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Conquering a New Environment

By Renee Tomlin | May 20, 2015, 2:32 p.m. (ET)

The 3 a.m. alarm came early while laying in my bed in Phoenix, Arizona, about two weeks ago. It felt like I had just gone to sleep after Renee Tomlin Bikean evening of packing and prepping for the next adventure. This time, the pre-sunrise flight would take me to a new continent and into a completely foreign cultural and language experience. I never thought I would actually make it to China in my worldly travels, not anytime soon anyway, but the sport of triathlon opens all sorts of unexpected doors. Together with training partner Kirsten Kasper and coach Jarrod Evans, we made our way from Phoenix to San Francisco to Tokyo to, ultimately, Chengdu, China in the heart of the Sichuan countryside. Geographically, the trip to Chengdu doesn’t place me the most miles outside the comforts of the US, but mentally and emotionally, it most certainly felt like I was far outside my comfort zone.

As noted in previous blogs, triathlon and success within it is all about creating consistency. By this I’m referring to consistency in training, race prep, recovery, nutrition, and communication with the support system. Upon landing in Chengdu, ‘consistency’ became a fluid term: one that had to be re-appropriated to the current environment and foreign conditions. I’ve learned that when I travel—and holistically in life in general—there are a finite amount of things I can control. This number fluctuates depending on the given environment, language, and culture. In my ‘consistency continuum,’ the number starting out in Chengdu was relatively low.

Being able to speak English, German, French and proficiently enough in Spanish, I haven’t found myself in too many circumstances where I am on the complete opposite side of a language barrier. I’m able to get by in countries like Italy and Sweden given language similarities, but it’s near impossible to fake it in Chinese. The linguist in me relied on body language, contextualization cues, and any written text with its English equivalent underneath the Chinese characters. 

My world grew small within the compound of Hotel Hengda. I realize now that I almost only left the grounds when running or riding. In a way, I was doing something that I controlled just in an environment totally outside of my control. With the hum of Chinese public service announcements or food cart advertisements in the background, I envisioned myself as a character in the Peanuts listening to the Teacher give instructions. This made day-to-day life more normal as well as facilitate a good laugh introspectively.

Likewise, once settled in at the hotel, I created a routine and grew accustomed to the food options, the wavering Internet access, and the nuances of organization on the whole. “Oh, laundry costs $150 USD? Vegetables for breakfast?” Welcome to my new normal. The repeat playlist consisting of Britney Spears’ Lucky and Carly Ray Jepson’s Call Me Maybe became part of my morning and evening dining routine. Not to mention the-classic elevator jingle of Für Elise that played every single time I went up instead of down upon pressing the button to descend. All of these factors helped create consistency and familiarity, even if it was a different type of routine that I was used to.

Renee Tomlin Chengdu WinHaving successfully manipulated ‘consistency’ and ‘familiarity’ in this new environment, I knew going into the race I was as prepared as possible. With a bit of Chinese good fortune, a bank of hard work and a re-appropriated pre-race routine, I was able to pull off my first World Cup win. Crossing the line in the 36°C heat was a reward in and of itself, but the complete journey to securing the win was the most rewarding experience. I couldn’t be more grateful for the continued support of USAT’s CRP program, Team Psycho and Blueseventy. The people behind these teams and brands help build my ‘consistency’ foundation and cheer me on along the way. All credit along this journey goes to them!

Read more of Renée's blog posts documenting her triathlon journey.