My entry into triathlon came way back in 2011, before meeting Kennett or even owning a road bike. I first registered for an iron-distance triathlon called Redman in Oklahoma. I put a lot of weight into the race. At the time I was dealing with undiagnosed bipolar II disorder. Most days my brain would be functional and some days I would even be hypomanic, getting more chores done and following through with more grand ideas than normal. However, with that also came atypical depression episodes. I wouldn’t feel depressed necessarily, but I would become extremely lethargic and the simple tasks in life would seem too difficult.
In those days I frequently worried that if tragedy hit my life, I wouldn’t be capable of handling it. Tragedy meant anything from one of my parent’s dying to World War III (I read a lot of WWII historical fiction books growing up.) In the back of my mind, I wanted to prove to myself that I was strong enough mentally. An iron-distance triathlon, which would take a lot of dedication and determination, was my solution to the problem of a finicky brain. If I could finish Redman, maybe I could overcome my mood instabilities.
When Redman came along, my mom and I drove out to Oklahoma City together. A few days before the race we went to the Oklahoma City Bombing memorial. It was another stark reminder that unfathomably bad things happen in this world and it again left me questioning whether I was a strong enough person to mentally handle such adversity.
I thought that finishing that race would somehow give me the strength to handle tough situations in life, but I was wrong. Getting diagnosed with bipolar II and learning the strengths and shortcomings of my brain was more important for me to be stable. Once that happened, I was able to train consistently because my moods didn’t interfere with my energy. Training regularly, whether it was for running, cycling, or triathlon, has been essential for my mental stability.
In 2014, I had my own major crisis when I was hit by a driver. While my face looked like Frankenstein’s monster in the weeks that followed, very few people knew that my worries were primarily about whether I could mentally handle the stress.
What I will say I’ve learned from these experiences, and many in between, is that a race won’t change you. A race is icing on the cake – a reward for all the hard work you put in daily to training. It is learning how to train consistently, how to show up on days when your legs are sore, how to go out for the run when it is cold outside…those are small moments of adversity that we all face as athletes that help build inner strength for the moments we are facing in the world right now.
The Ironman, trail run, or mountain bike race that you signed up for, but has since been postponed, won’t significantly change your life. The training and the mentality of being an athlete is going to be what helps you in the upcoming months. Be proud to call yourself an athlete and continue to get some training in. You may not have a race on the calendar, but each day you are building your mental strength.
Other tips to help you in the upcoming weeks:
- Listen to your body. Try to use exercise as a way to calm your mind. If you feel anxious, maybe use intervals to reign in the anxiety. If you are super tired, be gentle on yourself. You may be using more brain power elsewhere in your life at the moment as situations change. As someone who has an overactive brain during hypomania periods of my bipolar II, I can verify that the brain uses a LOT of our energy.
- Journal each day. I encourage you to journal both about what stresses you out and what routines you notice have stayed the same. For instance, today I was proud that we got our dog Maybellene out for a four mile jog and that I remembered to take the trash to the curb last night.
- Try to make your future self proud. If you are feeling depressed or lonely, try to do something to make life easier for your future self. This may be doing your workouts, or it may be making sure the house is sparkling clean before you go to bed so you wake up prepared for the next morning. This is a selfish version of doing something nice for someone else and feeling better from it. Another option, especially if you live with a spouse and you are in lockdown, is to simply do a chore or action that will benefit them. Marriages are going to be put to the test with families staying home together and it helps to be proactive. As my dad always says, “Do 80% of the work in a relationship and it will work out. Because if you feel you are doing 80%, chances are you managed to do the 50% required to make a marriage work.”
Not sure how to adjust training with races gone? Not sure how to manage the stress? Need some nutrition advice? Kennett and I are here for you should you need extra support with all the changes going on. – A
2 thoughts on “The Purpose of Being an Athlete”
I love your Dad’s saying! No words have ever been truer! As I read your thoughts about training, and races and that races were really the icing on the cake but the training is where we learn training consistency, I felt like I could apply that to myself with dog training. I train nearly every day with the dogs. I have attended very few competitions this year, but they clearly on ICING on the cake! My consistency in training, my ability to think about what to train, is crucial. Probably the one thing I don’t have as much practice with in my training is the mental focus I have to have for competitions. I would love to read more about how to train for focus! By the way, I am very impressed with your book Degloved! Congratulations!
Corie, a really interesting book about mental focus is Willpower by Roy Baumeister