Desperately seeking... The Athletic Powerhouse

Once upon a time, there was an athletic powerhouse. This athletic powerhouse would ride her bike, run, and even swim. She would train hard and push herself to her mental and physical abilities.

Reflecting on 2011, it's hard to believe that the athletic powerhouse I'm describing is me. I haven't raced this year, unless you count the Beer Mile of course! Many of you will not be surprised that according to my calendar, it's still April 2011. I visited a friend the other day and her parents asked me if I was still doing triathlons. I wasn't quite sure what to say.

"Yeah, but no, but yeah, but... "

As I sit here wondering where that athletic powerhouse has gone (and whether I'll get her back) I think about how the Athletic Powerhouse came to be in the first place. Not many people really know the story, so as I go into 2012 desperately seeking her, it might be a good time to reflect on the legend of the Athletic Powerhouse.

Regular readers of the Triathlete Chronicles know that I'm a back of the pack triathlete. My profile says as much, and I'm not being overly modest - my results speak for themselves. It's this status of a genuine BOTPer that leads many to assume that I branded myself as the "athletic powerhouse" because of little more than a healthy ability to laugh at my shortcomings. Others perhaps see it as a less than healthy symptom of self flagellation.

Both logical assumptions, and both are in some ways close to the mark. But there's more to this story than either of these explanations.

When I started out in triathlon, I joined a training group formed specifically for beginners. I had never done any formal swim training, had rarely done any kind of running or jogging, and hadn't ridden a bike since I was twelve. I'd never been a sporty kid - I have memories of coming dead last in running races in primary school, and of subsequently spending most of secondary school avoiding PE like the plague.

There had been a few contributing factors to my decision to take up triathlon; but it's probably suffice to say, it was on my bucket list. Given my unenviable lack of history as an athlete, it was no real surprise to me that I was the slowest in the training squad at everything. When I first started, completing any training session felt like a minor miracle and was perhaps right to be satisfied with this.

I got through my first couple of events - a 3k fun run before a sprint distance triathlon at Raby Bay - and to be honest, I was elated and astounded that I'd been able to pull it off. It was an achievement I'd never imagined possible, and I reveled in the satisfaction that comes from pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and succeeding.

By this time I was addicted. I bought myself a proper bike and joined the club's main training squad. I kept training but was still the slowest at everything and seemed destined to stay that way.

Over time my coach started seeing two things in me - physical potential to go faster, countered by complacence with just getting through. I, however, was perfectly happy. I'd settled comfortably into being the backmarker of the group. It was what I expected from myself, and true to group dynamics, it was what I thought others expected of me too.

Without even realising, I'd built a new comfort zone for myself - plodding along at the back of the pack.

My coach and I had many conversations about the situation and he encouraged me to try different tactics to overcome it. I started training with a heart rate monitor - not to restrain me to train within a zone, as is the case with many athletes, but to prompt me to train at a higher heart rate and therefore push myself harder.

At some stage we had a eureka moment. I admitted to my coach my fear of not making it home on long rides and runs. It was almost too simplistic to be true, but I genuinely underestimated my physical ability to complete each training session. With this in mind, it was perfectly reasonable that I wouldn't be pushing myself any harder than the minimum. I had no way of knowing what my physical limit was, as I'd never asked my body to deliver this kind of output.

I still don't think it was a conscious thing. There was some kind of inbuilt caution that prohibited me from going too hard - from a genuine fear of running out of steam. If I wanted to get past this, though, I needed to throw my caution to the wind.

My coach was a big believer in mantras and I invented the athletic powerhouse as a mantra to help me do just that:
"I am an athletic powerhouse. I will not let my mind limit what my body can achieve."

And with that, the Athletic Powerhouse came to be. And she was me.

Sure, I make jokes about the Athletic Powerhouse being my 'online alter-ego' (you can 'Like' The Athletic Powerhouse on Facebook and follow her on Twitter) and obviously I lapse in and out of talking about her in the third person. But there's no doubting that the idea of having an athletic powerhouse inside me got me out of that comfort zone at the back of the pack and led me on to finish ironman triathlons, a marathon, and even the odd adventure race.

She might have been a bit absent lately, but I'll find her again.

1 comment:

  1. oh I love the athletic powerhouse!!!! lots and lots! You go girl! Mwa!