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I Didn’t Come Here To Make Excuses

April 21, 2012

I feel like I’m really an Ironman-in-training now. I mean, yes, I’ve spent months of training building a solid base. But now we’re almost a couple weeks into our real training plan. There’s a different mind set now. A set schedule to follow, prescribed workouts to do, making sure to get enough recovery time in. Part of kicking off our training plan involved some baseline time trial workouts.

For cycling, this meant a 10k time trial on the trainers. Not much fun. For non-cyclists, that means 6.2 miles all out race pace with my bike hooked up to the trainer (a trainer holds the rear wheel of the bike and applies resistance to it so that you can ride your road bike indoors). But even worse for me, I can expect to do another 10k time trial in a few weeks. Right now, I’m still riding my old touring bike, the only bike I own. But I plan to buy a triathlon bike soon. And when I buy my new bike, I will need to retrial on the new bike. My coach said a few times that she was sorry I was going to have to redo my time trial once I get my tri bike in a couple weeks. She said it almost didn’t even seem worth going through it now, just to have to do it again. She didn’t actually offer to let me skip the time trial, but I got the sense she wouldn’t really hold it against me if I wanted to let myself off the hook and just do the time trial in a couple weeks on the new bike.

I’ll admit, skipping was at least a little tempting. Especially because I had a hard crossfit workout later in the day that involved a lot of backsquats with my body weight loaded on the bar. Doing the time trial would leave my muscles sore and make me weaker for the crossfit workout. And I knew I would feel it the next day. But I didn’t skip. The time trial was on the calendar and it would be good practice, even if my speed would be slower because of the bike I was riding. I’m not going to get to IMAZ by taking the easy way out. I’m not going to get there by making excuses for my training.

I think these sorts of moments are the closest we can get to training for the inevitable moments in a race when we can either make excuses or push through. Nothing in training can really prepare us for the moments in a race when things go off plan. In training, we have time to stop and adjust the plan, to optimize what we’re doing. In a race, we need to respond. But by learning in training not to let ourselves off easy, we can at least partially train the mindset of not making excuses.

For me, this idea “I didn’t come here to make excuses,” is particularly associated with one specific race. In 2006, I rowed with the Boston Bay Blades at the OutGames, in Montreal. In the men’s 4+, we got out to a small lead off the start and progressively opened a stronger lead over the first half of the race. But as we passed 500 meters (it was only a 1k race), another crew began to gain on us. And then the unthinkable happened. With about 300 meters to go, the wheels on one side of my seat popped off the tracks. The added friction would make it much harder to row (so much for “just let the boat glide under you on the recovery”). The shell wobbled for half a stroke while I regained my balance. But by then I had decided “well, I just have to push even harder on the drive, I’m not going to let that other shell pass us in the sprint!” And we held them off to win. After the race, our coxswain asked bow pair to row us in to the docks and I yelled “I can’t row, my seat popped off the tracks.” The coxswain thought I just caught a minor crab at 300 meters; I recovered quick enough that he didn’t realize the seat broke. Sure, nobody would have blamed me if we lost because my seat popped off, if I let myself off easy. But that wasn’t why we were there.

There’s no way to really train for a moment like that. And maybe in some dream world I can make it through Ironman Arizona with no unexpected snafus like that. But more likely over the course of racing all day, I will have at least one off-script event where I can let myself off easy and make an excuse, or adapt and push harder and keep going. Now of course, there will be times when you really can’t finish a race or make a workout. When I had to skip some workouts after my concussion last week, that was a time I really could not safely make a workout. But very often, the limits are self-imposed. Sure, my legs might be sore and fatigued from past workouts, but if they’re not injured I can push on. And every time I choose not to give myself that easy way out in training, it becomes easier to not make excuses on race day.

211 days till Ironman Arizona.

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