Fantasy vs. Reality

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Yesterday’s race did not unfold as planned. Who really ever plans not to finish? But, if I am being honest with myself and to you, the outcome was not entirely surprising. I have been battling lingering rib issues since the crash in November. The exact nature of the problem is still to be determined, but my rib cage is rotated and is therefore protruding and perhaps pressing on my diaphragm. I have not ignored this and have been seeking continued treatment. Biking and swimming have been going quite well with running lagging behind due to the breathing difficulties the ribs have caused. However, I have had to make changes to my bike position to accommodate my ribs.

I had been making good progress with my recovery and I thought it would be an opportunity to “see where things are” and to get back in the game.

And here lies the root of the problem. As athletes, we often live in a fantasy world that is highly disconnected with reality. My fantasy, this weekend, was vivid. I imagined that I would just hop into the race and resume business as usual. I was so wrong.

I awoke race morning at 1:30 with the worst pre-race anxiety I had ever known. I finished the night with a fitful sleep peppered with race nightmares and trips to the bathroom. My nerves were so rankled, thirty minutes before race time, I actually shed a tear (thanks to dad and Desiree for the calming words). The fantasy: the happenings from last year would not affect me. The reality: we cannot easily forget traumatic things from our past.

The swim was rough, but uneventful. As soon as I started riding I had an idea things were amiss. The wind was howling, making for slow going on this flat course. The cross wind meant I had to do a lot of stabilizing with muscles that were not up to the task. Power started dropping, the breathing became shallow, I felt like a vice was crushing my midsection. I even fell victim to psychological warfare and decided that I wasn’t trying hard enough and that I was going to retire from the sport (56 miles by yourself when you feel terrible is a lot of thinking time; lots of harm can be done when you are in your head like that).  I sat up for the last 10 miles trying to alleviate the discomfort. I called it a day in transition; I figured I had done enough damage. The fantasy: I could race the best in the world at less than 100% and hold my own. The reality: Am I crazy? YOU CANNOT RACE INJURED!

This very theme, of fantasy vs. reality is everywhere in the sport of triathlon. I travelled with my buddy Shane and we dissected his race on the way to the airport. He lamented that his average watts on the bike were low and how he started the run at 6:15 pace for the first loop and then dropped way off.  His fantasy, one that is so common and why so many people implode on the race course, was that he could average 10 watts higher and run 1:22. His reality: he is not there yet, but he will be.

And, while we are on this subject, I would be remiss to leave out the Kona fantasy. How many times have I had athletes call me for coaching with a goal of dropping an hour from their Ironman time so they can qualify for Kona at their race in six months? Or, how about 500 athletes showing up at the rolldown hoping that they will get a spot.

Dreams (goals?) keep us going, but a healthy dose of reality keeps us grounded. In my own life, I am going to try harder not to let fantasy overwhelm my reality. Have you had a fantasy vs. reality experience?

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