Believing in Myself by Alexandra Painter

I know going into Ironman Louisville on October 9 my biggest challenge is crossing the starting line thanks to my own mind. Athletics have always been this way for me. I can put in the training, know I should be able to accomplish something, and then when I look across the starting line, something in my mind will tell me I can’t and make the task at hand seem impossible. I experienced this for 12 years as a competitive age group swimmer, and while I would like to say that my experience as a triathlete has remained untouched by my mental obstacles, this is not the case.

At the start of this season I had plans to race a half iron, which would be my fourth, while training with coach Jennifer Harrison, who volunteered with TriEqual for the Equally Inspiring program this year. While working with Jennifer in those three months I felt like I made a lot of progress with my training, especially because I’d never done a structured run or bike workout before. When it came time to start my race, the Try Charleston Half in Charleston, SC, something in my mind simply told me it was impossible. Looking out across the lake at the two loop swim, I felt like there was no possible way I could make it through this race, even though I told myself it was what I wanted.

I can’t describe the feeling I had that morning when trying to talk myself into getting in the water, but I can say that afterward, e-mailing my coach to let her know I did not race was one of the hardest things for me to do. The feeling after not completing something I wanted, because I let my own self-doubt take over is too familiar to me. When I swam growing up I would scratch races or find myself physically sick from these thoughts, and the worst part was when it was over, and I couldn’t turn back and choose to race. I felt regret when I didn’t finish my last race as a competitive swimmer, and I felt that same feeling when I didn’t make it across the starting line in Charleston.

Coming off of this disappointment Jennifer suggested that I get out and race as soon as possible, and with my first full distance race this fall, I decided I wanted to continue working with her to be as physically prepared as possible, while also doing what I can to work on the mental side of racing and training. After a couple open water training swims, on May 7, three weeks after my disappointing day in Charleston, I raced the Dickson Iron Nugget Sprint Triathlon, where I finished second overall for my first overall award, as well as my second time ever on a podium at a race. Two weeks later I raced Toughman Indiana at Noblesville, where I crossed the start line and came out with a half iron PR.

Before Age Group Nationals one of the things going through my mind while waiting for my start was the e-mail from my coach the week of the race. I searched my e-mail to find it, but could not, so the best I can do is paraphrase. It said I was ready and deserved to be there no matter how fast the other people looked. Going into Ironman Louisville in nine days as of writing this, I know I am ready, and the only things standing in my way are crossing the start line and 140.6 miles. I just have to believe in myself.

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