As I have progressed through my training I have picked up a few things. I’ve learned how to stay calm during the swim, and in the case where panic takes over I have learned how to deal with it. I have learned how to best ride the bike course, how and when to eat (though this is an ongoing learning experience), and the basic rules of the road. I have learned how to get through a run when your legs will not move, when it is OK to push harder, and when it is best to hold back a little. I have learned how to deal with the aches and pains of training, the difference between “hurt” and “injured”, when to fix things on my own, and when to seek out professional services. I have learned how to motivate myself out of bed on cold mornings, how to gut through a long trainer ride when the weather plays a hand, how to get through a cold ride, and how to get through a hot one. I have learned what I want to carry is very different than what I need to carry. I have learned the difference between a bad coach and a good coach, and when it is time to cut one off. I have learned how to learn on my own and when to seek out the advice of others more skilled and experienced than I am. I have also learned that I prefer someone being honest with me over someone telling me what they think I need to hear.
So, one would think, with this experience that my opinion would matter on some things, and this is where I get a little perturbed from time to time.
I wrote back in October that when Ironman Chattanooga was announced and I seriously started thinking about signing up for it I sought out the opinion of my coach, because I felt she would tell me the truth whether she felt I could do it or not. She knows my weaknesses, and she knows the ongoing health issues I have, so when we sat and discussed it one Sunday and she said that I have the base, that it would be hard, but that she thought I could complete it, I took that as gospel and signed up. As most of you know, signing up for an Ironman is a big decision. You have to be mentally prepared to hurt for 17 hours … and that’s just the race. That doesn’t include the weeks upon weeks of training, the endless miles on a bike saddle not made for your ass, the monotonous of running (or walking) step after step. And it is hard to explain to the person who has never done it the amount of focus it takes on you mentally. It is also a huge financial undertaking; $600+ for the sign up, plus supplies, and travel.
So, why I am writing all of this?
I had been feeling a kind of … dismissive … attitude towards me recently in regards to this training issue. Now mind you, this is not the case with everyone. I get asked for advice from plenty of people who actually in turn accept it and try what I am saying to them. It doesn’t always work for them, we all know everyone is different, but at least they seem to listen to me and give me some credit for having these three years under my belt. Jennifer, Kate, Kristine, etc. have all tried things I have sent to them and some have actually had success, so I do know what I am talking about at times.
No, what gets me is when people have asked for my input, but when I give it totally ignore me. I really don’t mind when someone disagrees with me, as I have said, you have to figure out what works for you most of the time.
As I said above, I value honesty, and when I ask my coach, or anyone for that matter, an opinion on what I am doing, or if I am doing something wrong, I want an honest opinion. I do not want to hear “you can do it” unless they truly believe I can do it, so when someone I know enters a race like an Ironman with no races of any length under their belt my answer would be “yes you can do it, but it’s not going to be easy”. I don’t think it does anyone any good to be catered to. There are ways that you can be honest and not cruel. There’s a difference between telling me, for example, I am too damn fat to be considering an Ironman or telling me that I need to be conscience of my weight going forward.
But people in general do not want to know the truth do they? They want to be told that everything will be fine, that anyone can do this, that if you put in the time and effort you will complete the race with no problems. It makes you feel good, sure, but it doesn’t prepare you. We all have this conformity bias where we choose to believe the things that fit into what we already believe and disregard anything that goes against that belief. It’s why dietitians cling to the food pyramid concept regardless of the studies showing that it is wrong, or the reason “trainers” push products like Isogenix and Weight Watchers. Or when people complain of stomach issue yet fill their faces with Fast Food and CherryBerry. It fits into their paradigm so they choose to believe it works and they are helping people. Facts, and science, be damned.
This came up during my recent weekly call with my coach. We got onto the subject of swimming and I brought up a recent exchange (well not really an exchange because my input was ignored) where someone was being “coached” to get faster and faster in the swim in prep for their first Ironman this year. My input was, simply, the swim is fine once you get to a place where you can swim calmly, but the swim is less than 2% of the race. Spend your time focusing on the bike, and then the run (this was to a person who spends very little time on the bike outside … and it’s Florida). This then turned to an email we received at IMYO regarding the swim and how we deal with panic etc. My response was that we had a few swimmer coming on in the next few weeks that can address that directly.
KC, and then Jennifer, responded the same way …
“Why don’t YOU address it??”
This is when you need people like KC and Jennifer around … seriously …
KC responded “John, you wore a snorkel your first season. You panicked so bad you had to hold onto kayaks, and back stroke your first year. You know what it is like to panic, and work through it. YOU answer the question.”
And that made me think …
I am not the fastest in the world by any stretch. I have a hard time with the run and still have anxiety in open water, but I have learned a thing or two. I think some have dismissed me and my opinions because, well, because I am Fat and Slow. But when I think about it, most of the so called coaches in this area are not elite level triathletes. In fact one in particular can also be labeled “over weight”, so what makes their opinion and expertise any better than mine? Yes, they have a few years experience on me, but I have fought through more than most have, from age, to weight, to cancer, to now PsA. I know what it’s like to be in the back of the pack, and to still finish (as of this writing I have yet to DNF any race I started). As I often do I think to football and the men who lead their teams, especially the elite level coaches; Don Shula, Bill Cowher, Bill Belichik, Andy Reid, Tony Dungy, Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Bill Walsh, Chuck Noll …. etc. How many of these multiple Super Bowl winning coaches were great NFL players?
Oh some of them played … Shula and Landry played with the Giants, Dungy and Cowher with the Steelers, but none are in the Hall of Fame as players … and yet they made great coaches. Why is that? Because when you are not elite you spend a lot of time watching, and learning, and figuring things out.
Then there ‘s this other part of me that starts questioning why it bothers me so much. This is the ugly part of John, but in my defense at least I own up to it. What if these people that train half of what I do, eat out every night, stuff their faces with yogurt, and enter an Ironman with no experience actually finish and beat me while doing it? Is this what eats at me? That it somehow makes me more of a failure if I train my ass off for 20 hours a week and get beat by someone who trains less than 10? Does that invalidate what I do and raise up what they have done? Kind of like when I ride with a group at San Antonio … I have done trainer rides all week … yet I get passed with ease by people that haven’t sat on their bike in two weeks.
I know it shouldn’t bother me, but it does. I am human (regardless of what my ex’es think).