Love | Fear: On Determination
It’s Monday afternoon, and I am pretty sure that every single muscle in my body aches in some way or another. My connective tissues are creaking and groaning with every step, and I’m really not entirely sure I’ll be able to carry my groceries home. Fortunately, this is the first day of a recovery week, and means that while the intensity of some sessions might still be high, the overall volume will drop. Except swimming, swimming remains my bane, and I’ll be in the pool as often as possible this week.
Following on from last week’s musings on Love and Fear, I decided that looking at how we draw determination from them, and where it leaves us. Looking back at my time playing American Football in High School, all of our training was done based on fear / adversarial mechanisms. It’s little wonder that we had injuries galore in practice and in games, concussions during hitting drills because our linebackers were constantly on the chopping block for a starting position, or various broken fingers and toes.
Training from Fear
Relatedly, I was thinking about what our mind hangs on to when a training session is particularly hard, what we focus on to keep going through that last rep at threshold or race pace. Of course, there is the centuries old attitude that one must suffer through because one’s enemies inevitably are. If we want to compete at a high level, we have to struggle through and persevere because we know our opponents will be (and I’ve definitely seen this in a few emails and comments within the club, but heck, that’s against Cambridge and is essentially war!) While this might get you through that days set, or be enough fuel to lurch through until a rest day (which hopefully you have enough sense to take, even though your competition might not be), in the long term, it seems the course of failure long term as an athlete.
Fear leads to the dark side. That’s right, Star Wars as training psychology! It’s not wrong though. As we move from session to session driven by external reasons (us vs. them, a coach or captain’s drive for us to succeed, or financial gain) the risk of injury, overtraining or burnout increases. The constant comparison with some ‘other’ creates an unstable training environment and is mentally toxic, leading to many of the issues seen in self-confidence, body dysmorphia, disordered eating and as a precursor to match fixing, cheating, and performance enhancing drugs. If you look at the comments made by professional athletes in America, or by the large number of cyclists caught doping, none of them ever said they did it for the love of the sport. They gave reasons like ‘everyone else was doing it and I had to level the playing field’, ‘I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make the cut’, ‘I didn’t think I could make a living without them’. Fear, not love.
I just can’t quit you
Triathlon is a bit like being in a dysfunctional relationship, full of pain, frustration and crushing lows, but with atmospheric highs and moments of pure bliss. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, we love it. I don’t want to insult anyone with this statement, or make light of terrible relationships, but we have to recognize that many of the mechanisms of masochism exist within the culture of triathlon and cycling. Our DVD training videos are branded as ‘Sufferfests’, we call our indoor trainer setups ‘pain caves’ and we talk about how brutal our sessions were. We pay with our time, our money, and our sweat while the sport punches our ticket and we keep coming back for more! It’s what makes those with a passion for Tri so rabid about the sport and what drives people to compete in the longer distances (ultra-runners and long distance cyclists certainly get honorable mention in this category, but anything that doesn’t involve the hell of swimming is just second tier *grin*). Let’s face it; we don’t do it for the t-shirts.
That being said, when it’s that passion driving us, that naked desire to be faster, stronger, and fitter, is when we are really able to shine as athletes. When we finish our hard trainer set thinking ‘I can do this, because it means next week I can do it faster!’ rather than ‘Cambridge is doing this, and I don’t want to fall behind’ it keeps us in a positive state of mind, and is the path away from the negative cycles of injury, etc. discussed above. When we are driven by internal mechanisms it gives us the ability to push ourselves beyond expectation, in a way that is psychologically stable.
The greatest example of this sort of determination has got to be Chrissie Wellington’s win at Kona in 2011, where she raced the Ironman World Championship after a disastrous bike crash a few weeks out from the event. As a champion, she had been dominant in her first 3 wins at Kona (she remains undefeated at the Iron Distance) but this was the race where she started far away from race fitness, but 110% mental preparedness for the challenge ahead of her. She wasn’t racing because she had to (no one would have faulted her for not starting that race), she wasn’t racing because the other women were there, Chrissie was racing because she wanted to, passionately. After announcing her retirement this year, she spoke at length about why she was hanging up her trisuit at what many argue was the still the top of her game. For Chrissie it was because 2011 represented finally winning her perfect race: the race against herself.
Wuv, twu wuv (if you haven’t seen it, go watch the Princess Bride)
So at the end of the day, it has to be love that motivates us and makes our decisions, love that fuels our determination to push ourselves harder. Whether in triathlon, or our lives outside the sport (since most of us have day / night jobs, and everything else to balance) if we make decisions because they respond to fear, then we make life a little less brilliant. Every day, I have a Soya Latte and a slice of Tiffin at Zappi’s Bike Cafe (well, almost every day), not because they are excellent foods to train on, or because they represent the perfect balance of nutrients for getting ready to demolish Cambridge at Varsity in May, but because the service is awesome, and the tiffin is great. Enjoy the little things, train because you love the sport, eat because you enjoy the food and it fuels your life.
And when you go into Zappi’s, tell em that Pigeon sent you, it won’t get any of us free coffee or tiffin, but it’ll make you instantly part of that family, and everyone will get a laugh out of it.