Thursday, March 09, 2006


originally written for the USC Triathlon Newsletter 03-09-06:

So the topic has come up of fear. FEAR. F-E-A-R. The shakes. The willies. The heeby-jeebies. The wet pants, the smelly armpits, the sweaty hair, the nightmares, the queasy stomache, the vomit, the heaves, the runs, the snot-blow, etc., etc., etc.

We're talking about that tidal wave of emotion that twinkles in the mind's eye in expectation of race day, and then, upon sight of the race course, explodes into a full-blown case of "HOLY FREAKIN' SCHEISSEN-SEE!!!" It's the kind of think that, if left uncontrolled, unanswered, or unmitigated, can grow into panic, and from panic to paralysis, and from paralysis to the worst of all possible scenarios: DNF. What is a DNF? Ah, young padawan, just ask a veteran and you will know. You will never, NEVER, want to take a DNF b/c you were s-c-a-r-e-d. Never. It is a crime against humanity.

So what do you do? What do you do, when you're standing on the start line, and you know you've got 8-foot surf with 54-degree F water and the biggest, most monstrous, most heinous, most evil race course facing you?

Well....we've all had it...Believe it or not, we've all had it. You'll never eliminate those pre-race jitters. The question is: what do you do with the fear? Here, based on the accumulated experiences of the club, is what we offer:

1) Pray...hey, some people swear by it. It doesn't have to be anything or anyone in particular. Just some mechanism where you appeal to some higher power, and somehow allow yourself there is some supernatural force assisting you. Hey man, call it a placebo effect or call it the real thing, whatever works. You can pray to anything. Following the lines from the Siege at Firebase Gloria (one of R. Lee Ermey's finest films), you can pray (either individually or collectively to cover all your bases): Allah, Buddah, Jehovah, Sister Maria, Mother Teresa, Coca-Cola, Tequila, Snickers, Powerbar, Coors, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Michael Jordan, Adriana Lima, Scones, Nutella, Hazelnut Coffee, St. Anne's Orphanage for Abandoned Cats and Dogs and Stray Field Mice, Microsoft, Google, Sony Playstation, ExxonMobil, the U.S. Dollar, Queen Elizabeth, or even God. Whatever works, dude, whatever works. So long as it has you thinking you're on the receiving end of triathlon karma.
2) Visualize...visualization is a sports psychology technique to help improve performance. Visualize yourself with perfect form, visualize yourself racing smooth and steady, visualize yourself overcoming the hills, visualize yourself having a good race, etc.
3) Psyche yourself see football players do it, you see basketball players do it, you see boxers do it, you see everybody do it. Pump yourself up. Knock heads with a team-mate, exchange a high-five, bump chests (reference: previous newsletter on race greetings), whatever. Just get that passion, aggression, and blood UP. As a matter of further reference, there's the story of Tim Brown and Lou Holtz when both were at Notre Dame--Tim Brown as a freshman was ordered out onto the field during a game, but not knowing what he was supposed to do, became frantic and grabbed Lou Holtz's jacket and said "Coach, coach, I don't know what I'm supposed to do!", to which Lou Holtz grabbed his facemask and said "Son, this is football, I don't care what you do, just go out there and HIT SOMEBODY!" So for you, this will translated as "This is triathlon, it doesn't matter what's out there, just go out there and GO!"

For an example of how to psyche yourself up, we recommend the following:

4) Reflect...yes, there is time to reflect before the race. Think about all the work you've put in, all the training, all the nutrition, all the hours and lessons. You've done everything you can do. Now is the time to reap the harvest of all the effort you've put in...NOTE: this doesn't really work when you've been a lazy ass sitting around on the couch eating chocolate cake and drinking hot chocolate covered with whipped cream while watching the NCAA Tournament (MARCH MADNESS, BABEEEEEEEEE!!!!)
5) Dedicate the race...sometimes offering up yourself to a cause will inspire you to exert greater energy and calm your anxieties for the sake of respecting something else. You can dedicate the race to a cause (ranging from the LiveStrong Foundation to Tyler Hamilton's dead dog Tugboat to Mother Mary's Wayward Home for Lost Socks) or a person (a relative, a friend, a complete stranger, that cute blonde who always sits next to you in Studies of Men and Women 101, the bike guru who always always ALWAYS fixes your bike on time and under-budget, no questions asked, the lifeguard at McDonald's Swim Stadium who always ALWAYS A-L-W-A-Y-S smiles and waves at you as you stagger into the pool at 6 FREAKIN' AM in the morning, etc.).
6) Recite a mantra...mantras are good. They can help you focus your thoughts, and collect your senses and get you to stop thinking about the FEAR and start thinking about you MOVING. We suggest Muffin's Mantra. Muffin (remember the newbie quiz--you should learn who Muffin is...). Muffin's Mantra is: There is always someone worse than you. There is ALWAYS someone in worse shape than you, someone suffering more than you, someone heavier and fatter and uglier, someone with less training, someone more clueless and out of touch, someone who just does...not...get...IT...
7) Remember the triathlete's mantra--at least, the one I encountered talking to some random triathlete at last year's LA Triathlon (yeah, it's funny the conversations you have in the transition area standing around in the darkness changing clothes...). She started it, and we kept talking, and we came up with this: You are a triathlete. Awwwwwww yeah, baby. Triathletes are sexy. Awwwwwwwww yeah. Uh-huh. Mmmmmmmm. Smooth-shaven silky legs. Rippling muscle tone. Firm back(side). Perfect symmetry. And wet wet wet. Mmmmmmmm. Yummy. And no matter what happens on the race course, just remember how sexy you are and how everybody's on the sideline wishing they were you.
8) Promise yourself a reward...sometimes an incentive is enough to pull you through a race. Promise yourself a massage. Promise yourself a day off. Promise yourself a cup of coffee and a day with your friends. Promise yourself a trip to Disneyland. Promise yourself 44 gallons of ice cream...with butterscotch and hot fudge toppings. Promise yourself anything (legal).
9) Remember an inspiring story...anything that will inspire you and make you want to perform at your best. It could be a story of a nurse who arrived with the surgical hospitals on the 1st day at the Battle of Normandy, it could be Lance Armstrong's battle with cancer, it could be how your dog Fido chased down that pesky prairie dog that was stealing your grandfather's tomatoes. Whatever, as long as it makes you want to do something as good, and gives you the peace of mind that comes from knowing that the human spirit, no matter how downtrodden and beaten down, can and will succeed.
10) Recite the Souix warrior prayer of battle: Today is a good day to die.
11) Recite the Klingon prayer of battle: It is always a good day to die...but today is not that day.
12) Recite the Viking prayer of battle: Lo, do I see my father. Lo, do I see my mother. Lo, do I see my brothers and my sisters. Lo, do I see the long line of my people, stretching unto the beginning. They call out to me, they bid me join them, in Valhalla, where the brave shall dwell forever!
13) Slap your cheeks, and tell yourself "Snap out of it, you fool!"