts, I rarely remember the easy, good days.  It's those hard days; the ones that really made a dent physically and mentally- that I can recall vividly. 

I can remember the first time I climbed through Morgan Territory, feeling the lactic acid in my legs, and with each turn, seeing the pitch in the road curve ever so slightly upward.  Countless times I contemplated getting off my bike to "stretch" (aka. catch my breath).  But I didn't.  I kept chugging onward.  I kept moving forward.  And I remember how that ride taught me that my little legs have more stamina than I give them credit for.

Or that steep little climb right at the top of Mt. Diablo.  You know, the one where you want to zigzag your bike to offset the grade percentage, or walk your bike up, or kill whoever constructed the road at such an angle?  Yes, these are the rides I remember.  These are my "small wins."

Today's ride distance and the yummy Wolf food that helped fuel me.
Physically, there was nothing "winning" about this ride today.  But it taught me that it is important to finish what you set out to do, and there are people who look after you and help you reach your goal.  During Ironman on the lonely parts of the course when it starts to feel hard, these are the moments that you recall.  This recollection of "small wins"- the times when you resisted the temptation to quit, moved past it and finished intact- provides the momentum that fuels you to that finish line.

Today at mile 70 I said that it was a bad bike day.
I was wrong.
Today was a small win.

The Icarus Deception

"Stop swimming from behind.  Swim YOUR fast."  Coach first said this to me from the pool deck on Tuesday morning.  He repeated these words to me this morning before practice.  I first thought he was referring to my swimming tendencies with my lanemate, since I tend to mindlessly gauge my efforts on his pace.  He is a strong, steady fish, and sometimes it's easier to swim in his shadow than listen to my own body and what is my own perceived effort.

But Coach was referring to the fact that I am swimming slower than I am capable of, mostly because I like to be comfortable.  How can I get faster if I refuse to swim and challenge my body to a higher threshold of work? (notice I deliberately didn't use the word pain...)

Remember Icarus, from Greek mythology? He attempted to escape from Crete by wings made of feathers and wax.  He ignored the instructions not to fly too close to the sun, and the melting wax caused him to fall into the sea where he drowned.

I recently heard of Seth Godin's book, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? where he challenges the old rules of playing it safe and staying in your comfort zone in your career and life.  He flips the lesson on the classic Icarus myth, and instead praises Icarus for his willingness to take a risk and challenge preconceived notions.  In society, the real innovators and artists are those who defy traditional rules and strive higher.  They are not afraid to risk. Godin writes about how it is better to be sorry than safe.  We need to fly higher than ever.

In sport, our 'dangerous sun' is also know as our "red line"- the point that you reach where you either quit, vomit, or have to slow down.  Ironically, that line is rarely reached since our head prevents our bodies from ever coming close to that breaking point.

Most of us train in the gray zone, that comfortable place where we give some effort but not enough to make us faster in the long run.  I've been guilty of this.  I know my body and when things start to feel uncomfortable, I dial it back a little, recover and conserve.  I'd rather have "something left in the tank" than crash and burn.  I live up to my nickname "Shadow" at times, where I have a tendency to rest in the shadows and put out effort when I feel like I have something in the tank.  The problem is, I always have more than enough left in the tank.  I have yet to fly close to my sun because I have been afraid of the melting wax on my wings.

Exploring those limits with 3 minute TT relay efforts on the bike...

Exploring those limits with 3 minute TT relay efforts on the bike...

Hence, my coach's words of advice.

So today I swam MY fast, in my triathlon kit with more drag than I'd prefer.  I felt the lactic acid build up in my muscles.  I kept swimming.  I dismissed the negative thoughts telling me to slow down.  I concentrated on feeling strong and relaxed, and gliding effortlessly over the water.  I adopted the attitude of staying curious, not afraid.  Exploring my limits, and moving past them.

"Stop swimming from behind.  Swim YOUR fast."  Don't gauge your rhythm, your pace, and your path in life upon someone else's.  Pave and discover your own way.

I am still finding my fast in the pool and on the bike, and in life.  Today I came one step closer.

Stay curious.

Dance upon the edge.

Be like Icarus.