Go Big or Go Home - Finding Mental Strength for Success

I am so excited to share some of this experience with you all. 

Before I dive in on my latest experience, I have been so fortunate to take part in the Waterman Tahiti Tour over the past four years thanks to one of my best friends who introduced it to me. It is no doubt the most unique event in the world. The event is anywhere from 2-5 days, depending on the type of round it is. Each round is held on a different island or area in French Polynesia. The disciplines include, stand up paddle, prone paddle, Va’a, outrigger, swimming, hiking, running, and other surprise “warm up” challenges. The motto of the event is “Expect nothing, be ready for everything.” I get goose bumps just thinking about it. The main points of focus for each participant in the event is motivation, attitude, and aptitude. Stephan Lambert, the race director, is the mastermind guru behind it all. His approach is genius and I owe a massive amount of my mental and physical capacity to how he has structured his events. We all seek to “Go Deeper” together, pushing each other past our own perceived limits and it turns into a group effort to discover just what our minds and bodies are capable of. 

I have done MANY events in my athletic career and I can say without hesitation that THIS event is my absolute favorite. The People, the challenge, the culture, the personal growth, the mind growth, the physical growth, the landscape, the experience, EVERYTHING about it has changed my life perspectives. I leave this event and French Polynesia a better version of myself, every time.

This past trip, I had two major endeavors, first, compete in the Huahine WILD Waterman Tahiti Tour and then compete in my very first xterra off-road triathlon at XTERRA MOOREA.  I have been pursuing professional triathlon for about 8 months now, training full-time, and I have put in hours upon hours upon hours of work to get me in top racing condition. Thank you to my coach, Jarrod Evans ( Triathlon GOLD.)

I could write a novel about ALL my experiences on just this trip alone, however, I am going to focus on a few moments during the last day of the Waterman Tahiti Tour and the majority of XTERRA MOOREA where I had to overcome some serious mental fatigue and shift my self-talk approach all 5+ hours of racing. 

It rained the entire week before the Xterra in Moorea…which meant that an already very tropical, moist, terrain, was WET and even more MUDDY than usual. I did not come prepared with the proper bike set up for this.  I was and still am a complete mountain bike noob when it comes to knowing proper set up with the different conditions, but I am learning every day. Unfortunately, the smallest adjustment to tire and wheel set up can make or break a course with conditions like we all experienced out there. I was told by many that this course marks the toughest conditions ever experienced by racers…even more difficult than Xterra World Championships in Maui. I laugh writing this because of course my very first Xterra event would turn out this way. Go big or Go home, right?! 😉 Wouldn’t have it any other way. 

I have made it a point to practice self-talk and visualization on a daily basis, it is part of my daily routine. It hasn’t always been this way…it’s been about a 7-year process and is continually in the works. It’s a process that I have to hold myself accountable to in order to gain the benefits of doing the consistent work. It’s not easy or glamourous, but it’s worth it. 

Now for the nitty gritty. As I dragged my bike through the non-rideable, gunky, ankle deep mud, I was NOT MYSELF and I was completely aware of it but had the most difficult time altering my state of mind. My usual self-talk practices disappeared, and I let that anger take control of me internally.  I was frustrated that couldn’t ride my bike and had to hike it ¾ of the 30k course. I was disappointed that I wasn’t better equipped to deal with the circumstances despite being in the same exact boat as every other participant there. Have you ever been in a situation where you are completely aware of how you are acting; you don’t approve of it but IT IS SO HARD TO CHANGE?! How bizarre is this?! My mind couldn’t get away enough from this earthly element holding me back (MUD) to compete at my highest ability and enjoy one of the most beautiful places in the entire world, instead I was in survival mode, both physically and mentally.

 It took me awhile to alter my mindset, but eventually it shifted. I was able to jump back to the moments the weekend before as I was stand up paddling the last 2k of the 25k loop in Huahine, where Stephan Lambert, the director/ mastermind/ guru of the Waterman Tahiti Tour event sat beside me on the jetski, coaching me through each paddle stroke and each breath. The motto is to “Go Deeper” but this is easier said than done. How can you “Go Deeper” physically and mentally, when you can barely stand up straight? You can, you just need to allow it and accept the pain and the other sensations your body deems life threatening. I was already out on the water for over two hours, my legs were shaking and one little bump in the water caused me to lose my strength and I fell more times than I could count. Stephan reminded me to breath and to focus on my technique. His simple guiding words gave me a new wind and new found strength to charge to shore where the finish line and a fresh coconut awaited me. 

Thinking back to this moment lifted me up during my struggles on the Xterra Moorea bike course. I was able to tell myself to charge forward and soak in every single moment of struggle as a gift. The ability to be there, in Moorea, one of the most beautiful places in the world, competing in the sport I love most, surrounded by people who are just as crazy, passionate as I am…it was all a gift. Despite being on the verge of tears, cursing as I threw the piles of mud off my bike weighing 30 more pounds than it should have…I was able to laugh with my fellow competitors around me as we all threw our bikes in every stream and waterfall in sight in desperate attempts to clean the mud weighing down our bikes.

I could go on and on about every aspect of my experience on this past trip to French Polynesia. However, these two big moments were my biggest mental takeaways of the trip. Just when I think I have experienced the most mentally demanding athletic event or moment, something else happens to set the bar higher. I am so grateful for this. This is growth, both mentally and physically. Coming out the other side stronger, more resilient, and ready for whatever mentally demanding moments lie ahead.

Jess Rocheleau

RISE Blog Contributor

Photo Credit: Jerome Brouillet