Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Go with your Gut!

Over these past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about my “gut instinct.” You know what I mean – the part of your body/mind/soul that instinctively guides you from one point to another. The little voice in the back of your mind, a feeling, a sensation. We all have this to a certain extent. Weather or not we choose to listen to this instinct, abide by our gut feelings, is a completely different story.

And the funny/ironic part, is that we watch others doing battles with their intuitions all the time (movies and reality tv included).

The token blond, venturing alone down the creepy passage – directly into the realm of the twisted serial killer. “Don’t go down THAT hall you idiot!” We’ll shout. But to no avail. Forward she ventures, and as we all could have foreseen, gets hacked into teeny little pieces.


OR, the skinny-dipping, inebriated swimmer, heading out alone into the ocean at the beginning of JAWS 1. Only to get devoured by a (wo)man-eating Great White Shark. Lesson: Don’t get drunk at the beach, don’t get nude in public, and by all means, don’t go into the water alone at night. You never know what’s out there (or under you – cue the Jaws theme music).


But when it comes to our own lives, its much more difficult to go with our own gut instinct. I’m not afraid of dark creepy halls (well, within reason. I swear that at one point my family lived in a haunted house). And only people in movies get eaten by a shark… But we have that little voice in the back of our head for a reason: to protect us, to question what we’re doing, to prevent us from making a big, if not fatal, mistake. The trick again, is weather or not we choose to listen to this voice, to follow our instinct.

Trust me, I’ve learned from experience that sometimes the most simple solutions, are the most difficult to follow. Hopefully, we’ll learn from an event, and then move on with the knowledge gained.

Race bathing suit a little small? No worries – it’ll be okay.

Or at least that’s what I thought last summer. Instead, my butt cheeks were in full view for ½ the bike segment while crouched over in aero. And as hard as I tried to remedy the problem, the tightness of the suit precluded me from making the adjustment while racing in aero.


No wonder so many guys worked their butts off to pass me. The view must have been interesting (to say the least). Dismounting at T2 was a completely different story, as the excited spectators (including a few little kids), saw much more than what was appropriate. Butt cheeks and all.

So now when my gut instinct tells me that a particular suit is too small – even if it’s the cutest suit in the world!– I won’t race with it. Lesson learned.

This past month or so, especially after making a coaching change in the middle of Ironman training (weird timing to say the least), I’ve really been following my gut. While I enjoyed the other coach, I just wasn’t 100% sure about the program or his coaching style leading up to the Ironman. And if its one thing I’ve learned through training and racing – is that little bit of doubt in yourself and in your training will be detrimental in a race. I think that’s part of the reason why Timberman 2007 was such a wake up call for me. I had been thinking about a coaching switch for a long time, had conferred with Nathaniel and my parents, but had convinced myself that everything was okay – including my training.

It had worked in the past, so why worry? Why rock the boat?

And besides, I’ve never been very good at being assertive. It’s a skill that I’m continuing to polish up to this very day. I feared the conversation that would take place between me and my (now former) coach.

But still…. The voice in back of my head nagged. It just didn’t seem right…Two weeks ago, I called my friend Jen, head a great heart-to-heart conversation with her, and decided then and there to make the switch. To go with my gut: to go with what felt right, hurt feelings aside. It was really hard telling my old coach about the switch, but he was really great and understanding. It’s really hard for me to be assertive; to speak up when something doesn’t feel quite right. But I’m working on it.

And Jen is simply amazing. As good of a friend as she is, she’s simply an amazing coach.

And I’ve been a different athlete, nay a different person ever since.

My confidence has returned, and I feel that I’m really on a great training schedule. After last weekend’s 111.75 (dude – I’m proud of the distance I went, as it was my longest time in the saddle EVER – so my apologies for writing the number over and over and over again…hope you can understand!) ride, for the first time in my life I can actually imagine doing and Ironman.


So perhaps this gut-instinct thing really works…

I was tested again yesterday.

On my schedule was a mid-distance brick. Hooray! I LOVE bricks!!!

Specifically on my schedule, Coach Jen wanted me to ride outside. It is, after all Florida. Not exactly chilly (although as I write, the temperature is rapidly plummeting – down to 35 with fierce winds, the result of a violent cold front that passed through yesterday. Nathaniel’s helicopter flight was cancelled due to icing on the rotor blades.) – but cooler for this time of year.

Yesterday morning and mid-afternoon were completely different. The temperatures were in the upper 60s and low 70s, in spite of the cloud cover. The front wasn’t expected to pass through until later in the afternoon, but the threat of thunderstorms and severe weather was predicted starting around 1 or 2 pm.

By 9:45 am, I was spinning up the Blackwater Trail, my final destination still unknown. As I would be riding between 45-50 miles, I had plenty of options. The rolling hills and trails off Indian Ford Road and the Blackwater Stare Forest were appealing, but so were the open country and roads along Whiting Field, past Hwy 89, the peanut farms, and into Chumukula. I figured that I would keep an eye on the sky, determine which direction the clouds were skirting, and make my choice 6.5 miles up the trail when I hit the Munson Hwy turn-off.

A few miles into the trail, I noticed how the cumulous clouds were beginning to bubble up. Every few minutes, I would look over my shoulders, watching for the rise in the clouds, indicating the formation of thunderheads. As most of my readers know – I’m terrified of lightning. I’ve lost 6 of my 9 lives in a freak lightning storm, and have absolutely no desire to dance with Thunder God Thor again, thank-you-very much.

As I rode, I kept wishing, kept hoping that the clouds would miraculously dissipate. I had taken the time to drive 35 minutes from our place in Pensacola all the way up to the Blackwater Trail. More importantly – I didn’t want to interrupt my brick for anything, even rain. Thunder was different, as lightning meant danger. But rain, well – I could handle (my bike would get a bath… hurrah!).

But the way the clouds were building… it just didn’t look right. Something - which I couldn't quite put my finger on yet - seemend off...

I continued glancing upwards, to my right, to my left every few minutes while riding. Even though there were still patches of sun, the clouds had an eerily familiar look to them: no longer were they puffy, but they were beginning to really mushroom out, and now resembled gigantic heads of cauliflower. At that point, I wasn’t seeing the tell-tale anvil shape of massive thunderheads – but I didn’t doubt it would appear soon.

But it seemed such a waste… to turn around now…. And it was ONLY February… hardly a cause for concern… maybe it would be okay…. I could just ride a 2 or 3 mile loop up and down the highway….and then make a mad dash back to the car….but the stupid clouds keep growing… and the chance of severe weather was forecasted… even if its for this afternoon, whose to say that it may arrive a little early… is that an anvil?

At that moment I hit the end of the trail. The clouds were beginning to amass in all different directions, and while I didn’t feel in any immediate danger, I was really uncertain of what to do. I was a mere 21 minutes into my 3:10 workout, and already fearful of the weather. If I stayed out – it would be a long day indeed (spent worrying about storms, rather than the workout. NOT a fun way of spending a quality session, if you ask me).

However, it seemed like such a waste to head back to the car… call it a day…. And return to the trainer.

For Pete’s Sake – I live in Florida. I should NOT be spending lots of time, or completing my LONG workouts indoors.

I decided to call Nathaniel, to see if he was flying. Surely, helicopter students wouldn’t get sent to fly in thunderstorms, right? If I see helos, hear the tell-tale thwack of their rotor blades, then I know I’ll be safe.

Called Nathaniel – and got no answer.


His phone was turned off, meaning he was either briefing his flight OR flying. Which meant that I could probably continue on....

But something was still not quite right...

At that moment I looked over my right shoulder. It was as though my sixth-sense was drawing my attention towards a particularly large cloud formation about 3-5 miles West. Already, without scanning the sky, I could see a large anvil forming as a result of high winds above the thunderhead. And while I couldn’t hear any thunder or see any lightning, I certainly didn’t want to hang around long enough to find out.

Maybe if I went the other way?? Towards the Peanut Farm and Whiting Field??

A long glance in that direction confirmed the same cloud formations, minus the anvil.

It was then that I decided to call Jen. I knew that she couldn’t do anything about the weather, but I wanted her advice, her input.

Hi Jen, it’s Marit. How are you?”

Marit! Great! What’s up?”

Um. Ah – well, I’m on my bike…” I could hear her catch her breath, and then had the sudden realization that she was probably horror struck. How often do athletes from 1,000 miles away call in the middle of a ride? “I’m okay!” I quickly blurted out, but then plowed on, explaining the clouds, threat of bad weather, and anvil sighting.

“When in doubt, ALWAYS play it safe. Go with your instinct. You don’t want to mess with bad weather, or get caught in anything nasty,” she reassured me. I already felt relaxed talking to her, knowing that I wasn’t crazy for feeling the way that I did.

What about the workout?” I countered. I told her that I hated loosing time, not completing it outside like she had wanted.

It’s okay. Be safe – you can’t battle the weather. Drive home, and IMMEDIATELY hop on the trainer. I just thought that living in Florida, you would want to do the work outside. Just be safe, bike to your car, and finish the workout inside. It’ll be okay.”

We concluded the conversation with the usual good-byes and farewells.

It was really great hearing her input. She – my coach and friend – was telling me to go with my gut… trust my feelings. And there was NO SHAME in returning home to finish up the ride and subsequent run.

With a heavy heart, I turned around and biked the 6.5 miles back to the car, doing my best to keep my heart rate in the proper zones and so forth.

And wouldn’t you know it? On the return trip, the sun came out, the clouds seemed to lessen, and I saw a bunch of bikers heading up in the direction I had just turned around from.

I was this close (picture me holding my thumb and forefinger a millimeter apart) from turning around and biking up around Whiting Field and The Peanut Farms. But, as Nathaniel has repeatedly told me in the past, “Just make your choice and stick with it. Follow through. None of this wishy-washy stuff!”

Smart guy! Whatta man!

I ignored the sun, peeking through the clouds, ignored the beckoning of open roads and beautiful countryside, and concentrated on returning to the car safe and sound.


Well – if I couldn’t do my workout uninterrupted and in its entirety, I was certainly deserving of my favorite Margarita Cliff Blocks. And I enjoyed them thoroughly on the return drive home.

All the way home, I kept questioning my decision. Did I do the right thing? The sun was out… I swear that the clouds were thinning out… Could I have completed the workout? Was I being a wimp? Was I just a Frady-Cat because of one horrific experience? Was I going to live with this fear for the rest of my life? Turning tail at the mere threat of thunder – and returning home.

At least I have a good relationship with my trainer.

I got home, set up my bike, and was cranking out my workout within 5 minutes. "3 Men and a Little Lady" kept my company on the DVD player, and overall it was a great workout. I was still upset about calling it quits in Milton – but I had made peace with my decision, and was getting my workout done on the trainer. Yes, the carpet was boring to look at, and the room felt stuffy and warm – but I was safe, had another pack of Margarita Cliff Blocks, and was watching a cheesy 80s movie… what more could you ask for?

After the bike, I hopped off, threw on my shoes, and headed out the door for my 40 minute run.

I set my watch, looked up and…

Saw the biggest, meanest, most awful-looking dark and furious clouds ever. They were huge! No more white puffy cumulous clouds – no, these suckers were full blown thunderheads, reaching miles and miles into the stratosphere, their mass and fury blocking out all sunlight. Even though it was early afternoon, it looked like sunset (minus the plethora of colors from the setting sun).

It was eerie.

It was scary.

And I involuntarily shivered at the thought of being caught biking – out in the exposed open – in a sky such as this.

I stopped my watch, and just out of curiosity, dashed back inside for a quick check of the weather. It wasn’t raining (or thundering) in Pensacola, but as I was planning on completing my run outside near our place, I didn’t want to get caught in a freak storm.

When I pulled up the radar loop, I was nearly sick. I wiped the sweat off my brow, as I stared at the giant red blob over Milton and the Blackwater Forest. The Severe Thunderstorm Warnings were flashing, and exactly at that moment, The National Weather Service issued a Tornado Warning for central Santa Rosa County, right near NAS Whiting Field.

I immediately called Nathaniel to see if he was okay. He was driving home, away from the storm, and said that he would be home within 10 or 15 minutes.

After double-checking the loop to ensure that nothing wicked was in close proximity, I set out for my run.

All throughout the run, I was aware of the dark, furious clouds to my west. They looked horrifying, and I thought (somewhat panicked) of the cyclists I had seen charging up the trail as I was biking dejected to the car. I couldn’t imagine being stuck out in that, trapped by Mother Nature, petrified that with each clap of thunder, I would get zapped by a lightning bolt.

My heart went up, and I increased my pace.

After returning home and giving Nathaniel a quick hug, we turned on NPR and listened to weather reports. While stretching, I heard that there was an unconfirmed tornado that touched down in a Peanut Field in central Santa Rosa County, about 5 miles North of Whiting Field.

I know that Peanut Farm. Very well, in fact. I was planning on riding past it today, but turned aournd when I became too scared of the weather…

For the second time in only 45 minutes, I felt a wave of nausea wash over my body.

But I was grateful that I had listened to my gut, followed my fear, conferred with Jen (and left Nate a voice mail), and done the safe thing.

I honestly don’t know what I would have done, had I been trapped out in the middle of no where, severe weather threatening my very life. And I hope to God, Thor, or who-ever you believe in, that this never happens to me again.

I think this is an issue we all face. Sure – as athletes we deal with the weather gods on a constant basis. My heart goes up to my Northern Counterparts, dealing with the drudgery of one of the snowiest winters on record. And I know all too well, what its like to be stranded in the open during a lightning storm.

But push that aside

The deeper issue at stake is going with our gut, following our instincts. They are there for a reason – we just need to listen. Sometimes we’re way off: there have been times in the past where I’ve set up the trainer and done a grueling workout indoors because I thought it might thunder – only to have the sun shine strongly throughout the entire workout. BUT, there have been times, like yesterday, that my instinct made all the difference in the world.

And its only through my past experiences, my past mistakes, that I’ve grown to make these kinds of decisions.

So, will I venture down dark and creepy hallways when there’s a known serial killer on the loose? NO.

Will I swim, inebriated, naked, late at night in the shark-filled ocean? NO.

Will I race in a too-small bathing suit? Definitely NOT.

And when my gut tells me that something, even something as insignificant as the weather, just isn’t quite right, will I listen? ABSOLUTELY.

And I hope you do the same. Good luck! And Safe and Happy training!


BreeWee said...

Hey Marit, you can totally post your 111.75 mile bike ride all you want, it was THAT AWESOME! I am so happy you have a great coach/athlete relationship! Now if I ever hear you facing some nutty shark fear swimming naked at night with them then I know you are crazy!

Beth said...

Go with your gut - thanks for the great reminder!! It's SOOO simple to do but I think a lot of us still ignore those gut feelings. Anyway - glad you were safe! Have a great day!

Jen in Budapest said...

Great blog, Marit and so descriptive of your experience. Plus, you still got your workouts in even if it wasn't as you envisioned. Good stuff! I like your coach because she's also giving you the confidence to believe in yourself in moments like this. good stuff.

Beth said...

It has come to my attention that it just may be your birthday today so...HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARIT! Hope you have a wonderful day!! :)

Ness said...

Hey Marit, I'd take crazy Northeast snowstorms anyday over your hair-raising lightening! Glad you're safe. And happy Birthday!if it really is your birthday.

Mel said...

Good Post....How to deal with the unexpected and dealing with that gut feeling instinct....there is a reason we all have that gut feeling and that is our mind is telling us that something is just not RIGHT and could be danger to us or others...So I strongly believe in sicking with that gut feeling, to play it safe...
Happy Birthday and Valentines....geeze you deserve double presents :)

Courtenay said...

today is your birthday?! i hope it's a great one!

also about these swimsuits that one can also race in: is there a chamois in the crotch?! and don't you get major chafing from cycling in them kind of like riding with underwear under bike shorts?! i am mystified.

also i am interested in sending you a belated birthday card of sorts. what is your address?

ok have a great day!

Pedergraham said...

I'm not really sure what a peanut farm looks like, but after this post, I don't think I ever really want to see one. I'm starting the think you are like that Peanuts charachter Linus--only instead of having a cloud of dirt following you around, there is a big, just-waiting-to-happen thunderstorm tracking you down...

Marit Chrislock-Lauterbach said...

Thanks everyone! Go with your GUT, I say!

And Danielle - after my lightning experience, sometimes I FEEL LIKE there's a big thunderhead following me around.

I can't tell you how many trainer workouts I've done while living in FL for fear of thunder. Rain is okay - I love the rain. Its the other stuff. (You know that Florida has the most cloud-to-ground lightning strikes in the US? And NC is second... Wonderful).

No - the worst parts about these thuderstorms, is that they can literally pop out of nowhere.. very scary.

Next time I bike past the Peanut Farm, I'll take a picture. IN the fall, I was doing a few hard sets, and I kept rolling over debris in the road. Upon closer inspection, I learned that it was peanut shells. How weird!