I spent a lot of time earlier this spring thinking about what I wanted from this year. I compete in three different sports, and sometimes I struggle to figure out how to make it all work. My first sport is dog agility, which is a sport where the dog is the athlete and I’m the brains of the team–but I need to keep up, too, which requires all-out sprints lasting 30-to-45 seconds.
My second sport, trail running, is a totally different beast. Running on trails with my dog is pretty much pure pleasure, even when I’m sweating and hurting. I don’t do ultras, though, although my big spring goal was a half-marathon trail race my daughter and I did. (I wasn’t dead last, which was my “big” goal, after simply completing it within the time limit.)
My third sport, triathlon, is an outgrowth of the first two sports. I started with cross-training for running, because I simply couldn’t run every day without hurting myself; I swim for the love of how I feel when I swim; I bike because my husband enjoys it when I go on rides with him *and* because I enjoy the scenery and the company. And I’m competitive, so once I was doing all three things, of course I had to try a sprint triathlon–and a sprint tri is FUN. Just when you get bored of a sport, you’re on to the next one. And the roads are pretty much cleared of traffic for the bike ride, which is just sheer joy!
After finishing second in my age group in a local tri last summer, I started mulling over what it would take to finish first this year. The woman who won was 15 minutes ahead of me, which is a LOT of difference–but when I looked her up, I discovered she works as a triathlon coach. Obvious answer to my question: hire her as my coach. (She moved up an age group, so now our mutual goal is that we both finish first in our age group this year.)
My tri coach has me working harder and training smarter. My vision for the year says “just keep showing up” (and I said it before Des Linden) and I am doing exactly that, as much as I can. (Occasionally I end up napping instead of working out.)
I also started working on a persistent dog agility problem, one I’ve had for years. I get momentarily lost on the course (which changes every single time, and which you get a limited time to plan for, and which the dog has never seen before)–and then everything goes to hell really fast, and I’d end up just walking out. With my dog agility instructor, we started setting up sequences where I was pretty much guaranteed to get lost–and I just kept working to get past that roadblock.
I did not expect these two actions–working on my confusion and working with a tri coach–to have any cross benefits. I certainly didn’t expect learning to deal with dog agility problems to affect my running! And yet, the cross benefits have turned out to be huge.
While I’m not surprised that my improvement in overall fitness and speed has made working with my dog in agility better–that makes sense to me–it’s the side effects of working on my mental dog agility game that have surprised me. I’ve read multiple books on sports psychology, and yet, I’ve always dismissed them as not relevant to me. I mean, I set my goal effort (with trail racing, it’s easier to plan on a heart rate than a pace), and then I do my best to hold that, and I show up, right? Well, that was what I thought until a trail race in June where I was passed by a competitor and I immediately recognized the thought in my head: “it’s okay to slow down now” and I recognized the emotion I felt: relief that I could ease up. And when I finished five minutes behind her, I recognized my own disappointment and acknowledged that I had allowed myself to talk myself out of doing my best. I thought back to a 5K race in January where I missed a PR by 15 seconds–because I slowed down for the middle mile, because it was hard and I was struggling to hold my pace. I found myself wondering: “what if I’d decided to see if I could hold on, just a little longer?”
The next trail race, I decided I would, instead, channel Steve Prefontaine and his attitude: give it your best and then dig deeper than that. When the same runner passed me near the top of a long hill (at that point, she’d beaten me in 5 of 6 races), I stuck with her and then passed her back as soon as the course turned flat–and refused to look back and see if she was gaining on me. That worked.
I turned 63 two weeks ago. When I was growing up, women were generally not expected to be serious about sports; nor were we supposed to be competitive. I still talk to women my age who are surprised and slightly appalled that I talk openly and aggressively about playing to win. Lately, though, I’m facing the facts: I like myself better when I don’t let myself back down.