Talking to yourself…

Last weekend, I had a break through athletic experience.

I was out riding with my dear training partner, Bryan, on Saturday morning.  There was a challenging 18 mph true wind and we went out with it at our backs.  Truthfully, we did not take full advantage of the tail wind on the way out and could have gone much faster with relative ease.  We planned to do 50 miles and one of our goals for the day was to minimize stops.  We took a brief refuel/bathroom break around mile 15 and then set out toward North Carolina to get in another 10 before turning back.  The twisty turny roads in North Carolina made for an interesting 10 miles out with occasional head wind, occasional tail wind and occasional “I’m-going-to-blow-you-sideways-off-the-road-like-you-weigh-nothing” wind.  Still, we pressed on and the scenery was BEAUTIFUL!  I even got to see an otter swimming along next to the road.  Awesome.  I LOVE NATURE!  I was determined to enjoy the new route and push the pace a bit so I stayed up front and did the pulling.

At 25 miles, we turned around and started on our way back.  We certainly weren’t averaging 20-22 mph any longer but we were maintaining somewhere around 17-19 mph, which was still pretty good with our twisty turniness.  But it got harder… and harder to maintain that pace.  I saw my Garmin dropping down to 16 mph and I pushed through because I refused to get down to 15 mph!  My effort level was… well, high!  The wind was so strong that, though I knew I needed to take in nutrition, I wasn’t willing to risk taking my hands off of the handles for more than a quick sip of my Accelorade.  Bryan and I rolled to a stop in front of Creeds, where and took a brief snack break since neither of us had been able to eat during the windy ride back.  We had 15 miles to go so I ate my figgy Newtons and a few sports beans and took off.

Holy wind, Batman!!!!  Seriously, I have never before experienced a headwind like this.  I was working HARD and I was going somewhere between 14-15 mph.  I know it’s the effort that counts but (and I’m sure many of you can resonate with this) I love me some numbers!  That being the case, I was really hoping to have a Garmin read-out at the end of our ride with a beautiful 18mph or faster average (previous rides had never made it out of the 17’s).  I started to realize how unrealistic that was and I began to kick myself for not really pushing it when we had the tailwind on the way out.  I shook that thought off and tried to focus on just giving it my best effort.  THAT is whenshe showed up.

“I-Can’t”-Courtney (heretofore known as ICC) was suddenly along for the ride.  ICC used to be a daily presence in my life.  She’s done an excellent job of holding me back from a number of pursuits, but over the years I’ve slowly beat her into submission.  She doesn’t come around very often, anymore, and I had almost forgotten how to fight her off because it had been such a long time since I’d need to do so.  I’m riding into this ridiculous wind, shifting the gears down, down, down and feeling weak for being unable to maintain a high cadence at a higher gear.  ICC peeks at my Garmin read-out and says “Geez, you SUCK!”  I keep going, anyway.  Then she says “You know, this wind is really bad.  I don’t think you can keep this up.  I don’t think you can do this.”  ICC is pretty good at making me angry at myself and that’s how I started to feel – angry… and disappointed.  Then she says “You’re never going to finish a 70.3 in 6 hours or less.  You’re just not that good.”  Thankfully, I’ve trained myself well enough in cognitive combat that I recognized my opportunity to attack.

I pulled out a handy phrase that I often repeat in my head during hard track intervals:  Dig deep.  And I did.  I pulled out that shovel, beat ICC over the head with it and dug into that place deep inside of me where I keep the little bit of extra energy I needed.  “Dig deep,”  I told myself over and over again, and I kept going deeper.  Behind me, I could hear Bryan having a similar struggle; he grunted loudly, motivating himself to keep going.  We both kept pushing.  “Dig deep,” and I went deeper and found that place down inside of me where I know how to push myself through misery.  “Dig deep,” and I found that little be of reserve strength that I needed to keep suffering.  Then, I told myself how WRONG ICC had been.  I AM good enough to reach my goal because I’m strong enough to be out there training in 18 mph winds when other people aren’t.  I AM good enough to reach my goal because sometimes, when I really REALLY want ice cream I eat Greek yogurt instead and sometimes when I really REALLY want to stay up late and read a book or go out with friends I go to be early and get quality rest so I can get up at 5:30 a.m. for a workout.  I AM good enough because I am DETERMINED to be good enough.

A few years ago, ICC would have won that battle, which is kind of scary since I’m not really sure how I would’ve gotten home.   “Quitting” in the middle of that ride meant being stuck out in Pungo… but I’m sure if I had been aggressive enough of a hitchhiker an opossum with a banjo in a pick-up truck would have eventually given me a ride back to my car. 😀  I think most of us have our own version of an ICC that comes up whenever we fear failure.  We ALL talk to ourselves, whether we’re aware of it or not.  The more aware you are of your self-talk, the more control you have over what it’s telling you.  ICC used to be leaning over my shoulder when I was doing school work or even simple projects around the house.  She is a nasty b*&$ch, that’s for sure, but I’ve learned how to counter her tactics.  That little phrase I kept repeating?  It took months to make it effective but because I use the same phrase, repeatedly, when I’m pushing my limits it actually helps generate a physiological response!  It’s sort of like Pavlov’s bell and the salivating dogs; I’ve conditioned myself to respond physically to a psychological stimulus.  I high recommend that any of you who find the need to “dig deep” use this tactic.  It’s most effective if you use a very short phrase or a single word and it should be something that comes naturally to you.  It took me a while to find the right phrase for me but “dig deep” finally came to the surface (ha) and I recognized that it truly resonates with my experience.  I’ve got to tell you, that phrase has never done more for me than it did last Saturday!  I’m not making this up, either… it works!  Kara Goucher does something similar at the advice of her sports psychologist.

So, be proactive about talking to yourself, otherwise the only voice in your head will be the one telling you that you can’t!

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