It's the night before the Shawnigan Lake Olympic – the first triathlon of the season – and my good friend Juliet texted me to see how I was doing:
"You ready? Feeling good? ... You are going to wreck the swim."
In case Mum or maybe a friend whose first language isn't English is reading and wondering about what she meant, Juliet was sending a huge boost of encouragement and basically saying I was going to do well in the swim. Which I was very grateful for!
"I appreciate the confidence you have in me – I really do! And, I will be very happy if I 1) increase the percentage of freestyle I do from 5% to 50% of the swim, and 2) come out of the water feeling charged and ready to hammer the bike; not nerve-y and scattered."
Our exchange made me think about patience and consistency, and how much I am really loving triathlon because it's teaching me a lot about those things.
Shawnigan Lake was my first ever triathlon, two years ago. In that race, I had a full on meltdown in the swim, 150m out from the start.
I've learned and improved a lot since then, and know – for starters – that a bullish approach to the swim doesn't work for me because the words don't match my reality when it comes to the water, yet. I loved Juliet's sentiment, but in my own head, I had to check myself:
No, I'm not going to wreck the swim. I'm going to patiently go at it and simply aim to do a lot better than last time.
That felt good because it represented growth in terms of patience and maturity due to experience. I've done a lot of work on the swim physically and mentally because for me the battle is indeed as much mental as it is physical. I've tried the muscle-your-way-through-it approach to swimming and know it doesn't work. I've found that the more pressure I take off of it, the less I try to control it, and the more patient I am with it: the better I seem to perform. I go faster and get out of the water feeling better in my mind and with a nervous system that is stable and in the game, not spooked and scattered.
So the silver lining in struggling with the swimming is that it's forced me to learn patience as the gains have been slow to come. It's also taught me the importance of consistency because I swim better when I'm in the pool every second or third day. And without consistent effort there's really no point to having all that patience.
Those lessons have shown up in other ways in both the training and the racing:
One leg, in the context of a race: In the context of a triathlon race, the swim is just the first of five parts: Swim, T1 (Transition 1), Bike, T2 (Transition 2), Run. Each part requires its own process, focus, and patience, because they're all linked. I can't let myself blow up in the swim because it's only a small fraction of the total race and it will compromise performance in the remaining legs. I can't empty myself on the bike – even though it's my favourite part – because I know that I get a better bang for the buck energy-wise on the run. And on the run, at least for the longer course events, you only really take it to the red line in the final kilometres. It's all about strong, consistent, effort and execution of your race plan. You gotta be patient and let the race unfold. And you gotta be consistently strong throughout.
One race, in the context of a season: Then that's just one race, in the context of a season, where you've got a whole series of races and you're building towards just one or two top priority races. Tomorrow is a 'C' race. Meaning it's on my training plan as a series of hard workouts that happen to be at a race. I'm sore from the last few days' workouts. It may not be my best Olympic distance performance. I gotta be patient as we build to the bigger goal of this season (my first Ironman). And not lose sight of the opportunity to practice executing race day protocol and getting consistently good at it, because that experience will help in future races. And heck yeah, racing it with everything I've got on the day.
One season in the context of many: And then, that's one season in the context of your life as an athlete. When it comes to triathlon, you get better at it the longer you do it. And this really starts to matter if you have big goals like qualifying for the World Championships in Kona.
Patience, Consistency, Triathlon... Life
What I'm loving about triathlon is that it teaches me about patience and consistency. I'm loving the process because there are no shortcuts. It teaches the long game. And there's something special about learning these lessons through physical pursuits. Maybe it's because you're suffering physically as you learn the lessons and there's something about that that makes it stick. I love the medium. I love the lessons.
Because patience and consistency matter a lot in life. Think about the crossover of these lessons. Starting early. Sitting in discomfort. Shipping work, every day. Having the patience to see something through. Saving and investing money, regularly; helping it grow. Learning something new. Success in all these things require patience, and consistency, over a long period of time.
And then there's investing in friendships. Raising kids. Building a life with someone.
The good stuff.