Evolving as a Triathlete

Throughout the past few months—as the 2014 triathlon season ended, as the off-season came and went, plus as the 2015 campaign kicked off—my outlook, mentality, and training needs as a triathlete changed. Big time.

masters-swim-wannabe-swimmer

It’s officially official—my journey to become an actual swimmer has begun (but still a #wannabeswimmer).

This is a post I’ve drafted, edited, reformatted several times, so hopefully, the current version makes some sense. What I’m trying to say, though, is fill up your water bottle, top off your cup of coffee, and settle in; this is a lengthy one, folks.

First, let’s rewind to last year. As my second official year of training with and racing for Full Throttle Endurance, this campaign saw improvement across the disciplines, especially on the bike. I trained hard, raced hard, and had a blast. I bonded with teammates, and there’s no doubt I’ll call a few folks friends for the rest of my life. Basically, it was pretty close to being perfect, a realization I didn’t completely make until much later.

So yes, I couldn’t have asked for a better season—but that wasn’t enough. I wanted to attack the off-season, address my weaknesses, and use that momentum to catapult 2015. Spending my training time solo gave me some serious headspace; thinking, reflecting, and goal setting happened, and as things started to change, priorities began to shift. And I slowly changed too.

Last year: My identity was tied to the team.

I was all Full Throttle all the time. Always working out at the gym, always attending optional workouts, always organizing weekend rides. Technically, I worked for the team, too, doing social media and other technological/logistical stuff. So it made a lot of sense when I settled into the unofficial “inner circle,” privy to coaches’ only knowledge. And I love knowledge—knowing what’s going on, having people confide in me, and basically just knowing everything about everything. After all, knowledge is the best commodity.

This year: My identity stems from several different facets.

Breaking off and doing my own thing during the off-season highlighted just how much I was involved with the team—and just how much I lost myself in the team. Er, maybe not “lost myself,” but overall, I was not being my most authentic self (Rich Roll term #fangirl). Were there times when this wasn’t the case? Absolutely. For the most part, though, I got caught up in the good and the bad. The praise, awards, favoritism, interworkings, drama, it all affected me on a daily basis.

Those authentic times had some common factors—how I was thinking, who I was with, what motivated me—which ultimately sparked the desire to tri try life outside FTE.  Yes, I’m still training and racing, but it’s much different than last year: how I train, where I train, and who I train with.

Last year: I trained almost exclusively with the team.

And hey, since I was the team, it made sense. I never missed a workout, including a handful of disastrous yet memorable yoga classes. Teammates and I even drove to Connecticut to swim in the long-course pool. And I regret absolutely nothing. It was my second year of official training, so logging time, miles, yards, watts, whatever across the disciplines was going to lead to improvement. And it worked.

This year: I am “doing me.”

Clearly, last year’s format proved beneficial, but it was definitely atypical. (Remember my sympathy taper crazies? Definitely not normal.) During the season, I knew it was special, but I didn’t completely realize how nearly perfect it was until after Nationals.

To sum it up, things have changed—both on the team and individual levels—and I’m going through a training transition. There’s no doubt in my mind I could’ve stayed with the group and continued to get better, but I need more now. Swimming with Bearcat Masters will hopefully lead to faster times in the water. Cycling (and training with power) at Tailwind Endurance will hopefully lead to increased bike fitness, strength, and power. Running under the guidance of Coach Pat will hopefully help me become an all-around threat. Basically, I’m doing what I have to do to get better.

Last year: It was all about pushing through the pain.

And honestly, that’s just the team mentality. When you get a bunch of talented, type-A triathletes in one area, then yeah, there’s going to be a lot of intensity and competition. Looking back, this atmosphere was the most noticeable on the bike, specifically during our team rides in Central Park. At first, I played into it, but I slowly became unenthused and opted out of these “races.” The aftermath inevitably led to drama (see above), and since I was close with teammates and coaches, I served as a mediator between the two groups.

Our team speed workouts centered on pain too. Case in point: I vividly remember my coach saying, “if you don’t throw up or pass out after speedwork, you didn’t push hard enough.” Again, working in these threshold zones leads to progress, but only if you have the base mileage—which I did not. So even though I turned myself inside out on the track, I didn’t fully reap its benefits. The team spent its training time swimming, “racing” bikes in Central Park, and doing speedwork, and there wasn’t an emphasis on the easier, base-building workouts.

This year: It’s about focusing on the feeling and enjoying the process.

When training began this year, my endorphin highs were short, and I crashed almost immediately after workouts: ‘So what if I just crushed that bike workout? What’s next?’ or ‘I just ran eight miles. Now what?’ became routine reflections. The swimming, biking, and running didn’t seem to be enough anymore—but that stemmed from other stuff, which I figured out (#vagueblogging)—and I didn’t know what to do. Doing work, feeling that good kind of discomfort, and hitting the numbers drove my motivation. And in this quest, I got lost.

Throughout the past year, Earl, my all-time favorite Tailwind coach, and I have developed a solid coach-athlete relationship, and he picked up on what was going on. “Focus on the feeling,” he advised. “And don’t become emotionally attached to the numbers.” This outlook has changed how I approach workouts, how I function during workouts, and how I review what happened during workouts. Now, instead of ‘I just ran nine miles; what’s next?’ it’s ‘I just ran nine effortless miles and felt strong the entire time—yes!’

Last year: I thought in the short term.

My thoughts centered on the immediate: today’s workout, next week’s training schedule, and this season’s goal races. The “big picture” thinking I did surrounded Nationals in August; that race was always in the back of my mind, and that race was the one my coach always mentioned during key workouts.

This year: I’m remembering my long-terms goals.

Yes, I obviously want to improve in the short term, continue getting faster across the disciplines, and piece together strong races this year. However, as January approached, and I struggled to figure out my training plan, Earl told me to remember what my long-terms goals are—and to keep those in mind. In a few years, I’d like to make the jump to the 70.3 distance, and Ironman Lake Placid will definitely happen within the next 10 years. (Overall, I eventually see myself becoming a 70.3 athlete. A longer swim and bike work to my advantage, and hopefully by that time, the run will be on par with those two.) Anyway, I want to make progress in the short term—and remember it’s about laying the foundation and gaining experience for long-course racing.

Thinking about where I was this time last year—in terms of fitness, my mental approach to triathlon and life, maturity as a triathlete and human being—I cannot believe how much I’ve grown. A portion of this transition stems from becoming a legitimate adult in their mid-20s (wahhh!) and figuring out who I am—and the kind of person I want to become. Even though I was happy last year, I have an incredibly strong sense of self now. In terms of life, work, and triathlon, I’m exactly where I should be; I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing. And I love what I’m doing.

How have you grown throughout the past year?

5 responses to “Evolving as a Triathlete

  1. I’d been waiting for this post! Your evolution from team-focused athlete to individual athlete-focused training makes perfect sense to me. The more you develop, the greater the sense you have about what you need to be your best. I also love that your focus has switched more to the long term. I feel like mine has as well, although I’m not as dedicated an athlete as you are, I’m trying to prioritize the things that will ensure a lengthy and healthy running “career”. Also, is it weird that I’m excited to see you tackle the 70.3 distance eventually??

  2. It is truly remarkable to see your progress and success. I love following it honestly. You work and try hard and it’s so great. I’m proud of you Carrie.

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