“the ability to consistently perform towards the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of competitive circumstances.”
I recently had the chance to see Andy Potts speak. Andy, started with a recount of his journey to winning Ironmen and his decision to not race in Kona this year despite being in the best shape of his life and having the expectation of winning; a hard decision for anyone to make but even harder for someone in his position. His presentation was extremely inspiring but it wasn’t his advice on training that really resonated with me. For those of you who don’t know Andy has the reputation of leading his races, during his presentation he made the following points which have been key to his successes and contribute to his mental toughness:
- He could not have gotten where he was today without the support of a loved one (in his case it was his wife). He said that she backed him 100% and it seemed like they both were able to follow their athletic endeavors with the support of each other. Apparently she was a gymnast and then performed in Cirque de Soleil for a few years in Vegas (all the men in the room were green with envy at that point). I definitely am appreciative of Tom supporting my crazy endeavors. For the most part he stays out of my way as I run from here to there, taking trips and time off work to train. I do sometimes wonder if he is proud, thinks I’m crazy or is just glad to have me out of his way. It was during a recount of an IM Arizona story to my parents where he was telling my parents that I realized he was certainly proud. He was delivering the TriMonster tent to tribike transport after a day of spectating (another example of his support to my team). This was towards the end of my race and the last he saw was I was running pretty slowly. Well as it turns out I managed to pick up some speed in the last 6 miles, Katie called him or texted him. With slight tear in his eye he told my parents that Katie sent him a message “Gillian is hauling ass” you better get back here. Watching him tell that story confirmed, he was proud.
- He spoke about anxiety in the swim. Even he has suffered from this, I was pretty shocked. His advice here was to remember that “you are in control of what happens.” I definitely have a problem feeling like I am in control in the water. I just don’t have the swim confidence to push my way through. To my credit I did have one incident in Lake Michigan a few summers ago where I truly thought I was drowning. I’m not afraid to get into open water but the memory of how choking and the inability to catch a breath felt is still etched in my brain. Something to work on.
- He starts each race thinking that he is going to win and that it will be his best race. He was oozing with confidence, not in a bad way, he was definitely humble but still confident. This is something I really need to work on. I don’t have a lot of confidence, never have. I go into the race full of self-doubt, not yeah- i’m gonna rock this thing! Also, I’m afraid to put my best effort out there for fear that I’ll not have the mental strength to battle through when it gets really rough. A lot of my energy is spent managing my blood sugar, my first thoughts are not who am I beating or catch that person in front of me. My thoughts are filled with – Am I going low? Are my blood sugars high? Did I eat enough? Too much? Am I nauseous because I’m 9 hours into a 13 hour race or because my blood sugar is high? Why is my mouth dry? High blood sugar or just thirsty? Is my pump insertion still stuck to me? Is my CGM correct? It’s never ending and exhausting. I have plenty of examples where I have displayed mental toughness, whether it be battling cold Chicago winters commuting to work or climbing power line at the Leadville 100 race. I have proven that I can endure and suffer pain as much as the next person if not more yet I still doubt myself. I really want to have that competitive dominating presence but all my life I have fear that I will fail. I never liked team sports for that reason; for fear of letting the team down. Oh and I always sucked at team sports, I don’t do well with balls or bats. The more experience I get with triathlon the more confident I will become.
I had the chance to speak to Andy after the presentation. You would never know that he was a world dominator in triathlon. Just having met him for a few minutes I felt like I could spill my guts and tell him my life story! What an amazing person and athlete. I left Vision Quest on a mission – I was on top of the world, I piled on my winter clothing, got on my trusty steed and rode like the wind on my way home (or so it felt). I was thinking about 2014 with renewed energy, spirit and I was going to dominate triathlon or any other race for that matter, I was thinking about my next ironman. I thought about signing up for the next one as soon as I got home but good sense got the better of me as reality set in and my 5 minutes of being a pro triathlete was over as soon as I got home. Although I came back to reality, I still have a little glimmer in my eye about what is yet to come. Thanks to Vision Quest for making providing the opportunity to hear him speak. Thanks to Andy for the positive talk.