Monday, June 7, 2010

The Power of Positive Thoughts

Entering my fifth (or sixth...? Is fifth-and-a-half a word? If not, it should be) - but I digress. Entering my fifth-and-a-half week of training, things are humming along. So far I'm not fast, I'm not in super duper let's race! shape, and I don't physically resemble the athlete that I was this point last year (final taper leading into Ironman Coeur d'Alene).

However I'm happy and healthy - and that counts extra. So there.

But the fast part, the in-shape part...that will happen, eventually. Especially after workouts like today's morning swim. Let me share...

Right now, my only training intensity comes from swimming. I'm still in base training with regards to biking and running, (re-)building that ever-important aerobic engine (CRITICAL, if you ask me). That being said, I still carry a bit of trepidation, afraid that if I push too hard I might get sick again.

I know - odder things have happened.

But still. When you spend half a year dealing with one illness after another, taking extra precaution is second nature. Suffice to say, I'm being extra careful, and trying to not do anything stupid.

And it's easy - in the middle of a tough set, when my lungs feel like they're about to burst, my shoulders feel like lead, and the feet that I'm trying to stay connected to seem to slip further ahead and I can't keep up - to wonder if I'm feeling bad because I'm coming down with something...because my immunity is weak...or if it's because I'm working my way back into being in shape.


At the end of the day, I know that the best person to judge this, is ME. But trust me, when I'm this close to falling off the back of our lane train, and sitting out for 50 meters (while the rest of the lane keeps going) is akin to a GIANT piece of sheet cake - it's tough. Because in those moments, that wall looks pretty tempting, and thoughts of "preparing myself for the next set" are tantalizing.

So, all I'm saying - is that I'm flexible. Willing to STOP if something doesn't feel right, but also willing to work my rear-end off when I can.

Enter: The Power of Positive Thoughts.

A few weeks ago - during my first or second swim post pneumonia - Jen's workout instructions included a note to swim 500, alternating 50s with negative thoughts, followed by positive thoughts. And yes, I've done plenty of training (and racing!) using positive thinking to make myself feel better, perform better - and even trick my body into believing that I'm feeling GREAT (final 8 miles of IM CDA - I grinned like a fool trying to make myself believe the power of my positive mental thought was stronger than my failing quads. It worked. And within five steps of finishing, my legs seized up and I couldn't walk).

But I can't remember the last time I deliberately forced myself to think negatively while training. Lord knows, I've spent enough time in therapy retraining myself to think positively, to break down negative thoughts into positive ones. And...yadda yadda yadda.

During the exercise, though - I only lasted for one 50, instead of the five that she had wanted. One was enough to get the point: our negative thoughts have a MOST DEFINITE impact on our actions, performance, and behaviors. It doesn't take a PhD to teach you that. But 50 meters - where I told myself that my swimming sucked, that my strokes were choppy, that I looked like a beached whale flopping in the water - was enough to leave my physically slower in the water, discouraged, and ticked off at Jen.

Lesson learned - thank you coach!

Oh, and sorry for the four-letter-words associated with your name. I could not help myself.

Ever since that workout though, I've made an extra effort to reinforce my training with positive self-talk. Even when running slowly up a hill (I AM RUNNING UP A HILL! I AM DOING GREAT!), even while my heart rate reaches zone 18z biking up a hill (I'M NOT DEAD YET! I AM DOING GREAT!), even when I can barely hang on during a swim set (I AM HANGING ON! I AM DOING GREAT!)- the positive self-talk is great.

Today's swim session was hard. And I knew we were in trouble when at the beginning of the main set, our lane leader strapped on fins, turned to me and remarked, "I'm leaving after the 200..."


So I turned to Kelly just as she turned to me, and I remarked, "I'll lead number 3, if you do number 4." Indeed, the two of us would prevail - through thick and thin, through the inevitable pain that awaited.

The first two sets passed in a blur, and I was only slightly panicked as I set out for set number three. I can't remember the last time I lead any sort of Master's workout, and even though our lane had dwindled from three to two (including yours truly), I was a little nervous that I wouldn't make the send off. Yes - it was close...and definitely uncomfortable...and during the FAST 300, I seriously questioned how the hell I was going to get through the 800 meters of set #4.

But I pushed those thoughts aside, and focused on the things I could control. Myself - right here, right now. Stroke by stroke, turn by turn, we made our way through the set and finished exactly where we were supposed to.

The effort, though, had left me frazzled. Tired, nervous for our final set, and seriously contemplating sitting out a 50 or 100...

...It would be so're still can do it during the second or third 100....just a 50...catch your will get you ready and you'll be faster for the final's just a 50....

I didn't know how I would do it.

But...I did.

(Like with anything that seems so far away, so out of reach - if you fixate too much on the end destination - Thanksgiving, for example - those 5.5 months feel like forever. But, if you take it day-by-day, week-by-week and not think too much about turkey, cranberries, stuffing, and pumpkin pie - the day will eventually arrive. And then we celebrate! I think that's the biggest lesson I learned from Ironman - 140.6 miles seems impossible. BUT...step by step, we get to the end.)

*I can only say the extra food thoughts are because I'm training again. Mmmmm....stuffing....mmmmmmmm......

Ignoring the sets that were ahead, my goal became twofold: 1) tackle ONE SET AT A TIME 2) STAY POSITIVE. Even if I finished with only a few seconds of rest on the wall before starting the next set, that would be OK. I was doing it! I could! I was! I am!! I CAN!!!

And yes, the 4 X 100 was painful...and even though I was given the benefit of a draft (and the rest interval was increasing by :05 per 100), I barely made the send off. But...I did make them.

The final 100 before the FAST 400, I told myself that - in spite of feeling tired and coming in just before the send-offs, I was setting myself up GREAT to really rock the 400. And then I shut off my mind and swam my guts out.

It wasn't easy - but the rewarding things in life rarely are. There were times when I wasn't sure if I was even remotely close to Kelly's feet, but with each flip turn I made sure to BLAST off the wall, streamline as long as my lungs could hold, and pull myself forward with powerful stroke after powerful stroke. The first 200 was lonely, and even though I didn't think I was keeping pace - I NEVER GAVE UP. And with about 150 meters left to go, suddenly I noticed the presence of more and more bubbles and I knew that I was doing it, that I was holding on.

I don't remember much about the final 100 - I'm sure that my form resembled that beached whale, and my turns were less streamlined than I would have liked. However, the one thing I remember was thinking, "YOU ARE DOING GREAT YOU ARE DOING IT YOU ARE DOING GREAT!"

The positive thoughts....when everything else was lost, when I was on the verge of peeing myself because the effort was so tough - I turned to positive thinking to get me through. And it did. And there's no doubt in my mind that positive thinking isn't confined solely to the world of triathlon. When we set our minds to it, we can achieve great things - of that, I am sure.

If I can do it - five and a half weeks of training post-pneumonia - so can you. Enjoy the practice, enjoy the feeling, enjoy the success my friends.


San said...

You are right.

I just read a book about controlling your own thoughts and one thing that really got too me, is that to achieve a goal you must be abled to visualize it.

That was/is my problem I can't imagine myself running lightly for miles without sounding like a steam engine. So I never got to the point where running gets easy. I'm working on it though.

Same goes for the womanly me. I never could imagine myself as a successfull business woman in pencil skirt and High Heels. I can do so now and I am changing slowly towards it and believing into myself. It still feels a bit unusal but I do my best.

I love this weeks photo of you at rehearsal. Wonderful picture.

Enjoy your day.


Molly said...

Totally cracking up at "I'm not dead yet!" (love me some Monty Python).

Anyway, you are right, positive thinking is so critical and something we all have to work on.

Kim said...

yes, great post marit. one step in front of the other(or one stroke after the next) thinking positive thoughts will get you through ANYTHING. you can and WILL get through it!

Jennifer Harrison said...

Yay! Great blog, Marit! I love to hear your enthusiasm come out! :) Keep on having FUN!

Bob Mitera said...

The number one thing that got me to the level of HS and college swimming I did was positive self talk. Hey, that sounds like a great blog topic. Time to hit the gym.

Bob Mitera said...

The number one thing that got me to the level of HS and college swimming I did was positive self talk. Hey, that sounds like a great blog topic. Time to hit the gym.

Aimee (I Tri To Be Me) said...

Great post! I am a true believer in positive self talk. Negativity can eat you alive, but if you turn it around and focus on the positive, it's amazing how things start to get much easier! :)

Elizabeth A. Rich said...

I know exactly how you feel about knowing your body and listening. We are in VERY similar boats and I too have to be extra careful... I think I have gotten a bit closer to knowing the fine line between pushing way outside your comfort zone in a good way and pushing too hard when you are not feeling well and getting stuck right back in that hole you just dug your way out of.

And yes, we have to be patient and positive! We will have terrible workouts, have to skip some workouts, have to say no to extra curricular activities, listen to our bodies, forget about the bad workouts and keep on moving forward one step at a time.

YAY for getting back into the swing of training and getting faster bit by bit!!! WOOHOOOOOOO :)

Charisa said...

Glad you are taking care of yourself and one day at a time and you are on your way!

Midwestern Dot said...

You sound so much like my dad with your 'positive thinking' talk. I'm an pessimistic person by nature and I'm ok with that, I would say I use constructive negativity to get my way through training, and it actually works most of the time.
Ah ah ah, before you start going into your 'but positive thinking is so much better for you' mode (as you can see, i've had this conversation several times)there can be no optimistic without us pessimistic! To each their own!
Seriously though, congrats on getting through that workout, you should be proud of yourself...I sure am, I would have sat a 50 out! Your comeback to the sport is an amazing one!

Beth said...

You are so right - the mind is so powerful, it's amazing what we can do when it's thinking in the right direction!! And it's GREAT to hear you talking so excitedly about workouts again! One day at a time! :)

TriGirl Kate O said...

Jen had me do the positive vs negative swim workout too and it really makes a difference. I've started not thinking ahead and just focus on the set at hand with a good attitude and it goes by so much faster and easier.

Just a few weeks till I see you in California!