“Learning to read music in braille and play by ear helped me develop a damn good memory.” -Ray Charles
I admire Ray Charles as a man who chose to make the most of the hand of cards he was dealt. Growing up in an impoverished family, Charles contracted glaucoma which (untreated) left him blind at age 7. He witnessed the drowning death of his younger brother (prior to losing his sight) and lost his mother when he was just 15. A student of music at a state school for deaf and blind children, he grew up to become a legendary singer, songwriter, and composer. He is considered one of the pioneers of soul music.
While most of us will never know the same roadblocks which Ray faced in his life, I think that we can all learn from the way in which he chose to interpret obstacles–whether our obstacles are seemingly insignificant (e.g. “first world problems”, inconveniences, etc) or insurmountable (e.g. grief, loss, addiction, illness, etc). Ray Charles did not see obstacles (pun intended); he saw opportunities.
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on this concept with regards to racing. In close proximity to race day, athletes tend to be extra aware of things–obstacles– that may hinder performance. When in this “high alert” mode, it is easy to allow a less-than-ideal situation or “sign” trip you up and cause you to doubt or descend into a spiral of negativity. This might include thoughts like “I didn’t have time to go to the grocery store to buy a banana for before the race. I always eat a banana pre-race, so now I can’t possibly race well!” or “I have been feeling really stiff and tired this week. I think I’m out of shape. This is going to be a bad race!”…
Something that has been helpful for me is to only look at the positive “signs”. I either ignore the negative ones (i.e. obstacles) entirely, or else turn them into something positive/helpful (i.e. opportunities). When race day is in sight, I have a very selective tunnel of vision/hearing/thinking. I filter out any little bugs that may pollute my positivity. If it appears that it might help me, I keep it. If it appears that it might not, I reconfigure it or toss it out. For example, if I find a heads-up penny on my run, I pick it up for “good luck”. If I find a heads-down nickel on my run, I decide that nickels are the new penny and heads-down is the new heads-up! When things are going as planned, I think “this is just what I need to have a great race!” If everything is going wrong, I think “I train when things are not ideal, so I can race when things are not ideal. Imperfect conditions are to my advantage.”
This filter is extremely biased towards positivity. Regardless of the situation, it works in my favor. I’ve found that this is the best approach to fend off doubt and fear heading into a race. Recently, at Santa Cruz 70.3, the swim course was cut very short and our start was delayed by about an hour due to heavy fog. I had already eaten my pre-race snack and consumed my electrolytes. I had timed it “perfectly” so that I would be well topped-off and hydrated for the race. Then, we were delayed and my snack/drink plan was derailed. I also felt well-prepared for the full swim distance and knew that it would probably be my strength of the 3 disciplines. While the negative thoughts tried to pry their way in, I chose to think “I will be fine. I am used to performing in imperfect situations. Everyone is in the same boat. I will give my best and see what happens.” Additionally, when I was on the bike course being passed by every single woman in my division, I was tempted to panic and go harder than planned, but I chose to stay within my power range, thinking “It’s okay. Let them go. I will race my own race.” Then, I was able to feel strong on the run and gain back some lost ground–I even ran my half marathon PR. Not that the race was perfectly executed, but I’m improving!
Continuing with the Ray Charles theme, I recently dug up some wise words of his:
“The notes are right underneath your fingers. All you gotta do is take the time to find the right note. That’s what life is, we all got notes underneath our fingers and we gotta take the time to find the right notes, to come up with our own music.”
Triathlon/sport is one of the things in my life that music was in Ray’s. I want to keep learning and improving– searching for the right notes. I want to find the notes to the song that God has put inside me. I want to express it fully and beautifully.