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NOT YET ON THE PODIUM: Importance of a Mantra

July 20, 2013

By Earl Furfine

Hello again! Welcome to the second installment of “Not Yet on the Podium.” First order of business is a shout out to our Endurance Racing Magazine family friend, Ken Lubin, who is attempting his third Death Race in Vermont. I think by the time this is published, he will be finished. In any case, WAY TO GO, KEN! We all salute your dedication, fortitude and perseverance.

Now that the race season is in full swing, I’d like to spend this time on what I believe is a very important aspect of my racing, particularly given that I normally finished near the bottom or up to the middle of the pack: Having a Mantra.Earl IM Arizona

I must admit, I am what I have self-labeled as a “sizer-upper.” I can’t think of a race where I did not walk around and size up my competition. I always walk around pre-race and whomever I see, I think, “I got him,” or “ Argh, gonna get crushed by that guy!” or “Hmmm, that one will be close,” all the way to race time. I’d say I am wrong most of the time, particularly when I look at someone and think I will finish ahead of them. I can’t tell you how many of 16-and-under kids pass me on the bike and the run! All of this leads me to my newfound mantra of “Faith, Pace, Focus, Strength.”

I raced for years (I am now in my 12th season) without having any words, sayings, mantras or manifestos of any sort. When my legs burned, my shoulders hurt, I wanted to toss my cookies, I was sunburned and just generally beat,

I did not have anything at all to “fall back on.” So, I just relied on childish expletives, general whininess and my ‘grit face’ (you know this face: where you wrinkle your nose, furrow your brow, open one side of your mouth and grit your teeth to get up a hill!).

Many times, I would find myself humming a tune on the bike to keep my mind off of what I was actually doing. I remember one race when the Partridge Family’s “I think I love you” was stuck in my head during the bike (this is not as bizarre as it seems; The Partridge Family was THE show when I was in grade school). Aside from being a painfully bad song, and hardly inspirational, it was stuck thereso I went with it. (For those of you old enough to have seen “The Partridge Family” as children, you know this was not their only painful songbut certainly a goodie. For those of you too young, I am sure you can Google it. It won’t take but 30 seconds for you to hit the PAUSE button!) I’m not sure which was worse—25 miles of the song, or the Columbia Triathlon Bike Course (one of the hardest courses on the east coast). Either way, it was a suffer-fest. I have since upgraded my music selection on the iPod and make sure I inundate my ears with something more palatable pre-race now, such as, “Roll with the Changes” by REO Speed-wagon, or the colorful version of “Forget You” by CeeLo Green. Both are very motivational in their own way.

One thing I realized (it is never too late) was that most of the elite athletes had some sort of saying they regularly begin their speaking engagements or articles with. Things like, “Slow and steady wins the race,” and “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Chrissie Wellington always smiles and calls herself “Muppet” when she does something silly. All serve the purpose well. So, before my second Ironman in Arizona (trying to redeem a 96-degree day in Louisville and a 16:16 finish—but a finish ahead of 750+ DNFs), I thought carefully about what I could use to help me stay present and focused on my race. I personally do my best thinking when I swim; aside from the occasional missed lap count (of course I err on the low side), I seem to get clarity in the pool. Then I spent several hours writing down words that meant something to me. I made a list of about 30 and finally settled on the following: Faith, Pace, Focus, and Strength. I used each one at various stages of IM AZ.

What I came up with for Arizona, which has grown into a lifelong credo, were four words that resonated with me in racing and in life.

My coach, Pamela Southerling, is quite an amazing individual. I know we all love our coaches and the importance of coach/athlete respect can never be understated. Pamela consistently reminded me that I have done all the training I needed, rarely missed a workout, and should have Faith that I can and have done everything I needed to do for this race. I am fortunate to be a good swimmer, so while others milled around nervously, I leaned against a large barrel (still don’t know why it was there) and looked forward to my favorite hour and 18 minutes of every IM.

I have found that when I feel good, I go. I go fast. This works great during a sprint tri, but is obviously devastating for Ironman or longer distances. I get truly annoyed when I am biking straight into the wind at 14 MPH and frustrated when my HR is 145; I am supposed to race about 130. So, I continue to work on keeping my Pace, slowing down, lowering the heart rate. I constantly tell myself, “Pace, it’s a long day.”

Here is my biggest challenge: Focusing on what is happen- ing now! I love to daydream, on both the bike and the run. I find myself doing a good job of ignoring the pain and also forgetting to eat while thinking of all sorts of business and personal ideas and issues! I have found that making sure I look at my watch every few minutes, monitoring HR and elapsed time, helps significantly. I suppose I look a little OCD constantly looking at my watch, but it sure is better than missing some food and picking up the pace (see notes above) when I am feeling good early! I once received some great advice from my coach: Ironman and Endurance racing are long days that pass by in a flash. Take several times during the race to enjoy the crowd, give a few high-fives and embrace the amazing accomplishment you are in the middle of doing!

This one is easy. I know that endurance athletes are the most mentally strong people on the planet. When my butt is killing me at mile 90 and I know I still have 22 miles on the bike and a full marathon, I draw upon my Faith, Pace, and Focus and put them together to create great mental Strength.

My little mantra has served me well, particularly in triathlon but also now in life and in business.

Much more on how I have applied this to personal and professional purposes next month, as well as the pain of accidentally racing while on the Atkins Carb-free diet!

Until next time, may you never be passed by anyone in your age group after exiting the water!

I am, Not Yet on the Podium.


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