Monday, August 15, 2011

The Mind. The Body.



by Bitner (bio)

A couple months ago I competed in my fourth triathlon. Definitely a beginner, but I made some significant improvements in my training that translated nicely to race day and I set a personal record for time.

Training for a big endurance event is probably the best way to learn about the power of both mind and body. Going to the gym everyday is something that has been an important part of my routine for several years, but there is something about signing up for a triathlon (whether it's the registration fee or just the knowledge that the clock is now ticking) that makes my mind concentrate at a new level. It dominates a lot of thought and activity. It's also a totally different training routine so my body changes noticeably. Aside from the boost in cardiovascular endurance, my muscle tone changes and I get very lean. One frustrating effect is that I lose fast-twitch muscle and gain a bunch of slow-twitch endurance muscle, which means that I can't get my body to move the same way during the occasional flag football game or a basketball game. Oh well, I say, part of the process.

As the training progresses my mind visualizes the race. What will the swim feel like? How will the transition from swim to bike feel? How should I hydrate and eat on the bike so my legs don't cramp up when I dismount and prepare to run?

I tell myself things like, "My legs are going to feel strong when I get off the bike. I am going to be well-hydrated."

The day before the race the mind somehow tells the body, "Body, you're gonna get your butt kicked tomorrow. Gear up." And I have the urge to drink as much water as I can handle. I have pretty big appetite. (check that, I always do.) But then the butterflies float in. As I gather up my things before I go to bed, I try to relax. Try to be calm. In an effort to go to bed early to get extra rest, my body says, "No sir, not ready to sleep yet." And I continue to envision the race. Race morning comes. It always does. I begin with a light breakfast and some G2 Gatorade, drinking as much as I can throw down. My buddies arrive and we pack up the Pilot, loading up the bikes. It's go time. After the hour-ish drive - I NEED A URINAL. Oh man! I have to pee! "This is good," my mind tells me, "I am well-hydrated."

[The mind is incredible. It knows that the body is going to go through some serious pain today and it's preparing for pain.]

Butterflies are back. Nerves are feeling static-y. As I get my gear ready in the transition area (I call it the tranny) a little doubt begins to form. "Craaaaaap! What am I doing here?! Why do you sign up for things like this?" I use the music to pump me up. Bob the head. Get a little swagger. "You're going to own this. You've trained your crack off. You got this!"

Soon I am treading water getting ready for the start gun. One mile swim. "Are you kidding me?" I say to myself. "We have to swim waaaaaaaay over there? And then all the freak over there? Oh my gosh, what am I doing?"

You can do this!

Gun sounds and the race is on.

[The swim is the hardest part for me. The dark water. The John Stockton-tight wetsuit. It's got me so claustrophobic I find myself hyperventilating.]

Doubt. Fear. Failure. Embarrassment. "NO!" I shout underwater. "You got this!" One stroke. Another. Breath calmly. There you go.

[And that cycle continues for the whole swim. It's brutal.]

"If I can just get through the swim, I'm golden."

Mercifully, the swim finally ends.

"Ok, hydrate. Eat. This is your time. Bike and Run you got this."

The mind believes. The body is following. Passing people on the bike feels goooood. I'm hydrating as much as I can. "I ain't cramping today. Legs are feeling great."

"Dude, that hammer gel is fantastic. Mental note: Vanilla gel is good. Mandarin - not's'much." Keep those legs going. Spin. Mash. Spin.

Carve my way into the tranny to change my shoes for the run. "Word! No cramps." [point to my legs, looking around but nobody's watching] "Ha! no cramps! I'm feeling good."

Run out of the tranny and continue to pass people. "Dude, seriously, why are you such a crappy swimmer, you'd be killing this thing if you could breathe and swim at the same time."

Whatever. Soon the first loop is done. One loop to go and it's food time.

[My favorite thing about triathlon is eating afterwards.]

Legs are burning. Occasional gasps for air. "Maintain the pace - c'mon!"

Pass one final person in the final sprint to the finish line. "You did it dude. You did it."

Thank heaven for a mind and a body. I couldn't have done it without them.

10 minutes later....

Wife: "Did you seriously just eat that whole sleeve of Oreos?"

Me with a mouthful looking at her defensively: "Wha-?!"

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