I was watching a video about Ian Thorpe, and the interviewer was asking how it felt to have so much pressure on him from the Australian people to perform well and medal at the Sydney Olympics. I loved his answer. He talked about how if he took it negatively, then all the people wanting him to win was pressure. But if he looked at it positively, he realized how many people he had supporting him. Pressure vs Support. Such a simple little trick of the mind!
Like many people, I put pressure on myself. That’s probably the case for most adults who have a reality that includes outside pressure, like professional athletes. I mean, sure, some children get a lot of pressure put on them to do well in Little League, and as they grow there’s pressure to get into a good university and such. I’ve read of people who feel pressure to present a certain image of themselves on social media, but I think those people are monetized, and have more than 12 people following them on Twitter. (By the way, do you follow me on Twitter? It would be nice if I could crack into the 20s…. just saying!) I can’t imagine I have some random Instagram follower who sits around, fervently “expecting” me to do well at my hobby. So until such time as I become a social media maven, I put the pressure on myself to be good at the things I do. The best example I can think of offhand is video games. J likes to play games, and he’s been playing forever, so at least to my observation he seems quite good. Yet even though it could be something we could do together, I don’t play video games, because I find it really unpleasant to be so bad at them. Triathlon is a different. It seems to be the one thing in life right now that I am willing to be bad at. There is no natural skill or grace happening here! Rather, I have a drive to get better at it, so in these three disciplines I am willing to look a fool in an effort to improve. Naturally I have fun while I try to get better. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Then comes the pressure snowball. It started out with a really reasonable goal of not wanting to be last in the race. I haven’t personally met anyone who is happy to come in last. Maybe there are people out there who are confident enough to be last place and they take it in stride and are happy with their awesome accomplishment of completion. I don’t have that kind of strength of character. Judging my overall self-worth by how I place is not something I’m particularly proud of, but it does indeed happen. I’m a slow person, and I don’t want to be last. I’ve been second to last in my AG; it did not feel good.
So there I was, telling myself my only goal was to not come in last. Without even noticing, “last” became “back of back.” It was really important to me that I finish in the middle. Suddenly there was so much searching of previous years’ results. What time would I need to come in the middle of the pack. Did I mean middle of the pack overall, or in my AG? I know roughly how fast my swim will be, but the bike and run are more up in the air. So much napkin math…. what if I ride 13mph, or 14, or 19? (Because gaining 6 miles per hour practically overnight is in no way ridiculous.) And of course, you can’t really predict these things, because it all depends on who shows up on that day.
The pressure snowballs even more. I’m sitting across from my brother, eating sushi, and I find myself telling him that I want to stand on the podium! Granted, I’m telling him this as a long term goal, many seasons away. As soon as I’ve said it out loud, though, it becomes pressure. Why can’t I be on the podium now? Because I’m too slow. Slow has become this filthy word. Slow is lazy, slow has no business racing, slow is worthless as a human being. It is really vicious, the things that go round in my head. If I ever spoke to another person that way, I would absolutely be demoted from the friend list. But to myself? Yeah, I say it all the time. This horrible pressure needs to stop.
J tries to help reign me in frequently. “What is the goal?” he’ll say. I pause, because just saying the word goal has my mind bringing up all kinds of things, from my swim time, to getting up the hills without being passed, to having enough for the run, and maybe…. just maybe…. “What is the goal?” he says again. “To get to the finish line healthy and happy, ready to train for the next one,” I say. It’s the goal I find myself dismissing as too small. Finishing is not a sexy goal. But is is the goal we came up with together, at the beginning of this whole adventure. My ugly cycle of stopping training a few weeks before the race has previously resulted in me pushing beyond my abilities come race day, some kind of muscular strain crossing the finish line, followed by several weeks or months (or years!) of feeling sorry for myself while eating cookie dough on the couch. This year the plan really is to enjoy this first Sprint, and then continue on to Olympic training for a September race. Sometimes I need to be reminded of that.
If I’m putting all this pressure on myself, then it is those around me that help me realign my expectations, and who support me no matter what. J isn’t the only one. My brother came out to cheer in the cold on a Sunday morning as I ran my 5k last month. My mom, like me, is a planner. She’s already asked what kind of signs she should make for race day. I sent her and my dad links to the course maps, along with some slideshows of race posters. I know my dad is checking those maps, finding the best places to get a glimpse of me as I’m out there having fun. J’s support is more of the daily variety. The water bottles are clean and filled. He tries to remember which workouts I do on which days, so when I come home he knows to ask, “how was the swim?” or “heading out for a run?” He’s appointed himself my bike mechanic, to include not only a DIY bike fit, but even a front derailleur adjustment. This is from a guy that doesn’t even ride a bike! I know that for them, my success is measured by the size of the smile on my face that day, not on any kind of finish time. How cool is it that I, a totally normal person, have a family wants to come out and watch me as I have fun? What did I do to deserve such fans? I am such a lucky duck, and I feel buoyed by their support.