The Window To The Soul
I didn’t race Ironman Texas this year. I was tired from last year and, having never watched an Ironman, thought it would be fun to go out and cheer for people. I figured I would even dress the part and throw on some Hawaiian garb to keep it interesting. It was a lot of fun, but like some races I’ve done, I had some nutritional issues. Cheering for 8+ hours with no food and only some beer and water wasn’t exactly brilliant planning. I won’t make that mistake twice. I enjoyed seeing friends, those I coach, and really just about everyone out there. Made some noise, shook a few cowbells, and gave a little advice here and there.
Which leads me to my story. Not too long after the race I got a few emails from a competitor out on the course that I didn’t know. Over the course of a number of emails, the conversation went something like this:
Athlete: “Were you a spectator on the run course at IM Texas this year? Would you have stood out from crowd in any way?”
Me: “Yep. That was me. Grass skirt and all.”
Athlete: “Basically I did IM Texas and on my first lap of the run course shortly after passing my wife and son and telling my wife she didn’t need to stay around because “I got this” which has a somewhat classic famous last words ring to it. I’m still having fun at this point and I saw a guy in a grass skirt with cowbells and I said “nice!” because in my opinion I’d be a tool if I didn’t throw some appreciation to a guy in a grass skirt ringing cowbells. On the second lap it isn’t exactly fun anymore and the same guy in the grass skirt decides to give me a 10 second on the move seminar on how to finish an Ironman. This seminar started with how my body language had changed and I’m staring at my feet (and at this point I’m thinking what do you know, go back to drinking beer dude). Grass skirt guy continues on with how I’m not gonna be able to tough this one out for another lap so I need to figure out what’s wrong and fix it as best as I can and that I need to stop trying to force it and start trying to think my way to the finish line and Ironman is a thinking man’s race. So in the course of 10 seconds I go from whatever grass skirt dude to now I’m thinking maybe grass skirt guy is on to something and I say “thank you” and meant it. I didn’t really know what I was doing wrong but figured since I couldn’t go much slower so I would try and do something different with nutrition. Grass skirt guy was gone before I made it around on my third lap.
1. How do you just look at somebody and know that it is starting to go bad for them. At the time I didn’t really know how bad it was getting.
2. How do I troubleshoot what happened to avoid it next time.”
As I told him, I’ve been doing this stuff for a long time and have learned both through observation and my own personal failures what certain poker faces can mean. In this case, it was pretty clear cut what was about to happen. This athlete had a game plan for his day and was sticking with it. Not knowing what to expect in a race like this, people start thinking that what they are feeling is just what’s supposed to happen. Or, they get out there with a plan and don’t learn when to make changes when things start heading south. You start getting this tunnel vision of sorts that can further compound the problem. The interesting part of this is that those on the outside looking in can often see the problems forming before the athlete knows.
And that’s the takeaway from all of this. Not that I am some sort of jedi mind reader (shhhhhh). Keeping a healthy perspective throughout the race can make or break your day. Take some time to step outside of your little situation to see what’s going on. Yes, you feel bad. Congratulations Confucius. But why? Are you still sweating? Is your mouth closed? Are you staring at your shoes? Hit the restroom lately? Craving junk food? Sweets? Have a sunburn? Sometimes a quick and honest inventory of the situation can change your day from a disaster to a success. And you won’t have grass skirt wearing spectators staring into your soul.
This story isn’t quite finished though. This athlete has a date with a certain race in Kona next month, and he asked me for a little guidance. Here’s to a great day when he gets to meet the queen. I sure hope she’s in a good mood.
Yes, wise one, the grass skirt was a fun portion of the race. Your beer buzz allowed me to take your advice with a smile and I am grateful. My story will have to have the next chapter somewhere other than Kona though.