It was the first day of the fall semester at FSU. Just another first day like any other I’d experienced in my past 17+ years of school (yes, Preschool and Kindergarten count here), or so I thought. When most people enter a classroom or any type of room for that matter, they do what best allows them to stay in their comfort zone: look for people they are friends with, people they’ve had classes with before, or look for people who are dressed similar to them. Since I always came to class straight from my morning run and weights practice, I tried to look for the other people (athletes) who were…what’s that word?....oh yeah… sweaty, just like me.:)If all else failed and there were no athletes to sit next to, I’d always try to sit next to whoever looked the friendliest. But anyways, back to my story.
On that first day of my English class after we’d chosen our seat and settled in, the teacher instructed us to try and throw away our stereotypes based on looks and get a little bit out of our comfort zone this semester. To help us do this, she had us write down on a piece of paper something from our past that we wish could be brought back: a toy, food/drink not sold in stores anymore, or any tangible object. As many thoughts ran through my head, I decided on something that I liked and thought nobody else would have thought of: Crystal Pepsi. Surprisingly, in a class of 22 there were a lot of requests for Furbies, and I do believe that their dreams for a comeback came true a few years later. Even more shocking to me was that someone had thought of the same response as me! As the teacher read out our responses by similar categories and read our names to go along with them, she asked us to shuffle around our seating arrangement and sit next to whomever shared our “blast from the past” desires. As I moved to sit next to my new Crystal Pepsi BFF as well as a guy who’d put down Surge for his response and was obviously on the same wavelength as us, I realized that I probably wouldn’t have made an effort to get to know these two had our teacher not placed us next to each other. Just more proof that change is usually unwanted, but often creates a great result. While this story doesn’t end with me becoming best friends with these two or hanging out on the weekends, I am happy to report that I was able to get out of my comfort zone that semester and make a connection with people I may not have gotten to know otherwise. And you can bet I made sure to smile and wave whenever I’d see them around campus during the remainder of my time at Florida State.
Now, I realize that besides my parents and my cat, most of my readers are triathletes. So, now that you’ve seen an example of redefining comfort zones in a social situation, it’s time to triathlon-ize this post… how can this relate to triathlon? The truth is, this topic is relatable on many levels. First, I’d like to highlight the observation that it is easy to get complacent in our daily routine and our expectations for training and racing. However, it is impossible to achieve better results while going about things in the same way. Therefore, it is very important as we strive to grow and become better as both athletes and people to ask ourselves how we can get out of our comfort zone and promote change.
I believe that most of this change needs to come in the way we train so that it will carry over into our races. We need to ask ourselves what our weaknesses are and figure out the steps necessary to addressing them this season. What did you not like about your training plan from last season? Would you respond better to a different kind of strength plan? Do you need to incorporate more hills and power drills into the training plan? Did you swim enough yardage to be comfortable with your race distance? Similarly, did you do enough intervals to be comfortable with switching gears in a race? Where do you feel you played it safe? These are just a few of the many questions you need to be asking yourself and your coach when it comes to maximizing your triathlon performance.
In my case, there are many times during my professional triathlon career when I’ve been forced out of my comfort zone. For example, when I realized I needed to work on my biking strength early on in my pro career, I decided to move Colorado and train in the altitude and mountains, although I didn’t even know a handful of people. This was a not an easy decision and it was very lonely starting out. I often thought about moving back to Florida and accepting a slot in the Master’s program I’d put on hold. However, I felt that God had a purpose for me there. For me, this was probably the biggest leap of them all during my career and I am so thankful I stuck it out! Also, once I was a couple years into my racing career, I realized that although I was burning a ton of calories training, I could not in fact eat whatever I wanted and that a healthy, balanced diet would be a better option than a Smashburger and milkshake, a typical dinner for me. I accepted that it was part of my job as a professional to be healthy for myself, and be a good role model for others. I slowly stopped buying frozen meals and ordering myself pizzas for dinner, and finally took the time to learn how to cook. It was a small yet a little overwhelming change in my daily routine that I feel greatly helped my training, racing, and overall health.
These are just a few examples from my experience (there’s many more I could write about), and I hope these spark some ideas for you on how to get out of your comfort zone this year. I look forward to your feedback and hearing your personal goals and ideas on this topic as well. Let’s keep growing, keep loving, and keep giving thanks for the abilities God has given us – both as triathletes and otherwise!