There's a special kind of stubborn required to put together a swim/bike/run effort. There is never just one wall, there are many walls, and the urge to quit can be more ever-present than the desire to finish. So what is your motivation?
I would like to think that I started my triathlon journey because triathlons are fun. And don't get me wrong, they are fun. Really fun. But when I started that was not my motivation.
Pain, that was my motivation. More specifically, to escape from it.
You see I had spent years wrestling with dark places in my mind. Like waves on the shoreline, as stress or fear or doubt would roll in, I would seek out a coping mechanism (as we all do). Primarily, that mechanism was distraction. I'm sure we've all been there. 'Keep busy' and the dark times will pass.
And boy was I good at keeping busy.
Then I bought a bike trainer. And I started spending hours alone staring at a screen with a bike seat rammed up my ass and, guess what? Distraction was no longer an option. Your mates weren't coming over with a beer just to watch you grunt in your spandex. My mind would wander and the demons that were easily muted by shiny things before were now there, staring me in my sweat covered face as I endlessly turned pedals in solitude. There was no where for me to go, and the demons knew it.
More than once dark thoughts lead to a shortened work out. "Oh I'll get it next time", I would say when my voice in my head would get too negative. Quit the bike, call a buddy, distraction to the rescue. But there came a time when "next time" wasn't an option any more. And that left me with only one: confrontation. It was time to stare right back.
I had to confront myself in those long lonely sessions. I had to go inside, where no one could save me from me. I learned to address the pain I suffered from on the inside with the pain I felt on the outside.
In the beginning, I would step off that trainer exhausted and walking kind of funny from the hard effort I just put in, and after a few minutes my body would release. I would grab a snack, sit on the sofa, and just feel the satisfaction in my legs and my lungs having crushed my session. And although it hurt physically, it was worth it physically too.
Then, and I don't know when, and it certainly wasn't overnight, the pain in my body started to meld with the pain I felt in my soul. And as my body pushed my soul pushed, and often one would push the other. If I hit an emotional wall, my legs would carry me through. If I hit a physical barrier, my mind would push me over. And as the exertion from mind and body became synchronized, so too did the feeling of release when it was all over.
For my first season, I would literally allow my mind and body to suffer together, so that they could release together. Honestly, that strategy took me far, both physically and mentally.
But all that suffering doesn't sound very fun does it? To spend hours and hours and hours a week in agony. And so while pain (escape) was a strong motivator last year, this season I set out with a goal of replacing my motivation. To substitute the darkness with the light, and to draw strength from the accomplishment and not the misery.
So far the strategy has worked. My mind games have changed. Before my hard efforts would see me turn to dark thoughts, fighting all the way. I would win, but at a high cost.
Now, my hard efforts turn to thoughts of pride, of accomplishment. I envision myself in my aero tuck cranking out watts down that endless desert highway with a big smile on my face, not tears like I would have last year. I envision myself ascending the steep peaks in Whistler, and taking in the view with a deep breath of cold mountain air. I envision myself crossing that finish line in a state of euphoria with an emotional release tied to expressions of joy, instead of reflective of a temporary triumph over sorrow.
Recent events have seen me saddled with a lot of my former sources of motivation; the darkness has returned and I am, in moments, so very sad. But where before my reaction would be to seek distraction, I now find that I crave the long ride, the long hours, the training. Why? Because I crave the confrontation which I know will lead me to the release.
You see, in the long hours, I have learned that I need not run from the fear, the hurt, the loss. Instead, through my burning legs and my tired lungs, I have learned to turn those thoughts of despair to feelings of hope and joy. As Peter Pan might say, "I've found my happy place" and, apparently, it involves a bike seat up my ass.
My demons are dark, and strong and fierce. But none are so strong as my trusty bike trainer. Head down, heart up, keep pumping.