My calf felt fine. I was being a chicken. This group ran 7-minute miles on rolling hills, and though I would have been able to keep up, it would have been very challenging. So I opted out altogether.
If you are like me, you probably have a dozen stories similar to this one. Whether they're about signing up for a hard race, riding with a new group or joining a masters swim class, they all center around one thing—pushing outside of your comfort zone, the imaginary fence that stops us from exploring, challenging and bettering ourselves.
To paraphrase Simon Marshall, author of The Brave Athlete: Calm the F*ck Down and Rise to the Occasion, your comfort zone is like an emotional cast for a leg that's not broken. That emotional cast gives you a reason stay on our side of the fence, away from the unknown and the uneasy.
But triathlon is not an easy sport, and the only way to get to that new level is to do something different—something beyond the imaginary fence. Below are seven ways to finally kill your comfort zone and reach peak performance.
Fear Setting2 of 8
Just as we use past and present information to set goals, we use that same information to imagine the worst case scenario. But you might just find that the worst case scenario, the very thing keeping you in your comfort zone, is not so bad after all.
How do you get there? Fear setting. A term first coined by Tim Ferriss on his popular TED talk, fear setting involves defining your fear, thinking though the worst case scenario and then planning a way to prevent or repair it if it happens. This will help you push on when your fears threaten to keep you in your comfort zone.
Find a Nudge Buddy3 of 8
You don't have to explore outside your imaginary fence alone. Sometimes all it takes is a friend or significant other that doesn't mind nudging you out of your comfort zone.
It is best to find a buddy for each sport that can push you without breaking you. Find a friend to join a masters swim with you, a no-drop biking group that takes on challenging climbs and a run buddy for track workouts that can propel you forward. Focus on key workouts with someone who won't put up with excuses and doesn't mind being pushy (you know someone that fits the bill—I guarantee it).
Going Slow4 of 8
Not what you thought, huh? Breaking out of your comfort zone is about being uncomfortable and many athletes are uncomfortable taking their recovery run or ride at a suitable pace. This means that on the days you feel great after that cup of coffee kicked-in, you still go slow (usually zone 2 for your heart rate).
An easy way to reinforce this is by listening to a podcast while you run. As much as I love Stephen Dubner, host of Freakonomics, I find it impossible to break an 8-minute mile when I'm listening to him.
Embrace the Suck5 of 8
You've seen this on shirts and annoying internet memes, but it's actually a military saying. It's simple, but it can make a big difference.
What causes suffering is denial of the present. In a spin class, there is nothing enjoyable about pushing 150 percent of your FTP for 5 minutes, but avoiding it is not going to make a you a better cyclist. When you suddenly hit a head wind, complaining will not make the wind change directions. Embracing something for what it is in that moment can bring about a sense of peace. Find peace in the things that suck and you might uncover some joy.
Reframe Your Goals6 of 8
I am neither a strong nor confident swimmer. Despite being on the swim team for nine years at my community pool, I never got to hang with the speedy kids. The idea of joining masters seemed like self-imposed psychological and physical torture. I decided to reframe a typical goal of, "I am going to shave 15 seconds off my 100" to "I am going to nail every pull and kick continuously." It was way out of my comfort zone, and it was about patience with the skill and not speed. Within time, I found that focusing on my stroke got me to where I needed to be—or at least really close.
Mindfulness7 of 8
When pressed to the ground at 20 mph, my race wheels sound like a 747 during take off. I get lost in the sound for miles. It's a peaceful distraction to focus on what's happening now, instead of what might soon happen (like a 15-percent grade climb).
One of the reasons we become uncomfortable is because we narrate how unbearable the activity is in our heads. By staying mindful and focusing on what you see, hear or smell, you won't be able to dwell on thoughts of discomfort for long.
Travel to a Race8 of 8
How many times have you run your town turkey trot? What about your city marathon? Or your neighborhood 5K? We get stuck in the same routine, training on the same routes and signing up for the same races, over and over and over again.
Picking a race that is far away from home or features a challenging course or elevation profile will build new excitement about your sport as you train and plan for the trip. Sometimes doing a different kind of race, such as cyclocross or adventure racing, can also be just what you need to break out of our comfort zone .
It is not always about doing the same things harder or faster to break out of our comfort zone but rather doing something different. The goal is to aim for whatever challenges and motivates you. So remove the cast and hop the fence—the only thing holding you back is you.