With heart


It was a running joke on every swim team I was on, in every lane I was in. If I was leading the lane and the repeat was greater than 100 yards, we would be in trouble. Inevitably I would lose count over a 200.

For a long time I cursed myself on my inability to count laps in the pool. I remember apologizing to my college swim coach, “I am sorry, I just lose track over 8 lengths”.

“Never lose that Mary Michal.” I will never forget him saying that “Some swimmers swim with their heads, you swim with your heart. Never lose that.”

I never have.

There have been triathlon seasons where I have raced very cerebrally. I came into this sport before garmins and powermeters and FTP’s. The new knowledge was fascinating, empowering, and fun. I loved soaking in new things about a sport I have spent decades in.

Did I perform better that way? I don’t know. At times probably. What I do know, is that I never felt the pure bliss competition freedom I wanted to feel, when races were guided by power and heart rate. But I did without them. When racing was about racing.

About a year ago my husband and I had lunch with the CEO of the company our son works at. A genius of a man, ideas just pouring out of him like water. Quality ones too. I don’t think this man thinks of anything that isn’t 100% awesome. 

He races cars, porches I think. In his races he travels at speeds upwards of 100 miles an hour, even faster I bet. I asked him what it was like, I commented how he must have to be so present because at speeds like that there isn’t time for deep cerebral analysis.

“It’s the only time I am on vacation.” he said, “It’s the only time I don’t think at all.”

That resonated with me to my bones. I felt that sentiment. I felt it deep. I knew exactly what he meant. While I am never traveling over 100 miles an hour when I swim, bike or run, but I understood that feeling of it being the only time I don’t think at all.

That’s the part I have always loved about competing. Not thinking, just feeling. Swimming with my heart and not my head. Not knowing what length I was on (distance swimmers get counters over a 200), finding that edge. Knowing where it was without the help of anything telling me it was there and at times disaterdly stepping over it. If you have ever done that you know all too well that while it may have blown your event apart, that’s one of the best feelings on earth. No device can tell me that, only I can find it. 

Before I get too far down the rabbit hole, I am a fan of data. I am a fan of all of it. I use it to coach. But on race day, we use these things as guides, step back, and roll the dice. During the season we work to build the toolbox that makes the difference on race day, the toolbox between the ears as ultimately this is what creates great performances. 

After my Dad died I used training to help me work through and begin to put the pieces together. I still am. I woke up each day and assessed how I felt and went from there. Throughout this six months I have glanced at paces, but I have gone with what I know as the primary.


When that cannon went off in Texas, Florida, Keuka and the few running races I did earlier in the season, I felt like someone had open the doors to a pen I had been caged in. I was free.

I can’t tell you what I thought about. Not a whole lot, if anything. It was pure freedom off that starting line. Every time. Every mile. Coincidentally I turned in some of my best swimming and cycling, at age 48, and I can feel the ceiling rising.

As I am putting the pieces back together after my life was blown apart so many times in so many ways last year, I don’t have the capacity for deep calculating thought when it comes to training or even racing. 

I do have the capacity to compete with my heart. Coach Dave told me not to lose it. I never have. I have allowed it to get buried a bit, but never lost.

As I travel through this season I feel like it’s the secret I want to share. In transitions I hear chatter about batteries charging, and race plans. And I am sliding my watch off my wrist and into my bag. I want to share this unimaginable freedom I feel and I want to tell them, shut it all off if you can, or even a little bit, there is magic out here.

It’s like the moment you jump off of it, is the moment you touch down.

So do me a favor as we traverse the rest of the season, let go a little bit. Open up to possibility. Open up to “what if”. 

Who cares if you are riding at 89.9987654% of your FTP, are you IN the moment you are in? Because there is nothing on earth more exhilarating, soul filling and hope infusing than that.

I guarantee it.

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