Expectations. It’s all about the expectations.
It seems like every time I expect to have a good race, expect to place in my division, expect to kick ass, I don’t. Something goes awry. I finish the race with a crappy time, or a cracked board, and most definitely a bad attitude. Now, I am not talking about creative visualization – the mental, meditative technique wherein you walk yourself through a race, see yourself adjust to the conditions and be successful. No, that is a proven technique for calming down the pre-race jitters or helping you get through a tricky situation you’ve never navigated before. That is totally different that expecting to win, expecting to be practically perfect in every way. What I am talking about is the big dose of pride that can ruin everything, especially your race experience. If we can just learn to chuck that aside and just go out and have fun, well, things almost always turn out differently.
And we learn in the process.
At no time was this ever more apparent to me than in my first Neptunalia Challenge held this month in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida. It is the first race of the new year and it came right on the heels of my first-ever trip to Surf Expo. My head was already spinning from everything we saw and all the cool things I wanted to test and write about. I’d spent a long travel day followed by three days walking the convention floor in Orlando, talking and interviewing folks – including some idols – and shaking lots of hands. My feet hurt and my throat was starting to get scratchy. On top of not feeling especially froggy, tornado weather had rolled across the Sunshine State and on race morning, we woke up to 30 mile per hour winds and lightning.
Yeah, my heart was definitely not in race mode
We went for coffee. We decided we would not race. We had to drive back to North Carolina right after and we just didn’t feel like it. Best thing to do was to go to registration, say hi, take some pictures and gracefully bow out. Hit the road.
Expect to be home early.
As we pulled out of the Starbucks parking lot, we got right behind the shop truck pulling a trailer. We quickly realized that it was Paddling Paradise’s trailer – the kind folks who put on the race and who graciously procured boards for John and me to use for the race. We were now staring right at the 14 foot BIC Tracers. The ones we are supposed to use. Loaded up just. For. Us.
We looked at at each other. We knew we were racing.
Okay, I am only going to paddle the three-miler
I don’t care about my time. I am going to be out here just to socialize with some great people I hardly ever get to see. I am not going to care about how hard it’s blowing or what the conditions are. Just have fun.
I didn’t bother with any of my serious race face prep stuff. Heck, I hadn’t even eaten a real breakfast. I was just going for a paddle with friends. Don’t need hydration. Not going to be out there long at all.
I was a little confounded by the instruction given during the race meeting, because I was so unfamiliar with the canals around the Indian River. No, worries. I am only doing the three miler. Most everyone else is only doing the three miler, because of the weather, I told myself. I will just follow along.
As we paddled head first into the wind, out of the canal to the race start line I thought, “Oh no…this is not going to be good.” The wind was stiff. I was on a board I’d never paddled, in waters I’ve only read about in Nicolle and Jason’s posts on Facebook. But once I got in the lee of the wind, and could feel the current going in the direction we were going to go, I felt better.
The OCs and surf skis went first. I longed for my own OC1.When the horn went off, I quickly realized I was in a really good starting position, better than in any of my last few races of 2015.
And we’re off! I start a nice easy stroke. People pass me. I tell myself I don’t care. Just make it through this and everything will be fine. Then you can get going, on the way home. Conserve your energy, since you don’t know what else is coming. More of those nasty headwinds, or they could be side winds, and you don’t know what this board will do in these conditions. More lovely self-talk.
I’m going a long at a nice clip and it’s not as bad as I expected it to be. And I’m keeping up with the folks ahead of me and few people are passing me. Cool.
Then I run into Lew.
“Hey Lisa. Aren’t you doing the three miler?”
“Well, the cut off was back there. You’ve missed it.”
I look at my watch. Oh yeah, I didn’t even turn it on at the race start.
“Really? You’re kidding me? How far back?”
“Oh, quite a bit.”
I look around. The water is choppy and getting more so. I don’t see anyone behind us. I make a snap decision to continue on, stay with the crowd, since I don’t know where I am going and since I don’t have the normal race provisions. Safer to stay with folks then try to make it back in this weather and unfamiliar waters alone.
I see folks starting to cut across the big wide channel and make for the entrance to the canal. And I see the boat and the buoy signaling that this is were we turn. I feel the wind and I see the waves. I suddenly realize I can downwind right into the mouth of the channel if I just line myself up right. It’s worth it to try. For any number of reasons but most importantly, if I can downwind, and let Mother Nature do the work, I can save my energy and resources for what is now double the amount of distance I expected to paddle. And not only that but, I need the downwinding practice for some other races I intend to do later this year.
It’s getting choppier. My board nose is diving deep into the water.
Channel your inner Jeremy Riggs-do what he would do
Suddenly, I feel my Maui Jedi Master on my right shoulder. Push the board forward with your left foot. Step back NOW!!! Go forward!!! Bend your knees, focus….
Then my other Jedi Master, Suzie Cooney is on my left shoulder. PADDLE PADDLE PADDLE!! You can DO this!!!
I feel like I am flying. Not Maliko flying, but I am pretty sure I am catching bumps.
No one is around me.
When I slide into the mouth of the canal, I can relax. I look around and I see people coming across the channel on their knees.
I see white caps.
My Maui training is really paid off.
When I least expected it.
To say that I was stoked is an understatement.
And there was still a significant portion of the race to finish. I was thirsty. Note to self: Don’t ever expect NOT to need water for any kind of race, no matter how short.
My wonderful friend Jeanna, who also made the same boo-boo came up behind me. Her experience in the channel was a lot more harrowing. It was good to find her and paddle to the finish together. The canal was protected from the wind and the current was not problematic. We both enjoyed the smooth paddle strokes and I was able to finally appreciate the gliding capabilities of the BIC board I was on.
When we hit the end of the canal and made the right turn to head back for our final run to the finish line, the wind hit us head on again. It was a bit of a struggle, but not for long and the stoke of knowing that I was going to exceed expectations and intentions gave me a huge boost. When we turned left and got into the channel that would mark the race finish, we were downwinding again, but this time, I was able to just cruise and enjoy the ride.
When it was over, I realized that I actually had a fantastic race, despite my trepidations about it at the beginning. I realized that just letting go and going out for the fun and the experience of it all had made a HUGE difference. I realized that keeping an open mind and rolling with what ever happened, and not being upset because my expectations didn’t materialize was key…key to meeting the physical challenges put before me and key to just plain ol’ having fun.
Sure, there were plenty of teachable moments – I won’t ever go out without hydration and food again. But most of all, I am going to try to cultivate that same feeling I had when I started the Neptunalia for every race – I am just here to paddle with good people and have fun while I am doing it.
No expectations. Other than that.
(Big, big mahalos to the folks at Paddling Paradise for the board and for putting on a race that will be on my Must Do list from now on!)