Fantasy vs. Reality

Yesterday’s race did not unfold as planned. Who really ever plans not to finish? But, if I am being honest with myself and to you, the outcome was not entirely surprising. I have been battling lingering rib issues since the crash in November. The exact nature of the problem is still to be determined, but my rib cage is rotated and is therefore protruding and perhaps pressing on my diaphragm. I have not ignored this and have been seeking continued treatment. Biking and swimming have been going quite well with running lagging behind due to the breathing difficulties the ribs have caused. However, I have had to make changes to my bike position to accommodate my ribs.

I had been making good progress with my recovery and I thought it would be an opportunity to “see where things are” and to get back in the game.

And here lies the root of the problem. As athletes, we often live in a fantasy world that is highly disconnected with reality. My fantasy, this weekend, was vivid. I imagined that I would just hop into the race and resume business as usual. I was so wrong.

I awoke race morning at 1:30 with the worst pre-race anxiety I had ever known. I finished the night with a fitful sleep peppered with race nightmares and trips to the bathroom. My nerves were so rankled, thirty minutes before race time, I actually shed a tear (thanks to dad and Desiree for the calming words). The fantasy: the happenings from last year would not affect me. The reality: we cannot easily forget traumatic things from our past.

The swim was rough, but uneventful. As soon as I started riding I had an idea things were amiss. The wind was howling, making for slow going on this flat course. The cross wind meant I had to do a lot of stabilizing with muscles that were not up to the task. Power started dropping, the breathing became shallow, I felt like a vice was crushing my midsection. I even fell victim to psychological warfare and decided that I wasn’t trying hard enough and that I was going to retire from the sport (56 miles by yourself when you feel terrible is a lot of thinking time; lots of harm can be done when you are in your head like that).  I sat up for the last 10 miles trying to alleviate the discomfort. I called it a day in transition; I figured I had done enough damage. The fantasy: I could race the best in the world at less than 100% and hold my own. The reality: Am I crazy? YOU CANNOT RACE INJURED!

This very theme, of fantasy vs. reality is everywhere in the sport of triathlon. I travelled with my buddy Shane and we dissected his race on the way to the airport. He lamented that his average watts on the bike were low and how he started the run at 6:15 pace for the first loop and then dropped way off.  His fantasy, one that is so common and why so many people implode on the race course, was that he could average 10 watts higher and run 1:22. His reality: he is not there yet, but he will be.

And, while we are on this subject, I would be remiss to leave out the Kona fantasy. How many times have I had athletes call me for coaching with a goal of dropping an hour from their Ironman time so they can qualify for Kona at their race in six months? Or, how about 500 athletes showing up at the rolldown hoping that they will get a spot.

Dreams (goals?) keep us going, but a healthy dose of reality keeps us grounded. In my own life, I am going to try harder not to let fantasy overwhelm my reality. Have you had a fantasy vs. reality experience?

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7 Responses

  1. Christi says:

    I am going through a reality vs. fantasy period right now. I have some lingering ITB issues and I just keep thinking that because it doesn't hurt that I can still run. Nope, the minute I start running the issue reappears. The reality is I need to heal. My fantasy is that I can continue to train for my 1/2 Ironman. It is a daily struggle.

    I wish you the best of luck as you overcome the rib problems. I know that you will overcome them!

  2. Will says:

    We've all been there. The nice thing about a longer race is sometimes you start with fantasy, get crushed by reality somewhere (usually the bike for me) and work you way through to a sort of altered fantasy by the finish. The reality in the middle sometimes help bring everything into perspective and create a more realistic fantasy.

    Good luck with the ribs!

  3. Anonymous says:

    First of all, I am amazed at how strong you are and how well you are handling it all. You are certainly a World Champion for a reason! And yes, sometimes, a little fantasy is a good push for a not so pink reality. Some of my best races were the ones I did not sugar-coat it form the start: I was in it to race my best, regardless of the competition or conditions, and have fun along the way.

  4. Lisa says:

    Great post! I am sorry for your DNF and I hope you feel better soon.

    I agree that we've all been there. Since I am pretty new at all of this, I have had pretty moderate expectations. As I progress, my fantasies get a bit more lofty. I need to remember to stop and ground myself once in a while before I get carried away.

  5. MarkyV says:

    We'll help you forget all of this come Saturday… and you can help me drink my season away under the table. 😛

    That's reality! 🙂

  6. Daniel says:

    This post couldn't be better timed. I also left Clearwater injured and need to keep my race aspirations for 2010 tied to some sort of reality.

    Sorry to hear about your DNF, but you should feel good about making the right call.

  7. Kiet says:

    Great write-up Z, like your writing style. I know the racing while under fantasy rather than reality all too well, and have had some painful ironmans. I'm going to remember this entry.