My journey to my first Ironman was not easy. It was loaded with more downs than ups. This is my story and I hope you can learn something from my journey and think about this whenever you doubt yourself during your journey to the finish line.
I never really thought of myself as an athlete…more a dabbler in the art of expressing craziness through triathlons. Sometimes I am a rebel and will enter a half marathon or a classic cycle race…but mostly, I swim, bike and run (or crawl). Am I any good? Well, I can swim like a dolphin, kinda okay with the bike… and running? Well, let’s just say I end on the red carpet eventually. Juggling work, personal life, post-grad studies and training for triathlons make my schedule look insane and my sleeping patterns even worse. I consider myself to be sort of a type A personality. I need structure with my training and in my work, but as for the rest…Well let’s just say I can leave my house without making my bed.
Most athletes are like me I guess, we all have jobs, families, kids, pets and relationships. I sometimes think it is a miracle that people like us are functional human beings. I wish life could be “eat, train, sleep, repeat” instead of “eat, feed dogs, train, work, work through lunch, eat lunch too late, train with heartburn, eat leftovers from last night, shower, swear at the foam roller, fall in bed, kiss husband goodnight, repeat”… but it never seems to be so easy.
Recently life happened to me in a big way. I found out in November of 2015 I have to relocate to another city. Quit the job I love, leave behind my friends and family. The big move is taking place the weekend after I do my first Ironman which is not ideal to say the least, but there was nothing I could do about it.
I thought I was okay with all of this. I carried on as usual, did my job, got up at 04:15 every morning to train, do big sessions over weekends…and somewhere in this whole process I got lost without even realising it. The tipping point? Waking up one morning to go for a run and instead I just turned over and started crying. I couldn’t do it anymore and worse, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to. As I lay there looking at the ceiling, noticing a couple of paint cracks, I was reprimanding myself because I am not a quitter. I tried shaking it off…went to the pool instead… I quit halfway through. Just stopped, got out and went home. I have never felt so hopeless in my life and I struggled to figure what was ripping my confidence to shreds and what made me lose my tri-heart.
What do you do when life happens? When you know you spent endless hours on the bike and most likely just as much running. The countless physio appointments to get rid of the aches and pains and going to bed early to be able to get up even earlier. Not to even mention the time away from family and friends that you can never get back. What do you do next?
Do you just say that is it…I am done. Or do you dig deep and find that sweet spot that makes you keep on keeping on? That is the trick isn’t it? That decision we have to make that will follow you for the rest of your life, either in a good way or the worst possible way. I have a sign in my office that says: “I’d rather look back at my life and say I can’t believe I did that instead of saying, I wish I did that”. I never want to say I wished I’d sucked it up and pushed through to do Ironman, but I also could not get myself out of this dark hole. I reached a crossroad and I had no idea which way to turn.
Self-doubt became the voice that kept reminding me that if I quit, my coach will hate me, my family will be disappointed. The list of people I would disappoint seemed endless…or at least I was making it seem endless. I forgot why I wanted to do Ironman and I needed to get back to being me.
In my journey to rediscover my tri-heart again, I had to face some truths, really hard ones.
I had to find my reason. Without it my motivation might never come back. So I took some quiet time to figure out why I am doing Ironman and how I got so lost in the first place. These are some of the things I have discovered about myself the last few weeks. Will it help you? I hope so. You might be able to identify with some of these, or maybe none of them. But the point is, eventually life might happen to you too…and this might just help you make the right decision.
1. Stop trying to be in control. All. The. Time.
First question to yourself when life happens is “Can I control this?” if the answer is yes, then you need to sit down and figure out what went wrong and how you can fix it. If the answer is no…let it go. And that is the hard part. We are inherently programmed to want to be in control all the time. Of work, of training, and of our lives. An impossible task we set out to accomplish. Letting go does not make you a lesser person, nor does it make you weak. It makes you human.
2. Be honest.
Brutally honest. It is the hardest thing to do. To admit what we deny deep in our hearts. Be honest with yourself, your support (in my case my husband) and your coach. Admit your fears and your doubts. We tend to deny that we are scared to attempt Ironman, because the people that we look up to for advice, either other athletes or coaches, radiates confidence. And so, we try to do the same. Hide the doubt and fear and it will eat you from the inside. Showing the fears and doubts …it’s almost like a rite of passage you have to go through as part of your journey. Embrace it. Learn from it. But never fear it.
3. It is okay to take down time.
It doesn’t matter how many things you are doing and juggling. It can be work, family, studies…eventually a ball gets dropped. Stop being hard on yourself. One missed session will not make you unfit…in fact, it might give you the boost you need. I carry around this irrational fear that if I skip one session I will lose at least 50% of my fitness…I took 3 days off and I am still as fit as ever…Fear squashed. Still working on feeling guilty for not training, but Rome was not built in a day either.
4. Stop negative self-talk
Telling yourself that you are a quitter, that you will not reach a goal, is just stupid. It’s hard to stop because it is human nature, especially for triathletes. We put and immense amount of pressure on ourselves, because face it, a triathlon is not a walk in the park (or a 10km Spar Ladies Fun Run). But negative self-talk is just a way that you are letting your fear and doubts take over. You need to find a way to stop it in its tracks as soon as you start to even think about trash talking yourself. I have a “phone-a-friend” option…someone that knows this bad habit of mine and helps me to stop it and it only takes one call or text.
5. Kick self-doubt in the nuts.
When that little voice pipes up, telling you that you were stupid and crazy to attempt this. The constant self-abusive we put ourselves through is not only unhealthy for your mind, it will start showing in your body if you let it continue. Find your mantra, whatever it is and kick self-doubt in the nuts. Mine is…. Well that is a secret, but in works every time…
6. Cry. Yes, cry.
For woman it is easier, because we are wired that way. Crying is letting go of the emotion we keep bottled up…because an Ironman does not cry. Well, letting it out helps to let go of the fear, the anger and the guilt we feel. Letting the emotion go makes space to notice the things we miss because we are dragging all this baggage of worry along. Find your space to cry… In your shower, in the car or like me…at the physio…not sure how that works, but every now and again I just have a little breakdown on that bed #needlesnotneeded.
7. Stop feeling judged.
By your family, colleagues and coach. Your family are the people that see (or hear) you get up early mornings to go and train and your colleagues are the ones that see you walk funny after a 7 hour cycle…and your coach? He/she is your soundboard for the fears and questions. Highly unlikely that they will judge you too. I kept a lot of feelings and fears locked up because I was afraid my coach will think they are irrelevant, not worth the time and judge me because of them…Boy, was I wrong. The relief was immense when I took the chance and just blurted it out.
8. Trust yourself.
When training for something like Ironman, it’s sometimes hard to keep the goal in sight, so when losing sight of the goal, you have to trust yourself to reach the line. Even if the path is not laid out perfectly. Take a moment to think back where you were two months ago or even a year ago? Even if you are not sure of the goal, a walk down memory lane will at least show that you are moving forward, towards something.
9. Why we tri.
Find the reason you started this journey. After you have addressed fears and doubts. Been honest down to the core with yourself, your coach and you kicked self-doubt in the nuts…The rest is up to you. No one can help you find your reason again. People can be your soundboard, your 3am text conversation and your cheerleader…but it is up to you to find the reason again. It may come back with a bang or gradually materialise as if it has been there all along. Just never give up on it…It might just be looking for you too.
I lost sight of my goal when life knocked me to my knees. It is hard and emotional to find it again and relocating and saying goodbye to a life I had known for 12 years is not making it any easier. I kicked my self-doubt in the nuts…it will most likely be back, but definitely weaker. I faced my fear that taking time out will make me unfit. I am starting to trust myself more and my confidence is creeping back.
I have not found my tri-heart yet, nor my reason for attempting Ironman. I am actually still figuring it out and that is okay by me. I am trusting myself and I know I am moving forward towards something.
* I found my tri-heart and completed my first IRONMAN in 15 hours and 20 min. I was inspired, made my passion my job and Infinitude Coaching was born.
P.S. I am still not making my bed.