Posted by: Joe English | October 29, 2013

Commentary — Shaping our Thoughts, Reflecting on a Tragedy

running-advice-bugI awoke early Saturday morning. There was a strange noise outside my Tuscon hotel room window. It was a sound that I had never heard before. I went over to the sliding glass door and pulled the curtain back. Standing outside was a family of Javelina — wild pigs. There were three large ones and two tiny piglets. The piglets were sitting with their backs against the glass of the door. The other three pigs wandered off out of view but the little pigs just sat there touching themselves against the glass.

National_Champion_400I watched them for a moment and started to go get my camera. Then one of the large pigs came back. Mom I’m guessing. She scratched her feet in the dirt and nudged at the piglets but they didn’t move. She made some angry noises, but they still stayed put. Then one of the piglets turned her heard and looked in through the glass. It was almost as if she was looking right at me. She held her gaze through the glass for a moment and then both piglets got up and went off into the underbrush alone. Mother pig went off in the other direction after the other pigs.

I’ve spent much of this year writing on my blog here about our mental game. It’s such an important topic to understand both how we control our thinking and how we react to external events. I noted earlier this year that I had gone into one race “angry”, taking out my aggression in a fiery tirade against the field that left them in my dust. I was untouchable that day. I’ve also had days this year when I felt complacent for one reason or another and in those times it has been hard to step on the gas when needed. As I often say, our thoughts frame our feelings. When we receive bad news we may feel angry. When we are given compliments we may feel happier about our selves. This often happens unconsciously, but the trained mind can be channeled to react and feel very specifically.

Think about this in the context of our racing for a moment. Before races I often tell my participants to “turn their anxiety into excitement,” which is another way of saying that they need to take a negative emotion and turn it into a positive one. I spent a lot of time thinking about all of this going into Duathlon Nationals in Tucscon this past weekend. I knew that I had the potential to win a national title, but honestly, I was not emotionally ready to race. I was tired from the long long season. I wanted to be done and on to recovery. But it had also been on my mind that I would have really liked to have captured that “anger” that I felt earlier in the season. How could I turn my mind back into that animal state that would let me crush this one?

This had been on my mind for a couple of weeks and then tragedy hit us here in Portland. My friend Coach Jane Samuels was hit by the horrible, heartbreaking, painful loss of her fiance’s daughter and step sister. The two little girls were killed by a car while playing outside (Read many stories about the accident on Oregon Live). The collective hearts of Portland’s triathlon community literally sunk through the floor. For my own part, I was brought to tears repeatedly throughout the week. Even now, I tear up thinking about it. As a father of a six year-old, I sympathize in the most encompassing form of that word. I cannot imagine the pain that this family is enduring right now.

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