"Luke, Take the Mattresses Off"

author : Kyle Pawlaczyk
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By Kyle Pawlaczyk  

Many of us in the northern hemisphere are currently in our “off-season.” If you’re like me, you use the off-season to work on athletic weaknesses, enjoy a break from the physical and psychological stresses of racing, and put on a “winter layer” by increasing your consumption of Oreos and Miller High Life. With 2010 officially in the books, it’s also a great time for reflection on my first pro season.

My 2010 season ended at Ironman Florida, and quite frankly, it was a disaster. An “average” swim and bike left me in about 19th place. As I put my running shoes on, I did some quick math and decided that I needed to run about a 2:50 marathon to give myself a chance at the finish I was hoping for. After an aggressive first half, I completely imploded. Maybe my math skills failed me (I did terrible in Calc II in college). Maybe my questionable run fitness wasn’t enough to carry me through. Maybe I just learned (the hard way) about the importance of being patient in an Ironman. Whatever the case, I ran the second half of the marathon a full hour slower than the first. Ouch.

You’d think that such a performance would lead to a long, bitter off-season. Upon reflection, I feel quite the opposite. Let me explain, by way of an example from my favorite movie, Rad. For those of you not familiar with the movie, some quick background information:

  1. Rad is a cult-classic movie about an upstart BMX racer, Cru Jones.
  2. More people come across my blog by searching for “Cru Jones” than by searching “Kyle Pawlaczyk.”
  3. I have managed to glean many important “life lessons” from Rad, which is not available on DVD, but should be.

Anyway, my performance at Ironman Florida reminded me of one of the movie’s most memorable scenes. In the movie, Cru sets up a makeshift ramp at a local playground, with the hope of learning how to land a back flip on his bike. He practices and practices, but can’t seem to quite get it. Each time he bails, he lands, unharmed, on some old mattresses that are padding his landing area. After watching this a few times, Cru’s love interest (played by a young Lori Loughlin of Full House fame) offers some advice and points out that he will never land the flip successfully with the mattresses laying there. After thinking this over for a moment, Cru turns to his buddy and says: “Luke, take the mattresses off.” The mattresses are taken away, exposing the hard plywood beneath. On his next attempt, Cru rides down the runway, launches himself into the air, and…
…he lands flat on his back, gasping for air, saved from serious injury only by his Cooper hockey helmet.

In the metaphorical sense, Ironman Florida was my “take the mattresses off” moment. Like Cru, I realized that really going for it would mean risking ugly failure. Before Florida, most of my races had been characterized by relatively “safe” performances, where I had a plan, stuck to it, and stayed within myself. This yielded OK results, but not the great results I was hoping for. I went for it at Ironman Florida and failed, but it was a failure that I am particularly proud of. It represented a willingness to really take a risk in order to succeed.

For many of us, triathlon is a “take the mattresses off” experience. It is a sport that offers daunting challenges for athletes of all levels, with the distinct possibility that things just won’t go your way sometimes. Though it’s the off-season and 2011 has just begun, I’m sure many of you are already thinking about the challenges this sport will present to you this year, and what it will take to succeed. Maybe you’re having second thoughts about that sprint race you signed up for. Maybe you’re already apprehensive about that 2000-person mass start in your upcoming Ironman, or that warm-weather race where the temperature is usually in the nineties. Maybe you doubt your ability to cut down your beer and cookie consumption and get back to race weight in time.
  
Whatever challenge is facing you, chances are you are working hard at reaching your goals already. Triathletes, by nature, are driven to succeed, and I wish everyone success in 2011. Some of us won’t succeed all of the time, and my 2010 season was an example of that. Like Cru Jones, I walked away from my first attempt at “going big” defeated, slightly disappointed, but proud of the fact that I had the guts to go for broke.

By the way: In the movie, Cru Jones nails the back flip on his second attempt.


Follow more of Kyle's journey at his blog: Kyle Pawlaczyk - Pro Triathlete

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date: January 14, 2011

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Kyle Pawlaczyk

After a collegiate distance running career, Kyle Pawlaczyk began racing triathlons in 2009. Kyle recorded two top-10 finishes in the Ironman 70.3 series in 2010, his first season as a pro. He resides in Charlottesville, VA.

This column will follow Kyle as he faces the challenges associated with becoming a viable professional in the sport of triathlon.

Author

avatarKyle Pawlaczyk

After a collegiate distance running career, Kyle Pawlaczyk began racing triathlons in 2009. Kyle recorded two top-10 finishes in the Ironman 70.3 series in 2010, his first season as a pro. He resides in Charlottesville, VA.

This column will follow Kyle as he faces the challenges associated with becoming a viable professional in the sport of triathlon.

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