I recently saw a show on PBS that drew me in for multiple episodes called “Broadway or Bust”.  (I couldn’t resist.  Once upon a time I fancied myself an actress and I have a degree in theatre from Barnard.  “What does one do with a degree in theatre?” you ask.  Well… That individual becomes a professional triathlete, of course.) Back to the show…  “Broadway or Bust” follows sixty teenagers who have all won their respective regional musical theater competitions and consequently have received an invite to New York City for a week of dorm-style living and musical theatre boot camp.  During this grueling week the kids practice their solos, learn group numbers, get critiqued by producers and directors, and are coached by actors and choreographers all in service to one huge show on the last day of “camp”.  On that final day, the teens take over the Minskoff Theater (usually home to the “Lion King”), put on their production, and effectively audition one last time to win the Jimmy Award for best actor or actress.

What’s great about “Broadway or Bust” is that you get to go behind the scenes.  Not only do you see what life is like backstage, you get to see the most confident kids struggle with their nerves and even more intriguingly, you get a rare glimpse into the audition process.  The show lets you in on the closed door sessions where theatre bigwigs come together to whittle down this enormous pool of talent to a very few and then again to just two.  Your heart almost breaks when you see the director of the program cavalierly remove headshot after headshot from the row of kids still in the running to win the big prize.  Not so much because you liked this kid or that kid, but because you know that these teens will see this episode and will relive that terrible moment when they got cast aside.  It was at this point in the show that a professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, who was on the judging panel, spoke to the TV audience about rejection.  In summary he said rejection is a way of life for people in this industry.  It happens every day to thousands of wonderful, very talented people.  Not getting selected just means you weren’t the most perfect fit for that role on that day.  Should you stop auditioning?  No way.  Should you give up acting?  Hell no.  You go out tomorrow and you try again.  For if you dwell on the rejection, he contends, you will never succeed.

After hearing some harrowing stories from St. Croix 70.3 and Ironman Texas, I could not help but draw a parallel between racing and theatre.  Race day is like one big audition.  You rehearse and practice and rehearse and practice (and rehearse and practice some more).  Then you and a hundred of your closest friends all vie for the same spot and only one of you will get it. Only one of you will have everything come together just right, on that day, on that course.  And what if you don’t get the part?  Will you hang your head and retire your running shoes?  Avoid certain races?  Avoid certain distances?  I don’t think so.  The best athletes will learn from the experience and use what they now know to become better athletes.  There is no use dwelling on the negative for that is only a reflection of one teeny tiny day.  Keep fighting.

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Second Verse Better Than the First

DNF.  Those three little letters strike fear in the hearts of endurance athletes everywhere.  Months and months of training, planning, and organizing culminate in one race and the letters DNF will ruin the whole thing.  On Sunday, I DNFed my first pro race.  Just before the halfway point, after going through a particularly bumpy patchwork of asphalt, my back wheel felt “off.”  I was hoping it was just the gnarly road conditions throwing me for a loop. But, alas, when I pulled over, the disc wheel I was riding was completely flat.  As I started the process of changing it, I hoped that a sag vehicle with a savvy bike tech guy would pull up and fix the flat in no time.  No such luck.  I didn’t break any speed records while changing the flat, but I was able to replace the tube without incident and get back on a working bike.  Unfortunately soon after I pulled over, the four or five pro females that I had been leading zoomed past and more and more age groupers emptied onto what was now a very crowded loop course.  After passing the halfway point, I knew I had a tough decision to make.  Should I continue the race and try to claw my way back into a very deep field of professional athletes for only a few points or should I consider pulling out of the race, avoiding the very challenging run course in order to save my legs to race again another day soon?

As I weighed my options I kept coming back to something my coach told me on a ride soon after we started working together.  We were talking about her experience as a runner and her strategy going into a marathon.  She said that before she starts a marathon she studies the course and plans an escape route.  That is, if things are not going well, she has a place on the course where she can pull out and easily get back to her support crew.  Her logic?  Why compromise your whole season for one race?  When she told me this I honestly thought, “This lady is a crazy person.”  Pull out of a race?!  Pull out of a race voluntarily?!?!?!? No. Way.  Fast forward a couple of years and that is exactly what I did.  I finished the bike leg of the race (because why shouldn’t I get in some sort of workout) and after I got out of T2 I handed my chip over to an official. D. N. F.  My first 70.3 as a professional athlete turned out to be a very real dress rehearsal. And though I am disappointed with the way it played out I learned a lot and I know I made the right decision when I look at the bigger picture.  DNF…  “Did not finish”?  Or “Definitely not finished”?  I choose than latter.  Bring it on.

‘Twas the Night Before…

You know what they say about sleep before a big race?  It’s not the night before that matters.  (For surely that sleep will be fitful and interrupted and stunted by nerves just tingling at the surface waiting to mar your precious rest.)  They say it’s the night before, the night before the big race that matters.  You still have a little buffer before the big event and sweet sweet sleep bestows her graces upon you one more time before releasing you to pre-race jitters.  A few nights ago I experienced the uncomfortable uneasy feeling that I usually only get the night before a big race.  The problem?  I was more than two weeks away from race day.  (TWO weeks!). Why so antsy you say?  Instead of giving into the rest and recovery that lie ahead, I was focusing on “what if”s.  What if Leanda Cave, Mirinda Carfrae, Kelly Wlliamson, Jodie Swallow, and Caitlin Snow all show up at San Juan 70.3 (as they are scheduled to)? What if I have a bad swim?  What if I get lost on the bike course?  What if? What if? What if?  I was so worried about how I was going to perform, I could not fall asleep.

I recently read a great article by QT2 Systems head coach, Jesse Kropelnicki.  In it he describes where athletes typically put their focus and where athletes should put their focus.  According to Jesse in the focus hierarchy, goals should come first, targets second, and outcomes should come third (and last).  Oftentimes we reverse the order of things and become obsessed with the outcome or end result without mastering the first two items on the list.  The problem with that? Outcomes can be largely out of our control, especially if you haven’t worked on achieving your goals (like learning how to pace or developing mental toughness) or worked on hitting your targets (like achieving a certain swim or run pace).  If you work on your goals and targets first your desired outcome is more likely to fall into place.  Obsessing over how we are going to place or if we are going to podium is just wasting energy that could be channelled elsewhere.  If you focus on the process, not the end result, everything changes.  EVERYTHING.  I am so happy that I was reminded of this going into the 2013 season.  Bring on the journey!