I once heard the saying, ‘Comparison is the thief of Joy’ (Theodore Roosevelt). It struck me at a time that was only too appropriate. We live in a world driven by success, by technology that is constantly emphasizing ‘more’…more followers, more attention; bigger and better. You can always go beyond; you can always progress. What you’ve done is good, but you can exceed that. While there is nothing wrong with self-improvement, and I am a huge proponent of always pushing our limits, there comes a point whereby we need to step away and get back to the basics; doing our best, at the moment, on the day; ultimately striving simply for happiness and self-fulfillment over ‘more’.
Comparison is the thief of Joy. When I heard this, I was comparing myself to my own past standards; points in my career whereby I’ve been at my best, having achieved small feats I’d never thought possible. So here I sit, having been through a few hurdles the past year that have proven both physically and mentally challenging; yet cutting myself very little slack. We can preach all day long the mottos ‘Mind over Matter’, ‘Anything is Possible’… but truly, realistically, what do these mean? I’ve battled the past months with struggling to hit some markers that I’ve set out for myself. Have these markers been a bit overly optimistic? Perhaps, but I’ve always said ‘No harm in aiming high; you’ll get the best out of yourself’. Just because the mind is willing doesn’t mean the body will always follow suit. On the flip side, I’ve accomplished a few things I’ve never done in the past. Set some new standards; maybe things I didn’t expect, but they’ve come along…yet those various PR’s still tug at the back of my mind, the gold standard for personal perfection. Through all of this, I have realized it is quite unhealthy to spend our time looking back. We can use our past to formulate our future, but to use it as a standard that must always be surpassed is not realistic, nor is it fair to ourselves. We can aim, but we must also accept and be grateful for what we have.
Being an athlete (professional or amateur) has got a multitude of redeeming qualities. It teaches us the value of self-betterment, how to challenge our bodies and our minds. How to put ourselves out there and take chances; face our fears, find new limits. It empowers us to achieve things we once thought impossible; it illustrates that without learning to take risk, success will elude us; that failure is largely a myth. Yet there are dangers in that it can carry us too far down the pipeline to perfection. Giving our best and being honest with ourselves, that is success; regardless of the time, place, result; these numbers are forgotten so quickly. Always remember the ‘why’ behind your actions and your goals. Sometimes it isn’t clear, and we have to dig a big deeper to know why we are on a certain path; we have to ask ourselves some more difficult questions.
I’ve learned that success is the ability to enjoy the path, keep your eyes firmly planted down the road, and let the small things roll off your shoulder. You know yourself better than anyone, if you let yourself in. When we can be true to ourselves, embrace the bumps along the way, and come out the other side smiling at the craziness of it all; then we are truly living. Life is short. Take it in stride. Keep your eyes firmly planted on the road ahead, and never forget what is most important…to you, and you are the only person in the world who knows what that is.
The last thing I said to Derick before heading down to the pier was “I’m ready…hope my legs are too”. That is always the lingering fear in the back of my mind. I can take care of the controllables; physical preparation, fueling and resting, being mentally prepared. But when things get tough, and you demand more of the body, there are no guarantees as to what it will give you back.
In short, they didn’t want to cooperate for me in Oceanside. I was anxious to get out on my new setup of the Felt DA and Reynolds 58 AEROs and put into action the past months of work. But when I dug deeper into the tank, there was little response. Not sure if it was the cold air, the rust of having not raced in 7 months or just an off day. But I realized it would be a tough go about 15 miles in. 40 miles is a long and lonely haul when you are frustrated and consumed with your own thoughts. I’ll admit the temptation to pull out was stronger than it has been in awhile, especially when I spotted a good friend out on the course taking pictures. But I knew quitting in Camp Pendleton would have left me a bit stranded, and I played the mental game of asking myself why would I have quit? Because I didn’t feel good? Because I was getting passed more than I would have liked? I don’t know, those reasons just didn’t set well with me. So I pushed on, trying to just enjoy riding my bike in a beautiful place; almost taking myself out of the race mindset on purpose so as to stop beating myself up.
As I rolled into T2, I yet again had a decision. Do I bail now, saving it for another day? I knew full well that even the most heroic run would still leave me far out of any sort of contention. What would I be fighting for the last 13 miles? I racked my bike and tossed on my new yellow Zoot TT’s, grabbed 3 Power Bar gels and headed out to run. I don’t think realistically stopping was ever an option.
I tackled the run with all I had, despite seeing the lead women about 4 miles up on me. Four miles, I thought… that is about 25 minutes. Wow. Demoralizing? Of course. Frustrating? Absolutely. But about 3 miles in when i found myself asking why the hell I was working so hard for no real “result”, I told myself, because it matters.
It mattered that I keep fighting out respect for the support system behind me…sponsors, family, friends, who know that I will always give it my all. It mattered that I respected myself enough not to give up, to know that I could still dig deep when the going was ugly. It mattered because I don’t toe a start line “contingent on a perfect day”, I toe it knowing there are no guarantees and it isn’t supposed to be easy. It mattered that I pushed my damn ego aside and realized that even if I was last today, this result didn’t define me. It mattered that I didn’t bail when things weren’t going my way because there are a lot of people who would give anything to have the ability to do what I was doing…I think of this often, inspired by those with limitations I know nothing of. It mattered that I raced like I was running for a win, on a day it was tough as hell physically, mentally and emotionally, because I know from experience gritting through these days makes the good ones possible. It simply mattered that I finish what I start.
As always, I want to thank my sponsors who support me through the ups and downs. My husband Derick for his guidance and support. While I am of course disappointed with my season opener, I know that one race does not define a season. Lessons are learned, strength is gained, cobwebs are out. Opportunity awaits, and there is no doubt I’ll refocus on what lies ahead.
Thanks for reading,
I’m often asked what my mantras are. What do you say to yourself when it gets really tough? How do you go to the dark place, when things get really painful? It seems my mantras are often changing. But lately, while not so much a ‘training’ mantra, I have found myself saying the same thing. It’s been this. ‘Kelly, you can’t be too afraid to get out there for fear of not being perfect; or not being where you want to be, right now. Once you go down that path, you’re done. You’re paralyzed by fear and you’re scared to fail. Go and toe the line, knowing you’ll do your best, and savor the chance to push hard and take risk. That is good enough.’
As many of you know, I finished 2013 with surgery (on September 26th). I took the requisite 6 weeks off; resting, walking, letting my body and mind heal. Truth be told, I think it was the best forced rest I’ve had in years. By mid-November, I was able to do all three sports; swim, bike and run; though it was a gradual process. I eased back, letting my body and intuition be my guide. At 10 weeks post surgery, ironically on my birthday, I ran a local 5k. Scary? Without a doubt. But, it felt so good to tackle my fear of ‘what if’ and get out to do what I love; run. All went well. Not a PR, far from it, but one step in the right direction. And as we all know from setbacks and forced rests, there was new appreciation to be able to go and run 3 miles hard; plain and simple. I didn’t do anything remotely close to ‘core work’ until well into December, for fear of straining something in my abdomen. I finally realized I had to start to act like ‘me’ again; and let myself train as I normally would. December progressed; I was allowed one run a week where I picked up the pace, usually just 2-3 miles within a run. We proceeded to take our usual 2 week, 3000 mile road trip to see our families over Christmas and New Years; I stayed on task but the priorities were visiting, not training. Again, something I firmly believe in; I’ll never sacrifice time with families and holidays (once a year) for training. The other 54 weeks of the year I dedicate to that; which is plenty.
Welcome January 5th; back in Austin, and ready to really hit it. Logically so. My coach and husband Derick is ever the wise ear, telling me that even if I did opt to race 3M Half, I could not force the running to get my fitness up quickly just for one race; there is a big picture here, and it is a long season. Early January, I got in two good weeks of consistent training; some intensity, but mostly just my routine again. Late December, he said that he thought it would be alright to do 3M if I really wanted to. Mind you, this is the race that in 2012, I busted out a 1:14.42; a 3 minute PR. It was, personally, one of my most proud accomplishments in sport. So while I could ‘just do it’, in the back of my mind, there was that question, “Can I run a 1:14 again?”
I decided to give it a go. The week of the race, I battled in my mind with not racing. ‘You don’t have to race, Kelly. If you’re not ready, it’s OK.’ I think as athletes, we are always trying to be tough; never back down, never say never. I tried to tell myself that it was alright if I felt I should bail on it. But then, I asked myself, “You love to race, especially running races. Why would you back out? You’re healthy, and you love running races. Why bail?” And then I acknowledged; I’d back out purely because I was scared of what I may not be able to do. And I countered that with telling myself, as an athlete, the minute you are too scared to try for fear of failing or not being perfect, you’re through; you are letting irrational fears take control; and mentally, you’re screwed. I didn’t like that fact; so, I raced.
I took the day prior to race day easy, just a swim; we both knew the main goal for this race was to get back out there, gain some fitness, and of course see what I could do. However, every time I toe a start line, I go into ‘race my best’ mode. I know that my expectations were probably greater than what Derick had in mind. I did the numbers; I knew what pace would land me a 1:14, 1:15, 1:16, etc… but bottom line is, my legs would go as fast as they could and my body would dictate. I tried to take it out smooth and controlled, and I rolled through 3 miles in about 17:10, which was good. Lucikly I had a small group of guys with me who seemed to be pacing together. We cruised through 6 miles in about 34:24, still; very good. I was a bit surprised this pace felt so smooth. Between miles 7 and 8 the guys started to pull ahead, or maybe I pulled back; all I know is I wasn’t certain of my ability to hold this pace for 13. By mile 9-10, it just got hard. The legs began to hurt, my breathing became a bit more labored, but I tried so hard to stay focused and keep the effort there. At mile 10, I did the math; a 20 min 5k would land me 1:17.43. An 18-19 min 5k (more realistic) would land me 1:15 to 1:16. Still doable! With 2 miles to go, everything hurt and it took all I had to just mentally keep on going. I realized by this point that the time was what it was; the more important thing was that I had tackled a bit of race fear and embraced it.
I crossed the line in 1:16.34, about 15 seconds behind what I had done last year; but all in all, pleased and relieved. Sometimes, it is just about not being afraid to admit your fears; and tackle them. I feel like that was what this race was about. Additionally, I managed to defend a title that I have had the past 2 years; in the big picture, self-perfection aside, there was a lot to be proud of.
So 2014 has officially begun! Next up I’ll be focusing on Panama 70.3, February 16. I’ve done this race twice before so I know what to expect; while it is early, it’s a good opportunity to test out the fitness and, as with 3M, gain some more fitness from it. The time between now and then will be focused on recovery, a short training block, and a short rest. I have to say; it feels good to be back into the rhythm. I’m stoked for what this year has in store, and excited about the amazing sponsors that I’ve got on board. Thank you for following along and being part of my journey! I’ll try to make it exciting.