Learnin' from Lesley

Jun. 7, 2018

The "Scottish Rocket" Lesley Paterson watches movies and eats chocolate for fun. She races XTERRA too, coaches people, produces films, puts on camps, and writes books. In this article we share some of her satire on XTERRA ...

There isn’t a single athlete out there who hasn’t been in a race and, at some point, wondered why they signed up for this. Really? As if life isn’t difficult enough. What on earth made us think that wearing a lycra onesie and a plastic helmet was a good idea? We are grown-ups after all. We should have known better.

Maybe you had this thought before your first XTERRA as you watched your fellow competitors effortlessly stretch and perform drills or listened to them speaking the strange language of 2-a-days, bricks, sighting, and the benefits of going tubeless. Or maybe this happened to you at your last race.

The truth is that one of the best aspects of XTERRA is also one of the toughest – this sport keeps us humble and it’s the rare athlete among us who doesn’t feel like an idiot every once in a while. Maybe we forget where we put our bike in the transition area, we didn’t notice the hole in our pocket that our gel just fell out of, or we got distracted, tripped over a root, and are now lying bloody and embarrassed in the middle of the trail.

Two-time XTERRA World Champ Lesley Paterson might be the last person you imagine feeling silly on a trail, but the truth is, that there was a point in time when Lesley didn’t know how to ride a mountain bike. In fact, she knows so much about the 'crazy' inside our heads that she and her husband, sports psychologist Simon Marshall, Ph.D., wrote a book about it entitled The Brave Athlete – Calm the F*ck Down and Rise to the Occasion. Below are some of their tips for building your self-confidence when your reserves are low.

Calm the F*ck Down
Dr. Steve Peters, a British sports psychologist coined the term “chimp brain” for our limbic system. This is the part of our brain that thinks in black and white and is concerned about our safety. The chimp says things like: What if I get dropped? I look like an idiot in this lycra. I’m not really an athlete like these other people are. 

The only way to combat this monkey mind is to calm down. Take a deep breath, recognize that your chimp is in charge, and get clear about the situation. Yes, you just wiped out, but is it really true that everyone is laughing at you? Sure, maybe you just lost all of your nutrition, but instead of freaking out, relax your shoulders and remind yourself where the next aid station is.

Get Successful
Rather than focus on what went wrong or try to lie to yourself by saying nothing went wrong, think about what you did right. Sure your goggles may be leaking right now, but your kick is money and you can focus on pulling strong on your next stroke. Or, if you are starting to freak out about getting passed by someone you think you should be beating, then bring your focus back to what you can control, like how to find the best line for the next turn, exit with power, and balance your body position on the bike.

Move a Muscle, Change a Feeling
While the last thing we want to do when we feel insecure is to smile, research has shown that by changing our facial expression or posture, we can alter the level of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Marshall suggests adopting a “power pose” with your chest out, shoulders back, and gaze straight ahead.

So the next time you’re standing on the beach waiting for your swim-wave to start, rather than spending the time crapping your pants or hoping you don’t get punched or drown, put your hands on your hips, stick out your chest, pull your shoulders back, look straight ahead, and let your nonverbal communication scream that today is a day you will not be f*cked with. – From The Brave Athlete – Calm the F*ck Down and Rise to the Occasion

Plan for Next Time
After the race, revisit what went wrong and employ the logical side of your brain to plan how to avoid that situation in the future.  Maybe you need to get up 15 minutes earlier before your next race, double check that your nutrition is locked down, or pay more attention to your where you put your feet on the run. Or, maybe you need to take a bigger step like finding a coach or hitting a physical and brain training skills camp like the Braveheart Sunshine Sufferfest Triathlon Camp hosted by Lesley Paterson and Mauricio Mendez from August 17-20th in Cozumel, Mexico. 

Couch to Trail