Crafting the right pep talk for your triathlete involves intuition, understanding, and sometimes, partial nudity. Columnist Susan Lacke explains in this month’s “Triathlete Love.”
“Go hard. All out. I don’t want to see any pictures of you smiling and messing around out there. Tomorrow is a race. Treat it like one.”
I opened my mouth, ready to retort, but Neil quickly cut me off:
“And no using your brakes on the descents like a wuss, either. You know what? I’m just gonna take the brakes off your bike. Where’s my wrench?”
I love Neil because he knows how to push my buttons. I also sometimes hate Neil because he knows how to push my buttons.
Though we share a lot of the same philosophies on life, we couldn’t be more different when it comes to race day. He’s all about competition, strategy, and gutsy moves, and I’m…well, the complete opposite.
It’s been that way since the very beginning. The first time we laid eyes on each other, I was heading toward the finish line of an Olympic-distance triathlon while he was starting the run leg of a coinciding half-Iron race. I had a flower from the roadside weeds tucked behind my ear; he was wearing his game face. I smiled and yelled, “Are we having fun yet?” He shot me a look that said why the hell are you picking flowers at a race?
In the years that have followed that fateful day, we’ve learned how to balance our polarized attitudes on race day. More importantly, we’ve learned how to say what the other one needs to hear.
If you love a triathlete, you know it’s not as easy as it sounds. Crafting the right pep talk is an intricate dance, a tango between loving, supportive partner and ass-kicking motivator. It’s not only knowing what to say, but when and how to say it. Sometimes it’s saying nothing at all.
In contrast to Neil’s no-nonsense approach to triathlon, I’ve used levity to keep him going during his tougher days. I once spotted him on an Ironman run looking incredibly haggard. It was obvious something was off. Cheering him on with the clichéd “you look great!” would be a lie, and a patronizing one at that. Telling him to stay focused was a moot point – it looked like he had focused himself into a very, very dark place. I needed to snap him out of it, and quickly.
So I mooned him.
Yes, I showed him a quick flash of my bare butt. And you know what? It worked. In the span of five seconds, Neil’s face went from surprise to confusion to slap-happy laughter. That’s the thing about the dark place of an Ironman – cognitive function is reduced to that of a preschooler. Potty humor goes over really well at age four and mile 18 of the marathon.
Knowing what works for your triathlete requires you to get into her head a little bit, to figure out what pushes her buttons. Though some people would recoil at the pep talk Neil gave me, it was exactly what I needed to hear. I’ve long abandoned my flower-picking habit, but I still have a tendency to goof off a little too much during races. And yes, I have a habit of feathering my brakes on the descents, “like a wuss.” He calls me out because he believes I can be so bold – and when he tells me that, I believe it, too.
That day, as I progressed through my swim, then my bike, I heard Neil’s voice on a continuous loop in my head: Go hard. All out. When I was starting my run leg, I noticed a familiar figure heading toward the finish. It was Neil, on his way to a finishing time that would secure his spot at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships.
“Hey stud!” I hollered across the street, “Are we having fun yet?”
He looked up, saw me, and ran along the median of the road. “You’re doing great, babe! Meet you at the finish?” I nodded and gave him a pat on the butt as I continued on.
In all my photos from this race, it’s evident that I took his pep talk to heart. For the first time as a triathlete, there’s not a single race photo of me goofing around. There’s another photographic rarity from that race – but the picture isn’t of me. It’s of Neil, taken seconds after our chance encounter on the run.
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