Monday, March 4, 2013

Tom Fleming is full of it

I grew up with the motto:

"Somewhere in the world someone is training when you are not. When you race him, he will win."
Tom Fleming's Boston Marathon Training Motto 
Tom Fleming: Great Runner but not always right

I loved this expression in high school because it gave me such motivation to train. Whenever I would feel tired or not in the mood to lace up my running shoes, I would remember this quote, and it would instantly drive me outside or to the gym to do a workout. As I ran, I could envision my rivals (some of them my own teammates) beating me. "I cannot lose to him" I would think to myself. "I MUST keep pushing."

This overly competitive attitude got and occasionally continues to get me into trouble. It drove me to disregard how I was feeling and the condition of my body, and instead overtrain to the point of exhaustion and beyond. I could not let go of the fear of losing and even worse being thought of as a loser. I needed that external validation for my efforts and therefore could not allow anyone to come between me a the podium. If somewhere out there someone is training to beat me, then I have to train even harder to beat him. Writing this makes me sound like an absolute jerk, but please don't judge me. I promise I have matured since my prepubescent high school days even though I still cannot grow facial hair.  

This mentality also sucked all the joy out of training and racing. Instead of training for the pure internal joy and pleasure of running, I was running for, or I should say from, an external and more importantly imaginary fear.

In my mind, my rivals were just like me. They would go for runs and think to themselves: "I have to beat Chris Hague this year. He has to go down." In reality though they were running because they enjoyed it. I highly doubt they even thought about me. Only I was freaking out about them and not the other way around. I therefore was stressed for no reason.

When illness or injury struck, which was bound to happen given how stupid I was training and how much I was stressing, the anxiety only got worse. Since I was on the sidelines feeling like crap and literally watching myself through my skewed mental goggles getting slower, more unfit, and fatter, it drove me up the wall to see others race circles around me.

Being partially sick this past week and still recovering from whatever horrible bug or influenza that I had has made me think again about this quote. As I lay in my bed coughing up multi colored mucus, I kept on beating myself up about not being able to train. "Everyone is going to get ahead of you" that little nagging voice inside of me said. "You NEED to get into the pool...You were slow already but now you are going to be even slower." The more I stressed the worse I felt, and the downward spiral continued.

In the middle of this fever, it finally occurred to me that this quote is deeply flawed.  The first part is true. There is undoubtedly someone in the world training right now, but when I race him (s)he might win and (s)he might lose. Regardless, both situations are unknown and thus uncontrollable and thus should not be part of my mental consideration or angst. If (s)he does win, good for him/her; his winning has no impact on how I perform. It is not like if I come in second place, 5 minutes will be added to my time. Moreover, if I try to push myself through this sickness, (s)he will of course beat me; there is no way I can perform my best in this current state. Doing half ass workouts will only prolong this bug and how bad I feel. The only way I am going to get back to full speed, health, and quality training is to get better. The focus has to be on me and never on anyone else.

In triathlon, there are only three competitors: you, your watch, and your own preset and false expectations...but that's just my two watts.

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