I’ve been wanting to do an adventure for the last decade. This has been my “year of action” so I finally signed on to do the Tahoe Big Blue Sprint Race on a two-man co-ed team. My teammate? My husband. (The first person I told this to said to me, “Doesn’t that mean you’re signing up for a divorce??”) I always have opportunities to use my mental skills training. The skills I employ with the athletes I work with are skills that help with performance in sport and in life. I use them when I work and when I play. This time I used them when I raced. Throughout my race report I share with you what tools I used and how I controlled my self-talk to maintain my confidence throughout the event.
I was feeling pretty calm the day before the race. I attribute it to the fact that I did my pre-performance plan. (See example above!) For me, the most helpful part of the plan is to dial in how I want to be feeling and what I want to be thinking leading up to the race. Anytime I felt the caterpillars turning into butterflies, I pulled out my plan and reminded myself of where my focus needed to be. We were running a little behind and I really wanted to get to the team check-in the night before the race instead of the morning of. The cut-off time was 7:30p. Mental Challenge #1: As we drove it became apparent that we may not make it and I had to employ my first mental skill: Plan B. Carrie’s self-talk: “If we don’t make it tonight, it’s no big deal – we’ll just check-in tomorrow morning.”
We made it to the check-in by the skin of our teeth. Then we headed out to dinner and later over to a friend’s house who kindly let us crash at their place for the weekend. They were incredible hosts and let us stay even though they already had company. We visited for a little bit, got some things ready for the morning, and went to our room to sleep. I was hydrating like crazy since we would be racing at altitude so at about 1a I had to go upstairs to use the bathroom. Mental Challenge #2: I’m not sure if it was the altitude or getting up too fast, but by the time I got up the stairs and into the bathroom I was dizzy and nauseous. Self-talk: “I’m fine, I just got up too fast. The change in temperature just shocked my system.” I tried to wash my hands and everything went white. I dropped to the floor hoping I could stop myself from passing out. I stayed there for a while and tried to breath and remain calm. After a while I tried standing up again and the same thing happened only this time the effort had me dripping with sweat. I decided to lie on the floor for a while feeling a little like the girl who drank too much at a frat party. Eventually I forced myself to get up and scoot down the stairs (yes – on my butt like a two year old) and got myself back into bed. Self-talk: “Just because I feel like crap right now, doesn’t mean I will in the morning. Go back to bed.”
Despite the turmoil in the middle of the night and the fact that t was the night before a race, I slept amazingly well. I got up and felt a little better, but had to move at a snail’s pace because I still felt nauseous. I decided maybe I wasn’t hydrated enough and drank some water and then our friend handed me a tall glass of some GU electrolyte drink that helped tremendously. I had some coffee and as much breakfast as I could stomach and then went to get dressed. I had faith that by the time I started the race I would feel fine and if I didn’t, well then I’d feel like crap and do the race anyway. Since I was moving slow, things were not going according to my pre-performance plan timeline. I just kept moving forward and trusting that everything was going to work out. I had an incredibly supportive teammate which helped a ton.
We arrived to our destination and I was feeling pretty good. The race started at the top of Northstar ski resort. We took the Gondola up and then transferred to a chair lift. My first success of the day was getting my mountain bike onto the lift successfully! We got to the top and got our maps and started to check out where we were headed. We sat through the pre-race brief where we finally heard what we were in for that day.
Let the adventure begin! Actually – we let everyone else begin their adventure first. There were about 100 of us tunneling onto a single track trail to begin our run. We decided to take our time on the run since we didn’t get to warm up. Mental Challenge # 3: The run went straight up hill and I was sucking wind the whole way. I did more hiking than running. I was a little disappointed since the run was supposed to be my strongest discipline. I wasn’t expecting the altitude to be such a big factor. I guess the fact that I lived in Tahoe 10 years ago doesn’t transfer to race day. Self-talk: “You’re still warming up. You’re doing great.”
Then we had to scramble straight down a ski run, jump on our bikes, and start descending. We had been told that the first part of the descent was the most technical, but that we should all be fine. Since we had let the entire group start the run before us, we were one of the last teams to start the MB. About 1/2 mile into the ride we saw our first casualty. There was a group of guys on the side of the trail with one rider obviously injured. In my mind, I imagined him attacking the descent and getting in over his head, coming in too hard on the turn, hitting a rock and going over the handlebars to land on some more rocks. I don’t know what actually happened, but my brain decided that I didn’t want that to be my story. Mental Challenge #4: The first trail was a lot more technical than I had anticipated. After getting on and off my bike several times, I decided it would be faster if I just ran with my bike and that’s what I did – for the entire trail. At first I was upset and felt like I wasn’t really racing if I wasn’t on my bike, but then I was able to turn it around. Mental Skill: Re-frame- I just pretended to be practicing for some imaginary cyclocross race I might do someday. I had fun with that for a while and then my thoughts shifted and I decided that running with my bike was just part of my adventure. (You have to be in a little over your head – or it’s just not an adventure race!)
I wasn’t as aggressive as I could have been on the rest of the descent. I think I was a little gun-shy after seeing the aftermath of the crash, but overall the rest of the descent went great. I kept using my go-to phrase for the day and recited it to myself constantly. Anytime I got frustrated or nervous, my mantra “BIG GREEN LUCK EVERYWHERE” helped me stay calm and focused. (I got the phrase from a recent horoscope from our local paper!) We made every navigation decision correctly. I have to admit, even though people who went way off course eventually passed us, it felt awesome to know that we had made all the right turns! We finally got down to the highway where we had to make a left turn and find the kayak. Mental Challenge #5: Unfortunately, there were only about 6 kayaks for about 50+ teams so when we arrived we had to put our name on a waiting list and WAIT FOR 45 MINUTES before we could start our kayak. WHAT!!?? I spent some time stressing out about this and then I saw a sign that said “Join us for coffee”… so we did. In the middle of our race – we went to a cafe and shared a triple iced latte. It was delicious. Mental Skill: Stop fighting against it. Focus on what’s in my control. Self-talk: I’m going to take advantage of this lovely break and have some coffee.
The kayak went great. We made great time and watched other kayakers have to paddle extra distance while we tracked straight. Felt good. Then we jumped back on our bikes and headed back up the mountain. Climbing went well. Slow and steady. Biggest mental skill that helped me stay smooth and consistent on the climb was when I used my cue: Relax hands and face, breathe. No extra tension getting in the way definitely helped for a smooth climb. I was more aggressive on the descents this time. I only had a couple near-death experiences. Met some cool people along the way. All went well until Mental Challenge #6: We got re-routed on part of the bike course. There was some poor communication between the employees of Northstar and the Big Blue staff. There was a trail that was a straight shot to our transition that is usually only opened to hikers, but was open to the racers on this particular day. We just happened to get to that point when a grumbling employee did and we ended up having to take a different trail. The trail was awesome and super fun, but I had a really tough time not getting upset about the added time. This was the hardest part of the race for me. I was tired and frustrated and knew that this might mean I would miss out on achieving my goal. I eventually shook it off. Self-talk: It doesn’t matter. Keep racing.
We got to the transition which happened to be at the celebratory BBQ. Ugh. It was a little tough to see people eating, drinking, laughing, and sharing race stories when we still had about 30 minutes to go! First we had to run around the Village and find the answers to a couple questions on our passport. At one point we got separated and had to run to each other through a very confused wedding party. We answered the questions and then started running up our last hill to get our final punch for our passport and then ran back down to the finish. Unfortunately our numbers were on our packs so when we finally came through the finish line, the announcers and staff were dazed and confused at the lack of race numbers so there were no cheers or announcers for us. Mental Challenge #6: That’s it?! All the hours of dedicated training since May. All the suffering yet staying mentally tough. The fact that Chad was sick the week leading up and totally rallied and I thought I might be rushed to the hospital the night before the race – and we get nothing!!! No cheers. No one even acknowledging that we finished. Sigh. It felt so anticlimactic. But then I turned to Chad and with a huge smile spreading across my face, I gave him a big hug. We did it. Mental Skill: Be your own biggest supporter. Celebrate your accomplishments.
We grabbed some food and beer and sat. Our friend met up with us and we got to share our race story. We went back to our friends house and got to share more race stories. The next morning I woke up and was sore. When I finally summited what felt like 800 stairs and reached the kitchen, everyone was there and somebody in the group asked me, ”How do you feel?” As one of my friends handed me a much needed cup of coffee I replied, “Adventure racing is stupid.” Everyone laughed and then my friends house guest whom I just met aptly asked, “So when’s your next one?” I sipped my coffee thoughtfully and without hesitation replied, “I’m thinking about doing one this winter. I also know of one down near me that I’d like to try. I think my friends want to do the Big Blue, so maybe we’ll come up again next year.”
So what’s my point in sharing this with you?
1. This is a little treat for every athlete I have worked with that internally grumbled when I assigned them some homework.
2. To see how someone might use mental skills in action.
3. To demonstrate the importance of putting time in to working on your mental game. There were many times that my mindset could have sabotaged my race. I am most proud of how much control I had over staying in the moment, making quick adjustments, and staying positive. If I didn’t have these skills, it could have been a much different race.
Check out my post race eval below to see what story I will carry forward with me into my next event!