Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Tips For a First Year Pro Triathlete

It has been a while since I have had the time and experience to share my thoughts of my first year out of college and my first professional athletic season with the general public. It has been a year of highs and lows and what I have learned to realize is that I would rather live an exciting life of highs and lows, given the nature of my lifestyle, than to have a monotone but stable existence.

I will begin with my biggest struggle, that being the divorce of my parents and the ripping apart of the single stabilizing force in my life. My family is everything to me, and though at times I handle this trauma with a sense of acceptance, other times I become very sad and reflect on what could have been. This is something only those close to me know about, however, I feel the responsibility to help others who may be going through the same thing. The dust will settle, just give it time. I promise.
My first elite season began one year ago in the summer 2016, shortly after graduating Engineering School at CU Boulder. I had unrealistic expectations transitioning into my post-grad life and elite racing. I always had this belief that once I was done with engineering school, life would be easy, I could simply focus on training, and my stresses would go away. What I learned very quickly was that the real world is anything but easy, and the thought of "growing up" overwhelmed me. The real world has its own stresses and this year has been about learning how to manage those stresses and to find a balance between training to be an elite athlete while independently supporting myself, and being the best version of myself.

The learning curve has been and remains to be steep. I went from being a deer in the headlights on the starting line in my first major elite race, The FISU World University Games (which was a disaster), to breaking top 100 in the International Triathlon Union rankings, having a number of top 10 finishes at the Continental Cup level, to finally feeling like I could compete at the elite level and be competitive. I wanted to lay out a few of the many lessons I have learned and continue to learn. I cannot say I have found the consistency yet in my performances (mostly translating my pool swim to open water), but that too takes time and experience. The trajectory is overall upward, so I try to focus on that.

Some tend to be more confident or act more confident than others. An interesting idea my dad told me the other day was that if you are doubting yourself a lot, why not doubt your doubts? Your thoughts are simply thoughts, not reality, and that is all they are. If you can name them, you can tame them. This is #1 for me.

There will be good days/bad days but more often than not it should be a good day. Remember to embrace the process, for success is only a moment of success, a culmination of thousands of hours of work; celebrate the small successes and thrive in the journey. Meet new people, make new friends, and enjoy traveling the world!

It is critical to maintain a growth mindset, especially when working towards a goal, otherwise you will often feel disappointed or unhappy with yourself. For me, this is something I struggle with and it is critical to remind myself that each athlete has their own trajectory, so it is important to solely focus on your own process-related goals and to trust your coach's plan.

Allow yourself to feel the way you feel and don't fight it. Your body and mind are trying to communicate with you, so it is important to listen and to be compassionate to yourself. If you are tired or unmotivated, maybe you need to have an easier recovery session or take a day off. Listen to your body! This means especially to TAKE YOUR EASY DAYS EASY!!!

Having a positive environment and team is critical to one's overall happiness and longevity. Find a group of teammates, friends, and a coach whom you support one another unconditionally. It is on the hard days that you uplift one another and bring the best out of each other. You need each other, so compete WITH one another not against one another. Trust me, it makes the time at practice and outside of it much more enjoyable :) What's the point of getting on the podium if you have nobody to celebrate it with?! I feel blessed to have the team of people around me that I have in my life.

I often forget that I came from a tennis background and that I only began training full-time for triathlon a year ago. It is tempting to often look ahead at where you want to be and to become overwhelmed by how far you still have to go. Remembering how far you have come is a healthy reminder that your past improvement can predict future continued improvement.

It is important to eat a TON of food, even when you aren't hungry, no matter the circumstances, because this fuel is what enables your body and mind to recover and perform at its best. Give a car poor fuel and it will under-perform. It is not necessary to eat the "healthiest" all the time, for as an elite athlete, sometimes the most calorically dense food is what your body desires and needs.

Accept that this journey is not an easy one. Anything can happen on race day and you are allowed to have bad days. After analyzing the top WTS athletes (where I hope to be one day), it became apparent that they too endure the roller coaster of the highs and lows in elite racing. It is critical to move on whether you have a good or bad workout, a successful or unsuccessful race. This is a lesson I have had to repeat from being a tennis player because I never learned it. You miss a shot, move onto the next shot with the same enthusiasm you had when you began. Easier said than done, I definitely know :)

Last but not least is to never give up. I have learned more from my shortcomings than I have from my successes, and I feel that the bad days are what have made me a better athlete and more importantly, a better person. It is the feeling of returning to the start line after a bad race and overcoming, or returning to practice after a sub-par session with the same motivational drive that should empower you.

My season is far from done. I am excited to finish out the Major League Triathlon Series at the Final race this weekend in Cleveland. I am also looking forward to feeling settled at home and putting in a solid training block before some Continental Cups and maybe dipping my toe in the water for my first World Cup this fall :)

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