Friday, April 27, 2018

Endurance Sport Mind: 3 steps to help tame the fear of failure

From personal experience as an age group Ironman athlete to observing endurance sports as an industry, I believe it is important to help shape a safe and supportive environment as an industry for athletes and those new to sport to help reach their goals. As a graduate student at Northwestern University studying Information Design and Strategy (IDS) I have two articles that will help someone experiencing fear of failure take the next step and industry to help better support these individuals.

In this Tedtalk, What I learned when I conquered the world's toughest triathlon, featured speaker Minda Dentler describes how she tackled her fear of not making the cut off times during her second attempt at completing this race. Minda talks about how she focused on one stroke at a time in the swim, and then took the enormity of the 112-mile bike and broke it down into 7 - 10-mile increments. She then recounts the focus she had with each push to the finish line to complete the 26.2 mile run. She achieved her goal of being the first female wheelchair athlete to complete the Ironman World Championship, but not without confronting fear along the way.

In the article 5 Excuses People with Fear of Failure Make by Guy Winch, PhD in Psychology Today,  Dr. Winch breaks down 5 common excuses we give ourselves when we are faced with fear of failure. He identifies what we feel, what our minds tell us, and how to overcome it. Acknowledging fear, recognizing the challenge, and setting appropriate expectations will help decrease your chances of failure and optimize success.

As a part of my graduate studies at Northwestern University and my passion for endurance sports, I recommend three action items that both athletes and industry should be aware of when fear of failure occurs.

1- Acknowledge your fear - Creating awareness will help you learn and approach from a more knowledgeable place.

2- Understand the challenge - Know what efforts are needed and the reward at the end.

3- Set reasonable expectations - Focus on what you can control, break it down to one step at a time.

As an industry, it is important to support and provide resources to help would-be athletes, and seasoned athletes work through fear of failure. By doing such it will not only help promote the endurance sports industry as a whole and grow the number of participants but also help encourage and nurture athletes as they realize their goals.


Cheryl Atkins is a seasoned creative professional who enjoys working collaboratively to make life experiences and the world a better place. She is pursuing her Master’s degree at Northwestern University in Information Design and Strategy. Cheryl is also an endurance athlete when she is not studying she can be found swimming, biking, running with her family. You can reach Cheryl on Twitter @atkinscheryl2

Monday, June 11, 2012

Numbers Game

When I was training for Ironman, numbers were important.  Heart Rate, Zones, Pacing, etc.  I think I put too much emphasis on those numbers. I focused on the data before, during and after sessions. It wasn’t until my coach Jen, had me start training based on FEEL that I saw big gains. In some ways I think the data held me back mentally. I had already determined in my head what my max was, instead of just going with my feeling. I pushed myself harder based on feel. Don’t get me wrong, I still had my Garmin on, but I didn’t look at the data until after my workout.

Now I’m in a completely different numbers game. It’s all about Estrogen, Progesterone, FSH, lining numbers. Again, one can become obsessed with these numbers. I found myself in the same situation. We are now entering attempt number three for baby number two. The first IVF cycle failed, and the second one was canceled and moved to an IUI based on low Estrogen numbers. Truth be told, this has been very, very hard on me. It has been almost 9 months since Ironman. In my mind, I would be ready to pop right about now with baby number two. Not starting on cycle number three. You know what they say… if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. A sobering reality that I am not in control of creating the miracle of life no matter how many supplements I take or if I live gluten and sport free.

In my last appointment with my doctor we talked about a new protocol to try. If it doesn’t work I was told we would need to think about another route (meaning donor eggs). My heart sank. I’ve done everything under the sun to increase my chances. I’ve given up Gluten, Swim, Bike, Run, and I take enough supplements to win hands down a pill popping contest with a 90 year old. All of this, and still we struggle. Tears forming at the corners of my eyes, I asked my doctor is there ANYTHING else I can do to increase my chances? She said I am doing everything that I can, and doing it right. But then she said something that shocked me. She told me for the next month (while I’m not on stimulation medication) that I should eat my glorious gluten filled pizza, go for a run, swim or bike- BE NORMAL.

Jack ready for the Running Race!
Now the tears were really threatening to flow. I was scared. What if this ruins my chances? She must have read my mind, she reassured me it was okay for the next month, but cautioned that I couldn’t do anything crazy like Ironman training, but a little here and there and dropping 5 lbs. would be just fine.  I need to go off of FEELING again, and drop the numbers obsession. Since that appointment, I’ve gotten out to run a handful of times. I like to do this with Jack, as he LOVES to run with me. In fact, the week after that appointment, Jack and I ran our very first 5k together. Now, I must tell the whole story... I was going to do the 1 mile walk because I only ran once (the day prior) since Ironman. I had NO intention on doing the 5k. I was there to support a friend, and an all around amazing organization, Wellness Place in Palatine They provide education, counseling and support for those affected by cancer for FREE. So Jack and I headed to our running race which he was looking forward to all weekend. I stopped to get a coffee along the way. We signed up and listened to the opening ceremonies and then they announced all those doing the 5k to line up. I started to see a ton of people with strollers, super fit folks and the not so super fit. Something came over me, and I found myself saying I’m an effing Ironman! I can do this. So I jumped in line and we were off. Jack was so awesome! He was the best cheerleader :) Given my, ahem, training, and the fact that Jack is 26 lbs PLUS the stroller and it was in the high 80s that morning... I did stop and walk 2 times... each time Jack said- you can do it Mommy, you are doing a great job! AND EACH time, I welled up with tears. This race was above and beyond the best since I was there doing it with my son.

Jack and I after our first 5k together! He was awesome!
He is truly awesome and I am so lucky that God picked me to be his Mommy. 35 mins later, we crossed the finish line, had our bananas and juice, and then it was his first trip ever into a Porta Potty. (I have to say it was the cleanest porta potty I have EVER been in) Jack was too funny, he was perplexed since there was no flusher ;) I love this age where everything including a porta potty can be magical. He got to jump in the big bouncy and then we watched the balloon release. He loved watching the balloons and was very upset with me when we left. But the post-race pancakes more than made up for it. It was a GREAT day!

This past weekend I managed to get on my bike for an hour. I got out early on Sat morning and I forgot how I much I love morning training. Swim, bike or run, in the AM there is something so special about it. I feel sorry for those who miss out on the magic of the world waking up around you. The soft hum of the sprinklers, the birds chirping away, and the sun just rising... truly God’s work. I feel so blessed to be out taking in it. I love seeing the animals, Cows and horses, the previous weekend while out on a run with a great friend, I saw a bald eagle perched on a large branch in the middle of the Fox River. I also saw a giant turtle resting on a rock. Magic. Back to my ride, it went well... I wasn’t pushing too hard, but managed to get almost 17 miles done in an hour averaging 15.5 mph. Humbling considering what I was doing prior to my IVF hiatus. But as my husband said, it is better than the ride I did the month before. Point taken. Then Sunday morning I was blessed with getting into the open water with my Mom, brother and my brother's friend Ryan.

Jack ready for the beach!
My awesome sister in law, Ana, was on the shore playing in the water and at the park with Jack. I swam a mile, and had a few hiccups here and there. Since I am not in shape, there is NO way I can fit into my wetsuit I wore for Ironman, so it was back to my oldie but goodie... heeelllooo stuffed sausage. We started off and about a quarter mile in I remembered why I didn’t like that suit. The neck comes up too high and makes me feel like I’m being choked. All last year with my TYR I never had that issue. Then because of our mild winter the seaweed was Out. Of. Control. Holy smokes, I panicked a good couple of times, seaweed right in my face and getting tangled in my arms and legs... I pressed on after rolling on my back. Humbled again, I felt like this doesn’t look anything like an Ironman... but I remembered what Chrissie Wellington said... You need to adjust your expectations based on where you are at in your life. I was back to going off of FEELING, and got out of the weeds and back to shore where my cute little Jack was busy playing.

Until next time....
Keep smiling and have fun racing and training.