This past weekend I was in a triathlon (400yd swim, 15mile bike, 4mile run). I have been training with an actual triathlon coach (who also happens to be a good friend from college) since January. I love training. I love having a coach make workouts for me that are challenging and interesting, and being accountable to her. She is 100% challenge backed up with 100% encouragement and praise. I love that she tells me to do things that seem so very hard/ridiculous and then makes me feel like an Olympic champion after I complete it. I am proud of myself for how hard I have worked and stayed committed to the training. I am proud of how strong I feel and all the ways I’ve grown, that have nothing to do with physical strength. And while I love the training in and of itself (obviously, huh?), it has all been in preparation for the actual triathlon. But race day was kind of a let down. I didn’t feel like a rock star in the end or in the middle. Despite pedaling my feet as hard and fast as possible, lots and lots and lots of people flew by me on the bike. Some of them didn’t look like they were working nearly as hard as they were going fast. Some people were on heavy, old, grandma bikes with big seats and they were even passing me. When I started the run I still had some strength in my legs but yet again, all the people were passing me. Young, old, big, skinny — passed me. Seriously. All of humanity. There were of course lots of people behind me, but I didn’t see them. All I saw was all the people ahead of me. I didn’t even see me working my sweaty little tail off.
As soon as I got on my bike after the swim I could hear and see that my front brake pad was rubbing against the tire. It was so loud to me I thought that everyone passing me must also hear it. Instead of stopping and fixing the problem in maybe 10 seconds, I just kept at it…biking into the wind with my brakes on. Why did I do this you ask? 1. No one else was stopping to fix their bike 2. I was kind of afraid that I would fall off my bike if I stopped. So, I grunted through 15 miles feeling self-conscious, exasperated, and trash-talking myself all while working pretty damn hard. Have you ever tried biking into the wind for 15 miles with your front brake on? It’s no joke. I should have gotten a stinking medal just for that.
The key to balancing poses and almost all yoga poses is in the focus. You fix your gaze on something that isn’t going to move (it’s called a drishti in yogatalk); tethering your mind to it so that your attention goes inside to the subtle shifts that happen inside when you ground through your legs or soften your jaw or the many other little adjustments that help you stay upright with effort and ease. Without your gaze fixed on a stable point (like a speck on the wall), your mind want to look ALL around – at yourself in the mirror, your phone, your grocery list, the person in front of you, the bug you just noticed — pulling all your glorious & powerful attention away from your own body. When people are new to my class or self-conscious about their standing-on-one-leg skillz, they will more often than not watch me; thereby making me their frame of reference instead of focusing on their own body. Which just doesn’t work at all. That’s when you get wobbly and fall. And feel self-conscious and exasperated and start trash-talking yourself.
This is just what happened to me during the triathlon. I focused on everyone and everything outside of myself. I fixed my gaze on all the people passing me. All these people passing me became my frame of reference for how I was doing. And because I was really, really tired at the end of the race, I thought (exasperated, self-conscious, trash-talking me) that it was because I totally sucked. If all the people passing me were my frame of reference, then this is the only logical conclusion for why I was so tired and didn’t feel like the rock star that I had so foolishly thought I had become. I rejected me and this amazing journey of growth of development and strength. It was a serious bummer.
When I got home that afternoon I looked up my results on the race website. I was delighted to see that I had the fastest swim in my age group despite not having as fast of a time as I expected. My ego definitely loved seeing the #1 next to my name. And lo and behold, my bike time wasn’t all that bad. I did much better than I thought. And with my front brake on!? How fast would I have been without my brakes on!? HA! I started perking up. When I looked at my run time I honestly thought I was looking at someone else’s time. I had never run at such a fast pace. I had never run at such a fast pace and taken lots of little walk breaks while feeling totally defeated. I was exhausted at the end of race because I had my fastest run (by far) ever, biked a strong and steady 15 miles (into the wind with my brakes on), and swam for 400 yards like it was a sprint. I was exhausted because I had done AWESOME and was AMAZING, not because I sucked. At all.
During my Monday morning yoga class I was humbled and struck dumb with all the things I say in a yoga class (and have said thousands of times) that I totally forgot during the race. Next blog post I will write those out – there’s too many. Instead of beating myself up for ignoring what I know, I was just so crazy grateful for all this growth, this whole journey, and So Grateful for this practice of yoga which I learn more and more about all the time, on and off the mat.
As the universe would have it, the meditation mantra of the month is the word “Yama” which are the ways in which we behave in relation to everything and everyone outside of ourselves; people, animals, the environment. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice is perfect.
My next race is in a month. It’s a lot longer. I’m excited to keep training. I’m excited for race day. I will make sure to put on my yoga sun glasses to help fix my gaze on me and my own self, and slip in my back pocket all the endurance, humility, and focus I have learned. And for the love of all things, I promise myself to bike with the brakes off and not hold back!
peace on your amazing head, you.