Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What Drives You

I am often asked what keeps me motivated, my mom to start with who should be the one person who understands me best still can’t figure out how almost at 40 I spend countless hours ‘punishing my body’ (those are her words literally).
I’ve met people through this sport from different backgrounds and ages and I often wonder if I would have come to this sport earlier…  how long would I have lasted? It is not a secret that this sport is very demanding, yet most of us manage to find time for training in the midst of our busy lives. If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would be back at training on my 40s I would have told you you were crazy.
Growing up as a competitive athlete I learned so many things about life at an early age; among others, hard work and dedication pays off, your body and mind are not always in synch and most importantly if you don’t enjoy doing what you are doing, you wont be able to do it for long.
I am one of those people who can’t do things half way, I either do it and put everything into it or I don’t. After a long hiatus from swim meets, long training hours and active life in general I lost myself. I started swimming at a very young age and everything about my life included or was around a swimming pool. I went to a school just for swimmers and was lucky enough to be part of the best swim team in Spain at the time.
Yes that meant a very unusual childhood; no TV after school, not much play time after swim practice and busy weekends going from pool to pool missing out on bday parties and get togethers, in general I would qualify my childhood as a ‘rare social life’. No, I am not saying I didn’t do any of that but I did it less often than most of my non swimmer friends, actually I didn’t have many of those, other than neighbors and family members. And yet I LOVED every minute of it.
I felt accomplished when most people my age didn’t even know what that meant, I was lucky enough to have found my ‘call’. God knows if instead of swimming my parents would have registered me for basketball my childhood would have been a completely different thing.
I owe so much to my past and those that helped defining me as a person. For some strange reason I have been thinking a lot about my swim coach lately. His name is Paulus Wildeboer and is originally from Holland, if you saw Paulus on deck you understood why he was so intimidating. Among other reasons the guy is probably 7 feet tall or at least that is how tall he looked to a group of middle schoolers. Not to mentioned the fact that yelling was his normal tone of voice, I would go crazy if I ever tried to count how many times I got yelled at in any given practice. To this day Paulus holds a very special place in my heart, he was a role model to us, we spend more time with him than our own family, he was definitely a second father figure. As a matter of a fact I would argue he had more to say about how I was running my life at the time than my own parents.

So my swimming days came and went and I was lost for many years, I did not know what to do with my life, I felt as if outside of the pool I had no identity. I found my way through life and ended up in the USA, got married and started a new life.
Fast forward to 2009 when I did my first triathlon. All of the sudden I am an adult, with an adult life; had a job, a husband and most importantly children, as a mother you are never the same person once you have kids. Your children is what define your live and the word ‘me’ no longer exists, you always do things for everybody else other than you.
And then I started racing… I discovered that while I am out there racing or training is ‘me time’, the more that I push and the more I succeed the happier I am. Out of respect to my fellow competitors, the sport and my family I owe to give it my best everytime I am out there. Why would I spend 10-15hours away from my family and my kids who are the most important thing in my life if I am not going to make the best out of it??
So, that is what drives me. The hunger to fill my competitive edge, the will to teach my children that if you put your mind to it all goals are achievable and that the harder you work the more successful you are.  And some people will ask, what about having fun? Well that is how I have fun, I cannot imagine anything better to do with my time than to ‘better myself’.
I am not saying everybody should do the same, I am saying that is what drives me. Everybody has that one thing that drives them and once you find it the sky is the limit…. Or isn’t that what they say? ;)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Years Resolution

My first post of the year was not a New Years resolution post which seemed to upset some people. Truth be told back home we don’t do the whole NY resolutions thing. Yes ending a year is a huge milestone, but like my sister recently said I don’t really feel as if it has to be a specific day or time of the year to set a bunch of goals.

I am a goal oriented person as it is, I think I would go crazy if on top of all my existing goals I had to come up with a whole list at the beginning of each year. I celebrate the end of the year and welcome the new one the same way everyone does, actually we have a couple of ‘cultural differences’ that I thought it would be fun to share…

New Years Eve of any given year,  if you were a fly on the wall in a Spanish household while everybody gets ‘dolled up’ and pretty to go out and celebrate with friends and/or family, you would notice one thing .. red lingerie, and I am not just talking about women, men do too wear red undies to welcome the New Year. It is no surprise to anybody that us Spaniards identify with the color red, I am not really sure why that is, and I don’t even know if that is even related to the whole red underwear tradition for NY, but I know that 15 years away from home have not been enough for me to break that tradition.
A very common scene at Spanish local markets on the last week of the year
We also toast with champagne, like here, but we put a gold piece of jewelry in our drink for good luck. In addition we make a point to cross our legs with the right leg over the left, and as soon as we toast we step in with our right foot, I am sure you get the idea but for those lost out there is to start the year with ‘the right foot’. Lastly, as the clock strikes 12 we eat 12 grapes, I remember being a kid and having the hardest time to fit all 12 in my mouth, apparently as we get older not only our mouth gets bigger but I have become a lot more efficient at chewing and swallowing and eating 12 grapes in less than 15 seconds doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore.

The very last thing we do in the hopes of having a successful New Year, is to burn our red underwear. Basically symbolizing the end of the old year and starting fresh.  Raquel and I added one more tradition, since we never know for sure where we’ll be for New Years Eve, we always celebrate the Spanish New Year. So by 6 o’clock we have already done all of the above with our family in Spain, celebrating over the phone is far from perfect but is better than nothing.

Everybody celebrates the New Year differently, and everybody sets their goals differently. I have known people who like to share their goals with the world, me on the other hand I am a bit more reserve, I will share some but there is always something on the back of my mind that only me and me know. That is why this time of the year is so fascinating to me, I see people talking about what they are planning on doing for the New Year, and not that I have anything against it but there are sometimes a  consequently some people who amaze me.

I do respect those that follow the ‘reach for the moon and you might hit a star’ philosophy, I tried to stay true to the quote but there seem to be a million different  versions, that one for some reason sounded like the ‘right one’ to me. I have always admired positive people, I try to be as positive as I can myself. I set goals that sometimes I can’t reach, those are the ones that keep me real, they remind me how human beings can have an off day, but I always try to be realistic.

You might set the same goal that your next door neighbor, but the way you position it plays a big part on how the outcome can affect you. We all know that by setting a goal we are automatically taking a risk to failure. Sometimes we don’t have control of everything (trust me, I have tried hard but somehow there are things that are just out of our control). So, why waste your time setting a goal based on something you have no control of? Since most of the people reading this are triathletes or have been competitive  athletes in their past (ex-swimmers, ex-gymnasts, ex-water polo players…) I will make it easy on everybody … lets say I have a race coming up, and I want to do great, I want to have the best performance yet, yes as a competitive nature person we would ALL want to be 1st but there is only one first and the place you will end on a race is something you have no control over.

 You might have the race of your life, but others racing might do as well. You never know who you are going against and have no control on their performance, their training and/or their luck. I see people setting their goal at being ‘1st’’, this usually works for professionals who know exactly who they are going against, but for an age grouper as myself I choose not to set a goal that might destroy my chance of having a great performance. If I keep focus on my race and somebody passes me, it is not the end of the world I will do my best to keep up but ultimately I have a plan which could be very well shut down if my goal for the race was to be 1st in the first place, you can know your competition or at least you think you might know but don’t shut down your chance to reach the stars just by relaying on things you have no control over.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Nutrition vs Diet

As type A personality people, triathletes are always looking towards perfection. When we do something we do it to the best of our abilities, when we go hard we want to go so hard that we’ll make ourselves throw up and feel proud of it, where we put our mind we put our heart.

Let’s be honest only a handful of people outside of the triathlon world think we are ‘normal’, and that small group probably includes our spouses and/or parents, and the only reason why they think we are ‘normal’ is because they’ve lived around us long enough to know is just easier to agree with us than to disagree, at the end of the day there is only one way; ‘our way’. As insanely sick as it might sound to them to be out there for 2, 3, 5 or 10+ hours putting our bodies to what we put ours through, they know how important it is to us and by now most of them have given up on us and finding what they seem to think a ‘normal’ life.

So, it is not surprising to me to see many of us obsessing about everything. One of the things I have always been in wow of is how triathletes change their lifestyle to welcome a much healthier, and at the end faster ‘me’.

We all come to this sport from different backgrounds but at the end of the day we are made of the same ‘material’. I always find it quite interesting to read how different backgrounds define us on this sport, cyclists are usually small, and so are runners and it is no surprise that their biggest opportunity is swimming.  On the other hand it is often that you read how one of the bigger changes swimmers need to make when they come to this sport is that they need to ‘slim down’.

I am no different, I come from a family of four girls, and other than Raquel we all swam growing up, our adolescents’ years were full with visits to doctors, dietitians, nutritionists, you name it. A combination of peer and coach pressure made us very conscious of what we ate and what effect that had in our bodies.

After my swimming days I took a hiatus from exercising and as most people the diet fell through with it.  Put a bunch of weight on and for years I struggle to lose it. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I made the conscious decision that I needed a healthier lifestyle, I stopped thinking about ‘diets’ and started thinking about ‘fueling’ my body.

Going back to type A personalities, I meet so many people in this sport who never have enough, they are not fast enough, they are not thin enough, they are not … you name it. We can’t have Gisele Bundchen’s body and perform like Chrissie Wellington. We often forget that one thing is to be thin and a different thing is to be ‘fit’. Yes, I agree with the common opinion that the leaner you are the faster you’ll be, nothing like being a lean mean machine on race day, but I also think that there is a fine line between being lean and being too lean.
Some of the goodies we've been enjoying this Holiday Season
Coming off the Holiday Season most of us have some work to do before our first race of the season, I personally have 16 weeks to get to that ‘lean machine’ body. I don’t use the word diet, haven’t use it or done one of those for many many many years, instead I am planning on a top notch nutrition plan, I am fueling my body with the best out there by choosing yummy whole foods instead of the not so healthy treats I have been indulging on this past week. So if you are on my same shoes, don’t forget we are going after the perfect fit not the perfect body.

Wishing you a New Year full of Happy Training and Healthy Eating!