Friday, December 12, 2008

Sophomore Slump

I'm suffering from a mild case of Sophomore-itis. My second Ironman race is looking like it will be much different than my first one. I spent the previous 14 months training hard for my first Ironman, and I was focused on that goal like a laser. It was easy to stay on target for IM, I was scared shitless of race day. I worried about the unending pain, the heat of the Arizona desert, running my first marathon, and my history of dehydration. My confidence in my physical ability increased throughout the training, but even on race morning I knew there was a good chance I would end up in the medical tent with an IV in my arm, and a DNF on my record. Fear kept me going strong for 14 months - it's one hell of a motivator.

Today is the start of my second week back to training. It's been easy stuff so far, short easy runs, test sets in the pool, and a single ridiculously short bike ride on saturday. But somewhere along the way I lost my fear, and my motivation has waned. I still have goals, but I noticed that the nature of my goals has fundamentally changed. My goals have always been about proving to myself that I could complete something. Can I swim across La Jolla Cove? Can I climb a mountain? Can I complete a half marathon without walking? Can I ride my bike 100 miles? 200 miles? I always tried to be as fast as I could at everything I attempted, but that was never my focus. I was trying to prove that I could do it, not that I was fast at it. I'm not a world class athlete, and the idea that there are lots of people faster than me is easy to accept. I have never thought of myself as a competitive person - though I have some friends who might disagree!

2009's goals are a little different. They're less about completing events, and more about performing well in them. This is a radically different mindset than I am used to. It requires a more aggressive race strategy, and also more risky. My old "just complete the race" mindset caused me to think of a DNF as the worst possible thing that could ever happen. This idea leads to a very conservative race plan - save your energy in case you need it later. Of course I ended up tired at the end of races, but normally I felt fine a few hours later - or certainly by the next morning. This mindset also lead me to the most dangerous situation I've had during my triathlon career - I refused to quit on a 14 hour bike ride in the 120 degree California desert. Even after my legs cramped so badly that they could no longer support my body weight, I kept going. I eventually did call it quits that day - but I had passed the threshold of sensibility long before that point, and it very easily could have ended badly. With a performance based mindset however, things are much different. I need to "leave it all on the course", and I probably will take much longer to recover after a race than before. I also need to be ready for my first DNF in a race. If I'm racing on the red line, then my likelihood of misjudging is greater, and my margin for error is smaller. Is going faster worth risking a DNF? This is the year I find out.

So here I am, 1 week into a 10 month season - and I don't know what the hell I'm doing. I don't want to do anything, I'm going through the motions like a zombie. My workouts are easy, but I'm not doing them very well - even a 5 mile run hurts. I certainly don't feel like an Ironman. I've lost my appetite completely, and I'm only eating because I know that I need to in order to fuel my workouts. I went from training 20 hours a week a month ago, to only 7 hours this week - and all the spare time I have is boring me to tears. I started watching TV again, that evil succubus. I watched an entire season of Dexter this week. Spoiler alert: he's a serial killer and he spends the whole season killing people. Why did I waste my time on that?! God help me if I get sucked into watching the NFL again.

Here's hoping the fear returns. Maybe I'll find something new to be afraid of. Maybe the crazy weather and insane hills of Wisconsin will be enough to get my fire burning again. Maybe the idea of failure will drive me to the next peak. Maybe the threat of disappointing my coach and training partners will fuel me to excel. Or maybe I won't need fear at all? Maybe I'll find inspiration instead. I don't know what it is that will get me through my next 140.6 mile event - but the smart money is on me achieving what I set out to do. I don't like to lose.


Rachel said...

Chris, you are so awesome. Congrats on IMAZ and catching the IM bug. I'll be right there with ya'!

rocketpants said...

Might it be more like post-Ironman-itis? Maybe you need a little breather from all the focus like a laser training for a bit? Focus on the half mary in the spring and all that running you love. :-) And in the meantime keep looking for inspiration.

Chris said...

RP, you are correct that some of this is caused by the post-IM crash. Luckily, it seems to be wearing off quickly!