This is part two of my "nuttier than squirrel turds" series, which details the most common anxieties that many triathletes and athletes in general, including myself deal, with and what to do about them besides reaching for the prozac bottle.
|Yep that's me|
For beginners, I think this anxiety arises from the fear of pushing themselves to an unknown and painful place. For more experienced athletes, I think what triggers this is a fear of not being able to hit expectations or having a bad workout. Our brain has a set image of how things "should be" and when reality fails to meet that, we get depressed and anxious.
For me this used to be a huge problem because I would psyche myself out before the workout and then either feign sickness or injury to get out of the workout or get so anxious that I would not perform to my full potential. My expectations were so high that it became a self-fulling prophecy. I would think that I could not hit my intervals/splits, and when I didn't, it would confirm this belief, which then set off a spiral of negative thoughts. "I am just slow." "I will never be as fast as that." "My coach is expecting too much of me" "There goes my chances of going pro." "The pros can hit these splits, why the hell can't I?" "I should be going faster than this!"
While I still have this anxiety, especially for swim sets, it has dissipated as I have begun to trust my body and not care if my splits are exact. My "Prozac" is to shut off my brain, let go of my expectations, and enjoying the process rather than focusing on the end goal. All I can focus on and control is my effort and the splits will be whatever.
Performance is incredibly unstable. It depends on so many factors like nutrition, stress, sleep, and recovery that it is impossible to set records in each one. Instead of creating a false expectation of what "should be," focus on what is and deal with that. I try (and usually fail) not t stress and read too much into every little bit of data. Just because you cannot hit your splits today does not mean that you cannot do it, it just means that you are not there yet today. In my mind, pushing yourself through the tough days and workouts help you more and make you stronger than really good workouts. They become obstacles that lead us our overall goal.
One great metaphor that demonstrates this process is the bathroom analogy. When we wake up in the middle of the night and have to pee, we gingerly feel our way in the dark sometimes stubbing our toes on the bedpost or running into doors. When we hit these obstacles, we do not give up, sit down and pee on ourselves but use them to guide us to our overall "goal" i.e. the toilet. There is no doubt in our minds that we will get there eventually; it just might take us a bit longer. Just as in this metaphor, I see myself with a bladder full of passion and love for this sport, making my way in the dark and not knowing the exact way, but knowing and trusting that I will eventually get there.
The workout that causes me the worst anxiety though is the dreaded "recovery," which I will dive into in my next post.