Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Power of Anxiety

Have you ever noticed how anxiety level tends to be inversely proportional to days left until race day? (That's a geek's way of saying we get anxious as race day approaches)

For many, anxiety seems to be the enemy. Little gremlins start popping up all over the place. We dwell on training mistakes and different ways in which we can "blow up" during the race. We can't seem to sleep. We want to go through our gear "one more time" to find that vital item that has been forgotten. Most significantly, we question our ability to live up to our own expectations, whether that is "finish" or "win" or "PR."

As a former mountain climber and rapeller, I view anxiety through a slightly different prism. Anxiety is that small inside voice, the one bordering on fear, that keeps me honest and keeps me safe. On the mountain, there was always that bit of fear that made you double check every rope and every knot. And there's a bit of anxiety when registering for a race. That anxiety makes sure I'm honest about my abilities and training schedule. Anxiety keeps things in perspective, so gremlins are kept at bay. It helps ensure all of my gear is ready to go, because it's been checked "one more time." And anxiety helps me remember that expectations are just that. Finish the race. Have fun. Achieve goals. In that order. Anxiety helps keep the horse in front of the cart.

And anxiety is a pre-race thing. No matter how many races I've completed, anxiety is there with me at the beginning of the next one. But anxiety seems unable to cross that line in the sand that marks the start of a race. When the gun goes off, there are other things to occupy my mind.

In a triathlon, there is no room for anxiety when I hit the water. The struggle for survival takes center stage. And those who have seen me in the open water know that struggle is real. But anxiety can't survive in a head that is focusing all attention on "stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe, stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe." (Yes, I'm a single side breather). The anxiety is replaced by a calm born of fear. Again, that fear keeps me safe. Because it forces me to focus on doing everything as properly as I can, and failing that, to find a comfortable and safe position in which to regain my composure and form.

Anxiety is with us every step of the way as we train for endurance races. It is with us right up to the starting line. But anxiety is like a couch potato. It isn't going the distance. In fact, it isn't crossing the start line.

There is one facing a bit of anxiety, this week. That is Veeg, as she approaches the Danskin Women's Triathlon in Wisconsin. She has done the training. She understands her strengths and her weaknesses. Stop by her site and lend your support as she prepares for this race. I know she'll do great, because she's getting ready to kick my butt in Oshkosh come August 13.


Veeg said...

Just so you know, this TOTALLY made me cry.

Thank you to my Big Tri Brother! :)

(And with the climbing connection, I'm suspecting that we may indeed be some sort of long-lost siblings.)

Deb said...

Congrads on all you do!

Kewl Nitrox said...

good to know that anxiety can be a positive thing. :)