Monday, April 2, 2007

A Good Attitude Goes A Long Way

Athletics has taught me a lot of life lessons. Some of my greatest personal growth has come through physical challenges- having a goal, working for the goal and completing it. Endurance athletics at a recreational level requires commitment, discipline, sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears. At a professional/competitive level it is all consuming. Pro Ironman triathletes work 40+ hr weeks- but they are not sitting in an office, they are pushing themselves physically and mentally. Swimming, biking and running countless miles. Most people don't make time to exercise even an hour a day. Imagine exercising upwards of 8hrs a day! No matter how you are feeling. All of that training cumulates to races. Races that you are expected to win- by coaches, sponsers, fans and yourself. A bad day means letting a lot of people down, and the bad day is public, reported on, analyzed and talked about. There is nowhere to hide. For most pro triathletes if they are having a bad day that will not produce a good result, they will drop out of the race and spare themselves the physical damage of completing the distance.
Lisa Bentley is one of the hardest working pro triathletes out there. She is not exceptionally fast in the water or on the bike (as compared to other female pros) but she can run down a pretty large time deficit and has relied on her run to make up for her time losses on the bike. She is also tough as nails. This was most evident in Kona last year when she made it through a 3.8km swim, a 180km bike and a quarter of the way through a marathon with a burst appendix! Lisa is also one of the most down to earth, positive and happy people out there. She always puts a positive spin on her situations and is always speaking to how grateful she is to be able to do what she does no matter what the result.
Last weekend Lisa raced Ironman Australia, a race that she has won for the past 5 years. There was a lot of pressure for her to win a 6th- and she was even given the number one for her race number- a first for a female.
Lisa did not win a 6th. She did not even crack the top 10. She had an injury that forced her to walk the last 14kms. Most pros would have dropped out, and most anyone would have been upset. Lisa's response was gratitude- as you can see in her race report below.
I believe that I can take a page from her book and adopt this kind of attitude in my own life- in my training and racing, and in my life.

IM Oz 2007

Today was probably my hardest Ironman to date and probably my greatest victory to date – what a way to celebrate my 30th career Ironman! I did not win the race – in fact – I did not even crack the top ten – but I still won the race because I crossed the finish line and I finished what I started. That, at the very core, is the only thing that matters when you tackle any task – you do your best and you find meaning in whatever happens. The only thing missing while I walked the last 12 km of the marathon were my dogs – Madison and Brunswick. They would have loved a little walk along the ocean!

As everyone knows – I love Australia and I love racing here. And so, I could not pass up the opportunity to race at Ironman Australia. After I finished the 2006 season, I had a few injuries which I dealt to very diligently over the winter and I was completely pain free for the Pucon Half Ironman. But then, Ironman training began and I was constantly plagued my chronic heel injury which has been on again, off again for a few years now. So I nailed all of my key sessions on the road and everything else was done water running in the pool. Then, for the past month, in an effort to get completely healthy for IM Australia, I alternated one week water running and one week land running. To be honest, it was feeling amazing the week prior to Ironman Australia. But a marathon is not a walk in the park and after 18 years in the sport, I am still learning lessons. I have no regrets – I thought I would be fine – maybe a bit off pace – but I didn’t not think that I could not perform at all.

My swim was quite good. I got out nice and fast and felt really long and smooth. Apparently, I swam 52 minutes and change which is my best swim ever! I had really worked on my swim over the winter and sought out training partners whenever possible; that is the key for me to keeping my swim training honest and on task.

Off onto the bike, I felt awesome. I was happy with my cornering skills and my aggression – something that was lacking when I raced here in 2006. We had a major headwind on the way out for 30 km and then a fantastic tailwind on the return leg of the 3-lap, 60 km course. I was a few minutes behind Belinda out of the swim and also behind Melissa Ashton and Rebecca Keat. On the outbound leg, I could gauge where I was and I must admit to being a bit discouraged that I was already losing time. But I reminded myself of all of my great bike rides in preparation for this race and to have faith in my cycling strength. I also reminded myself that while I could not control their cycling, I could control my own spirit and my own attitude. Personally, I race best when I am happy and good to myself – so my focus returned to myself to ensure that I was being my own biggest fan.

I did continue to lose time over the remainder of the ride, but I can honestly say, that I rode very well and very legal! There was a lot of drafting out there and I did cross the line knowing that I did, in fact, ride the bike course myself and earned my bike time myself and on my own. I suppose you could say that I did not play by the rules of the day – that I should have tucked in and drafted – but to me, there is no difference between drafting (cheating) and taking drugs (cheating) – and those are two things that I will never do!

I felt fantastic on the final lap of the bike and I really dug in there to try to minimize the time gap to the leaders. I felt as if I could run 20 minutes out of the leaders if I had to. The running I had been doing in my preparation had been fast and so I started the run feeling happy and thinking positive.

After the first hour, I was on pace for a 3 hour marathon but I was not taking much time out of the leaders. I did not pay much attention to my time deficit. I stayed internal and focused on having the best run that I could possibly have. To be honest, my heel was hurting from the start of the marathon, but no different than it had hurt throughout my training. But after the first hour, I started to limp and then part of my leg started to compensate and that was when the trouble started. I had a huge internal battle with myself – I believe that it is important to take what you get on the day and yet, I also have to think about my professional career. And most importantly, I want to be running forever. I had to start walking – the pain was too great and the risk of worsening the injury was too much. I started a little walk with 16 km to go, but I just could not believe how slow I was going. So I managed a little shuffle for another 4 km until I saw Dave and he saw my little limping leg and he made me walk. And so the 12 km walk without dogs began.

Today was a great day. I did the best I could do. I knew I would have some pain on the run, but I didn’t think it would be as brutal as it was. Some may say I was stupid to start the race, but I honestly believed that I had rehabilitated it enough to allow for a good performance without risk. We never know what we are going to get when we do an Ironman. Sometimes, we have the races of our lives and we win and sometimes we have the races of our lives and we walk and we still win. I am very proud of my performance. Finishing today’s race was one of the hardest things I have ever done. But finishing any task is what we all learned from our moms and dads.

Now it is time for some serious non running time and healing. I have no doubt that I will there in Kona – healthy and running fast!

Thanks for cheering.


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