Monday, July 22, 2013

Race Brain

Race Brain. It happens often during the week prior to an event. Luckily, I don't race all that often, so I don't deal in this kind of stupidity frequently. But when I do approach an event weekend, inevitably the important parts of my brain take a quick holiday. My abilities to do math, read, sit still, make sound decisions and feed myself go on hiatus, and I end up in odd situations, like standing in my kitchen, staring at the microwave, trying to calculate arbitrary pace per mile stats or applying for jobs on crab-fishing fleets outside of Anchorage, AK.

I haven't felt the shadow of the impending event on me recently. The taper has felt normal, complete with heavy legs and odd knots in my quads. Since we're traveling north (by car) for this one, I don't have any added "pack for the plane" pressure. I was all good, humming along last week and this weekend without a race nerve in sight. Well, I thought I was but everyone around me may beg to differ. But last week was fun, and I had extra time to be social - go out during the week and on the weekend and after practice. Then yesterday had to come along and remind me that it's time to start thinking ahead to next weekend.

Before and after our wonderfully funny team send-off dinner, I began the packing process. I remember packing for IMCDA three years ago. I was clueless, but managed to get all my stuff together. I vividly remember having to sign off of twitter for the week, though, because I was so overwhelmed with race chatter. I didn't want to read or talk about it - it stressed me out. My living room became a tornado of gear and clothes. It all got thrown in a bag - and off I went.

This time - because I am with a team that is very methodical and specific and plan-oriented - I have a different approach. I have a list - a couple drafts of it. I have piles of things based on days and workouts. (We race on Saturday, but will work out multiple times Thursday and Friday). I have a lot of gear because we're driving and it all fits, so why not pack extra.

And so I sit and stare at this list that says things like, "Buy rice" and all I can think is, "Where do I get rice from? How does someone 'buy rice' as my list is suggesting that I do?" And suddenly I'm once again an amoeba of a being who, instead of understanding our national currency system and the logistics of a grocery store, chews on the dollar bills because they feel funny in your mouth.

So I let my stress level - or, ants in my pants, as my friend calls it - rise. And in reaction, I turn my brain to something else completely random in avoidance. ("I could be a lumberjack. I like to be outside.") And the stress subsides. And then I turn back to the task at hand, which still hasn't gotten accomplished because of the mental ebb and flow that's been tidaling inside my head.

The coaches provided race notes and an itinerary for the weekend, which I read through this morning. Some people are comforted by knowing how a course is laid out (exact aid stations, hills, hot stretches, etc.) I'm finding out I am not one of these people. I like to know the macro view - where's the big hills? About how many miles to the aid station? What are they serving there? But reading through an extremely thorough (bravo to the coaches who compiled this!) description of the course did not do well for my race brain. I don't want to anticipate tough stretches because optimistically I hope that I won't have too many of them. I'm not being naive to think they won't happen. But I'd rather try to turn my focus on all the good that can happen instead of the suck.

In the moments I rise out of my own head and garner some perspective, I'm able to appreciate this experience (this season, this week, Saturday) for what it has been and will be for me. Keeping my expectations in check is something I've managed all season. I didn't train with individual improvement in mind. I trained with this group to learn how to coach swimming and biking and the entire trifecta together. That goal I think I achieved, and there is no medal or finish line for it. Saturday is for fun and a celebration of not only the training we've all done, but the fundraising impact we've made. Over $450,000 our team raised for LLS. I won't win, but as long as I finish, then I won't call it a disappointment. I'll think of my friends, my friend, one of my heroes Fern (@sitbones) and all the choices I've made in life that have lead me to sitting on that bicycle seat for many, many hours. I look forward to the challenge and hope it's not too painful. But when the day drags on and my legs hurt or I'm low on energy and spirit, I can remind myself that it's just pain: it's temporary and it sucks. But it's just pain. Nothing new. Just that same old feeling to work through.

So hopefully Race Brain will recede soon and excited energy will take over. Full focus will turn onto the event on Wednesday. Until then, I have to use my race brain at work. Which is difficult enough in itself, and I'm considering bringing in this little champ as replacement for the rest of today and tomorrow. Not sure bosses would even know the difference.

Don't worry Goofy, go do your race. I goat this.

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