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Small Fish, Big Pond

By Natalie Kirchhoff | April 12, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

At the top of the podium at last year's AGNC.
We all know what it feels like — the dreaded birthday when you age up to an older bracket. We spend years getting to know our competition, climbing the rankings and then SPLAT! In one day we are pushed to the bottom. We have to start at the bottom of the ladder and climb our way back up. It's tough. It's humbling. It's challenging. There are growing pains associated with it and yet everyone has to go through it.

For me I didn’t “age up” per se; instead I went from amateur to the professional ranks. Thus far I’ve had three pro races and let me tell you: I’ve eaten some humble pie! It’s tough going from a national age group champion to getting dead last in a race (yes, in my first pro race I came in last). I liken this jump to a high school athlete moving into college athletics. Or a minor league ball player moving into the Majors. Or a college quarterback moving into the NFL ranks. You’re a big fish in a small pond and suddenly you feel like a minnow in the ocean!

It’s hard to prepare for the jump whether it’s moving from amateur to pro status or simply moving into an older age group. We have to relearn some of the ropes; get to know our new competition, find ways to train smarter and race faster. In just three pro races, I’ve learned many invaluable lessons. I’ve made some rookie mistakes like using a new pair of racing flats week of the race. (Not a smart move! My feet ended up with some pretty blisters at the end of that one!) Or using new aerobars that weren’t properly fitted to my bike (another no-no).

New shoes on race day - not the best idea.

I admit: it is hard and frustrating when you don't get the results you want (or the results you got last season), but that doesn't mean you are any less of an athlete. You are still a rock solid triathlete who loves the multisport lifestyle. Although it’s fun being a big fish in a small pond, we can only go so far with that. The real growth happens when we jump into the ocean and become stronger and better than we were before.

These last few races have taught me to find things other than place and ranking to take pride in. When I don’t place where I had hoped, I need to find other aspects of the race to hang my hat on. So I’ve started asking myself: What did I do well today? How were my splits compared to last time? Did I fuel myself properly? Did I stick to the game plan?

So the next race you feel like you're getting schooled by the big girls (or boys), take a moment and find some things to be happy about. What did you do right? What are some things you can improve on for next time? How was your mental game and self talk? Remember: a strong mind is a strong body. Even if you feel in over your head, keep the self talk positive. It will carry you a long way. 

Until next time, look at challenges as opportunities to grow and become stronger. Remember, it’s not about the destination, but the journey in getting there. Carpe diem!