On First Tries, Possibility and Outcome
Race day is on the horizon and I’m enjoying the lighter workouts that come along with the taper. The longest workouts of the training season are finished and the miles are in the proverbial bank. Tapering (the few weeks before a race where workouts are light to let muscles rest and recover) can be an interesting headspace as legs long to run and minds get anxious as race day approaches. Even if unaccompanied by anxiety, the taper always entails the reflection of a season coming to a close and I’ve been thinking a lot about the past few months.
No workout was skipped. A few were adjusted or shifted, but I didn’t bail on a single one. I’ve watched my nutrition and I’ve stayed hydrated. I’ve (generally) refrained from boneheaded behavior. I’ve visualized race conditions and rehearsed transitions. Now, it’s go time.
I’ve never trained this well for a race. And yet, when I toe the starting line on December 9th there is absolutely no guarantee of anything. Course conditions could be beautiful and my body could feel great and my nutrition could go according to plan and I could have the day I’ve dreamed about. Or, any one or two or three of those variables could be less than ideal and, well then, we’ll see. There’s a whole spectrum of possibility related to the outcome of the race, but at this point none of that has anything to do with what’s been under my control. What’s coming will come.
In The Champion Mindset, Joanna Zeiger describes four possible goal outcomes:
The road is smooth and the goal is successfully realized.
The road is rocky but the goal is achieved.
The road is smooth but the goal is not attained.
The road is rocky and the goal is missed.
She says that scenario #1 almost never happens and advises that “accomplishing a goal requires more than blood, sweat, and tears. There is also luck, timing and savvy.” I think the endurance athlete understands this implicitly. Training demands blood, sweat and tears, but the goal often demands more.
One of my favorite wise women, Elizabeth Gilbert, uses the image of a circus performer who rides atop two horses at once as a metaphor for her description of free will and fate. And while destiny sounds a bit lofty for the subject at hand, the wisdom holds. Here’s what she says:
One horse is fate — that which we absolutely cannot control.
The other horse is free will — our own choices about how to direct our own lives (and how we respond to fate.)
We are not 100% victims of destiny, nor are we 100% masters of our own fate. It is constant shifting of energy between these two forces…and you often must steer the horse of free will very carefully (but bravely) in order to keep it in responsive alignment with the more wild horse of destiny.
It’s a hell of a ride, you guys. Sometimes it’s terrifying. Sometimes one horse seems more powerful than the other. But it’s still the greatest game on earth. And there are ALWAYS two horses under you….and there always will be, as long as you’re still here.
You will ALWAYS have things that happen to you, that you did not choose.
You will ALWAYS have choices about how to respond.
This is my wish for you all: That you find a way to stay brave and focused and strong and responsive atop BOTH your horses — both the uncontrollable one, and the controllable one.
Don’t surrender into feelings of utter helplessness (if you are capable of reading this, you are not utterly helpless), but don’t get cocky about feeling that you are all-powerful, either (the world will correct you of that delusion soon enough)…but instead find your position of respect and curiosity and courage about EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS.
So cock your hat, everyone. What’s done is done. What’s coming is coming. Brace yourself and relax (Yes! Brace yourself AND relax AT THE SAME TIME; it’s an art form.) Make the best choices you can make in split-second intervals, make course corrections as you must, say goodbye to everything that is behind you, give a jaunty salute to all that’s ahead of you, keep galloping through this messy life as fast as the wind, be grateful that you are still here…and then?
In triathlon, as in pursuit of the great and the uncertain and unlikely and important, this is the work set before us. Here’s to a hell of a ride.