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Calgary 70.3: The Breakthrough

Measuring success as an athlete is a peculiar thing. Training data and little wins along the way provide motivation and benchmarks for fitness gains. But the undeniable verification comes with racing. Let’s face it: an athlete can have all kinds of success with training, but executing a solid race is really where the money is (no pun intended).

Optimism is a strength of mine. Staying positive even when things go awry and learning from each “failure” are virtues in which I take great pride. This season I’ve remained sanguine for the most part, but have also found myself adrift in a sea of discontent. Though each race has yielded at least one thing worth celebrating, the overall performance has lacked flare and fulfillment. That achievement taunted me just out of reach all season…until Calgary 70.3.

The dissatisfaction with my previous races stemmed from my belief that I had yet to bring my best ability to the competitive arena. . I believed that I could do better. In fact, I’ll even say deep down I knew it. Belief systems are based on various elements, and experience is one of the most powerful influencers. Because I had never experienced that breakthrough performance I kept dreaming of, it was difficult to wrap my mind around the intangible.

At one point during my customary pre-race phone call with Coach Flanny, I off-handedly threw out a run split goal that I’d mulled around in my head. Flanny didn’t so much as flinch before responding, “You can totally run that.”

“Um…I’m not so sure…I mean, you really think I can?”

“Absolutely. No doubt in my mind.”

I was incredulous. “What evidence do you have that makes you so sure? I’ve never run a half-marathon even close to that fast before.”

He later admitted that he had to swallow his frustration to tell me, “Just because you haven’t done something doesn’t mean you can’t do something.”

The holes lined up like Swiss cheese. For me, the evidence was lacking, and I had no experience to back up this belief; therefore, the possibility didn’t firmly exist in my mind. How could I overcome this self-doubt that continued to chisel cracks in my faith? It was time to make my race a mental test as much as a physical one.

With the flat, fast bike course (and cycling phenom Heather Jackson in attendance), I knew my strategy would be to slay it on the bike. I had resolved to ride harder than I even had before- to straight up TT the damn thing- with no worry of the potential consequences on the run. Debuting my new Blue Triad Elite EX only intensified the anticipation to let it rip on race day.

Swimming has come to be the frustrating little sibling of triathlon for me. Sometimes it’s sweet, companionable and even enjoyable. Other times it’s annoying and downright pisses me off. Fortunately, at Calgary I had a comfortable, fast swim, hanging on HJ’s feet for the final 500m or so. Swimming with someone rather than on my own bolstered my confidence and set the stage perfectly for the bike.

I told myself to just keep Heather in sight as long as I could, knowing that she’s essentially a locomotive on two wheels. It wasn’t long before she disappeared on the horizon, but my resolve didn’t falter. Oddly, I’ve discovered that my steadfast restraint on the bike can be my Achilles heel: I’ll stick with a prescribed power number or back it off if I think I’m overreaching. This time I did the opposite. Every time my disciplined brain saw the power numbers and warned, “You’re over-biking,” my conviction piped up: “GOOD!” If apprehension about the looming run crept into my thoughts, I pushed it away. This time I was truly going to take some chances in order to see what my body could do. Basically, I gave my conservative self the finger and throttled a little more each time she dared to doubt me.

To my surprise, my body (and mind) was up to the task. The course was just short of the standard 56 miles, so I can’t claim an official PR. But more importantly, I biked a higher normalized power than ever before- by quite a remarkable margin- and still started the run with vigor.

The dreamed-of run split discussed with Flanny the day prior didn’t materialize, but my legs didn’t crumble to dust either. I found myself in the mix with some strong women to chase and that kept me engaged. The mental boost from my triumph on the bike kept me fueled almost as well as CLIF Shots and elevated me to a new level of #runhappy. In true MFEG fashion, I finished with a spirited smile, made a little bigger by having conquered an internal competition known only to me.

Thank you Jason Hosking for capturing my joy (below)

What an extraordinary feeling: to actualize an ability that just hours before existed only in theory. Naturally this brings forth confidence that I’ve been lacking all season, but I have also had a revelation into my own psyche. My belief in myself is the key ingredient that has been missing from my race formula. It has taken a substantial (sort of embarrassingly so) amount of time for me to recognize this. I may have finished in 6th place, but Calgary 70.3 was a huge win for me.

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