Hard Things.

When I think about 2017, I think about pain.

Not in a dramatic or "whoa is me" way, but in a more meaningful way. More of a reflection on the decisions I made to pursue hard things (discomfort) vs. pursuing pleasure (avoiding pain). How did pain - physical, emotional, personal - affect outcomes this year, positively and negatively? 

I know this much for sure: my greatest mistakes in 2017 came from choosing to avoid discomfort. Whether it was a quick fix, skirting an issue, retreating, a bullshit excuse or allowing feelings to dominate - this simple choice was never one I felt proud of. 

In triathlon, I followed a training and racing schedule that made me very proud (until it didn't). I trained (arguably too) hard, I chose to race the most competitive events I could find to see how I stacked up in an honest way, I was diligent and disciplined (until I wasn't). The first 6mo of 2017 were hard....in the BEST possible way. I was focused, confident in my resilience, and genuinely pumped on life.

Then....after a massive letdown at IM Canada and finally admitting that I was injured, I backed off and relaxed for a few weeks. Just as I was coming out of that, I got into a bike crash and entered this strange downward spiral of shitty decision making and confusion. Triathlon became baffling, my job was picking up steam at a rate I was unprepared for, my marriage was on the precipice of a potentially major shift (kids? or not yet?) and I didn't know it....but I was overwhelmed. I started to consciously avoid any form of discomfort and became self-indulgent. I was telling myself stories....that it was okay to party a lot and have fun now "while I can". It was as if I had given up on who I wanted to be (who I had been earlier in the year), like I didn't think I could handle anything. It wasn't pretty.  

I was having fun on the surface and felt liberated from a training schedule, the pressure of racing, and was blowing off steam because work was stressful. But it turns out, in this empty pursuit of fleeting moments of joy and irrational exuberance, I lost track of my foundation: hard fucking work. strength in persevering. the bliss of feeling used up. appreciating every moment with my husband and friends. I had unknowingly created all this residual pain. And here is what I learned as a result...

The physical pain of injuries is hard to avoid and reminds you that you are breakable, so don't take your health for granted. Simple. The emotional pain of working so hard for something, only to be letdown is part of life - what matters is how you respond, and the good thing about time is it passes. Your problems may not be around in a year, but your memory and reputation about how you dealt with them will be, so do not retreat. Then, there is the personal pain. Chris rode this roller coaster with me. He was patient, unwavering, and honest when I needed it. But I know it was hard for him too, and that is the only discomfort I wish I avoided this year. 

2017 taught me to never stop doing hard things. To pursue them wholeheartedly, and that will get my mind right in the process. The moment I retreat, rely on empty pleasures and quick fixes, I will inevitably create painful ripple effects.

Onwards to 2018, I am ready. 

The Start Line.

2017 has been a good year so far. 

Chris is having arguably his best bike racing season ever. His competitors refer to him as "the Cobra", and assert that his autobiography should be titled "The Guinness Book of World Records". I'm not exaggerating - check this out: Mikes Bikes Race Report: Copperopolis

We also have a roommate now! Our friend Chris Mocko moved in on March 1st after quitting his tech job to pursue ultra running full-time. Since then, he has burst onto the trail scene and snagged a few key sponsors (Nike Trail, Kodiak Cakes). Our little house in Mill Valley is quite the high performance training center and....Ridley is still the best athlete in the house.

The Coble-Mocko Household has toed the start line many, many times this year. While we've been fortunate to have mostly favorable results, we've had some rough days....and Ironman Canada was one of those days for me. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't massively disappointed with my race, it has felt heartbreaking. I have never worked so hard in training to prepare for a race. I've never felt fitter than I did leading up to race day, and I have never been less excited to race.  

Yes, I just wrote that. It's taken over a week to come to grips with the fact that I truly wasn't looking forward to racing. Usually I feel like a simmering pot about ready to boil in the days leading up to a race. I can't focus at work. I can't sleep. I can barely speak words to other humans the morning of a race. But this time was different. I slept 12hrs two nights out from the race, and didn't have any issues falling asleep the night before. I didn't feel different except that I was slightly tapered. Nothing was getting me flustered or overly analytical about the race itself. While I was putting on my wetsuit race morning I told Chris I was still having a hard time wrapping my head around the distance I was about to attempt.... 

As we were standing in the chute ready to start the swim, I wasn't nervous at all. I wasn't giddy. All I could think was: "well, let's hope my fitness gets me a respectable result", and that is a bullshit way to start a race. In retrospect, I don't even recognize myself. Sadly, the day unraveled into my slowest Ironman ever. I had a decent swim considering my lack of time in the pool thanks to a pesky neck issue. I started off (too) strong on the bike, didn't nail nutrition, had hip issues and began to fade around mile 80. When I finally made it into T2, I sat in the change room tent for several minutes contemplating if I should start the run or just go straight to the bar. I was mentally cooked, but I said to myself...."well, I can't stop now." 

.....and here's the thing....I've been saying that for the last 7 months. I trained hard the first few months of 2017 and snagged two AG wins at Oceanside and St. George, and a decent result at Santa Rosa 70.3. In late May, I went straight back to training hard, and focusing on improving my run. Around mid-June, I wasn't excited about training, but I was perfectly executing every session. I was gaining confidence in my fitness, but deteriorating mentally. I didn't realize it at the time, but what carried me through the training was simply thinking: "well, I guess I can't stop now." It was a fear of losing momentum. But momentum can be dangerous - we know this with the stock market, and avalanches - and the same goes for Ironman training. It warps your judgement, distances you from confronting the fatigue, and pulls you towards unrealistic expectations.

Since I started working with my coach Mike, I told him I want to show up to races and be able to rely on my fitness, not just my ability to hang tough and be stubborn. Honestly, previous wins mostly came as a surprise because I went into the race feeling under prepared, and this was something I wanted to avoid. I wanted to feel proud of my result, like I truly earned it. Not just like I happened to have a good day. Turns out, I over did it. I didn't take easy days when I needed to, and I showed up at the start line flat, already defeated. 

So lessons learned?

1. "I can't stop now" is a double edged sword. It can get you through a rough day or race, but it can't be the only thing that keeps you training every single day. 

2. Focus on the start line. The next time I prepare for a race, I will think about that start line. I will prioritize capturing that giddiness, that feeling of going to battle....and I will be damn sure I show up ready to go hard, not just hope for the best. 

(I also need to re-vamp my nutrition strategy, figure out what's wrong with my hip, and swim more...?)

ALSO, big thanks to my IMCA squad: MOM, DAD, MARGARET....you guys are getting pretty good at cheering me on during the most boring spectating event imaginable, thank you so much for coming. ERIN KLEGSTAD - I'm so sorry you didn't have the day you wanted either, but thank you for sharing those last 6miles with me. YOU are what make this sport so incredible. I'm calling you my #bloodsweattears sister from now on, okay? OSCAR for showing up out of the blue and cheering on your triathlete friend (even though you're embarrassed that you have triathletes as friends); VINNY and GRANT for showing up and racing so well for the Olympic Club - someone had to! My coach, MIKE McCORMACK ("M2") - I have learned more about myself as an athlete working with you than ever before, thank you for pushing me and for believing in me, I know this race was disappointing for you as well. And finally, CHRISTOPHER.....not sure how you put up with me. I'm sorry I was more the iguana than the tiger last Sunday. You're my hero, I love you.