This morning I stumbled into an unexpectedly intense conversation with a friend who revealed facets I had never expected as we discussed a recent mind-boggling accomplishment. That conversation jump-started my brain and set it on a course of introspection towards understanding what it is that motivates me to attempt to to complete the goals I set for myself.
At the end of 2010 I found myself, for the first time in 10 years, lacking my typical motivation to train and race. It wasn't until February or March, when I caught up on all my race results that I realized how much I had over-drafted on my mental toughness account by over-extending beyond my typical too-much-is-never-enough baseline. I knew in November that I was burnt to a crisp, but I didn't know how to fix myself. I figured I could just take a break and cruise the 2011 season, and start racing whenever I felt like it. I was in denial.
I was also on the wait list for HURT and wound up getting an option to participate. I turned it down on the excuse of a minor hamstring injury. The real reason was that I just wasn't ready to attempt my first 100, especially not after struggling through a lackluster Honolulu Marathon, and double-especially not HURT, one of the most difficult 100's I would ever consider. Doing one of the 5 loops on the HURT course is enough of an adventure for me, two would be over the top and 3 would certainly lead to TBF (total body failure.) Five wasn't comprehendible.
Then I got accepted into Western States. That scared me a lot because I knew I couldn't turn down the opportunity I had waited 4 years for, and I knew I had to be prepared for it if I wanted to have a chance at finishing. When I paced Mike at Western States last year, I saw exactly how tough it can be. This was an eye opener because my prior experiences pacing 100's had been with Rod Bien and Iso Yucra, both of whom have this incredible ability to make 100 miles seem easy. Watching Mike struggle had scared me a lot. He spent years preparing for that race and it was still very difficult for him. I knew Mike was stronger in mind, body, and talent than I could ever hope to be. I started pissing my pants, metaphorically speaking.
It was January, while pacing Alyssa Godesky at HURT (which proved to be far more fun than I suspect racing it would be) when I realized exactly how low I had allowed my fitness to sink, mostly based on my lack of motivation to train and my denial of what was waiting for me in June. I knew what I should have been doing, I had plenty of opportunity and people to run with, but I was skipping out on those options, using every excuse I could. It was raining. It was cold. It was dark. Whatever, I was hiding in yoga class, unprepared to start preparing. I didn't know how to break the spell I was in, how to dig myself out of the funk.
There was a voice in the back of my head which I was ignoring. This ties into the conversation I had this morning, about how important it is to listen to that inner voice. For a while I was too scared to act on that voice, too unsure of myself, too intimidated, too proud to ask for help, whatever you want to call it. Watching Alyssa at HURT gave me a newfound appreciation for mental toughness, and hearing her excitement about being coached by my friend, Hillary Biscay, started the gears turning towards action. I began to listen to that voice.
I've only had one other coach in the past, and as much as I enjoyed the experience, I think I felt like a total f-up for how poorly I was able to follow someone else's lead. I was worried about entering into another athlete/coach relationship because I know that it would highlight many of my own weaknesses and I did not want to put a burden on someone else. I didn't want to empty my garbage into someone else's bin and drag them down with me. At the same time, I knew I needed help from someone, far more so than when I was racing ironman. I knew it would be more difficult for me to get from Squaw Valley to Placer High School than I could even understand before attempting it.
The most important criteria for me in a coach was attitude. I say that because my biggest concern for myself, based on my understanding of my weaknesses, is my often-times lousy attitude. I've worked very hard in the last 12 months to open myself up to new experiences, to accept things I used to reject like coffee and acai and actually learn to enjoy and crave them. For most people, enjoying these wonders comes naturally, but for me, I had to remove the mental roadblocks first. I notice this in yoga all the time, how often I hear my inner voice say "I can't do that" before I even try. This voice usually changes to "yep, you were right" as I tumble to the floor, but every now and then I'll hear a "wow, maybe you can" sneak out.
This video sums up my coach's attitude in a wonderfully succinct manner. I had casually followed her blog after Hillary's recap of New Year's. The catalyst for action ended up being this post which opened the door for me. I got in touch, we got rolling, and the fog quickly lifted, the funk departed, the foxhole was abandoned. I started running strong again, as David Kloz would say, I regained some of my mojo.
What is it about this particular coaching experience that fills the void for me? I ask myself that question all the time. I'm not sure I'm a good enough writer to convey what is so special about her, but everyone who knows my coach probably understands without needing any explanation. I do want to say that I think she continually rises to conquer ridiculous challenges, that she always brings her best, and that she never quits. Of course I can't sum up a personality in a few sentences, suffice it to say that I feel inspired by her words and actions in a way that allows me to challenge myself to reach higher than I could otherwise. One thing that was missing from my relationship with my first coach, back in my tri days, was that direct inspiration. Sure, I could watch a video of him sporting a ponytail and running in his speedo onto the podium at Kona in 1991 and 1994, but I couldn't experience that emotion in real time. I couldn't be connected to him in any way that showcased him as a vulnerable human or as a fellow athlete, he could only be a coach.
What feeds me in this particular situation is being able to derive inspiration and motivation from a coach who is doing what I do. After 10 years, we all _know_ what to do, when to do it, how to do it. Writing a training plan isn't terribly challenging, it's not even that tedious. Finding inspiration is much more difficult. As another analogy, consider the deeply religious. They've read the book, they know the rules, and yet they still choose to worship on a daily/weekly basis to further the experience of their faith. I want to feel that the guidance and leadership being given to me is based on real time experience, in the same way that a pope, priest, or shaman communicates divine inspiration in a modern context to his/her followers. I want to hear someone say "I struggle with this too." I want to feel the love of running flowing in both directions. I want to see the human side of my coach, to hear about the triumphs and struggles, and to gain perspective from everything above my own myopic horizon. In just a few months, I've experienced all of this, and it's made a huge difference.
There aren't many people who would qualify for this role. There aren't many people in this world who inspire me to give more than I thought I could. Krissy is one of those few.