The body achieves what the mind believes
The above quote came across one of my social media feeds at just the right time. Normally I glance over sentimental, feel-good messages and move on. But this time I took note. Little did I know that this one simple message would be something I would come to repeat to myself many times over.
For many years I’d done the same old thing. I’d always been active but I was bored and stuck in an exercise rut. When challenged by a few friends to try a half ironman, my interest was piqued. At that point, I was only doing one of the three sports – running; I decided this was the challenge I was looking for!
My initial thought was ‘how hard can it be to learn to swim and cycle at a competitive level in less than three months?’. Almost immediately I received some internal feedback to the effect that it was indeed going to be a real challenge. Besides going back to basics in both disciplines, I was going to have to reach a point where I was comfortable doing them. The list of what was required was long: from the numerous items needed for each sport; to the amount of training hours I’d have to put in; and finally, the multiple skills I needed to acquire (I hadn’t exactly left myself a huge amount of time). The further I progressed in my training plan, the more daunted I felt. I know myself well enough to know that I have some tenacity and endurance, so that part was less of a concern; however, it was the acquisition of new skills that unsettled me.
Much sooner than expected, the big day arrived. A 1.9km ocean swim, 90km cycle and 21.1km half-marathon run lay ahead of me; all needing to be completed within an eight and a half hour cut-off time. The biggest unknown for me was the swim leg. While it is not overly physically onerous, a couple of hundred nervous swimmers all heading to the same buoy equates to a stressful thrashfest. But I realised, from the pre-race chatter in the pens, that the swim was an issue for most participants and in a mildly perverse way, this was of some comfort to me. While this chatter echoed my negativity around the swim, I wasn’t alone in my fear. For most of us, the real race began once this was behind us.
When I came out the sea and checked my watch, I was surprised to see I’d done a reasonable time and this, along with the delight that the swim leg was under my belt, meant that I set off on my bike with a mild sense of achievement. For the first lap, I remained quite elated. This fast diminished as I set off on my second lap. While completing lap one, I was being overtaken by the faster competitors who were now on their second lap so I was distracted by their prowess and competency. Besides the realisation that I was definitely undertrained for the ride, the second lap was windy, hot and rather lonely and I couldn’t wait to get back on my feet and hand my bike over.
I set off on the run with the sweet sense of relief at having one last discipline to complete. I also reclaimed some confidence because running is so familiar to me and I was on the home stretch. No new skills … just putting one foot in front of the other. Even though I felt secure in the knowledge that I could do the distance, I had never done it off the back of the swim and cycle. I was therefore really pleased to reach the end feeling rather depleted but not in a complete heap.
So, would I do it again? Absolutely.
Of the three disciplines, it is obvious where I can train harder and smarter to shave off tens of minutes. In hindsight, I’ve learnt something new: ‘it’s not just like riding a bike’. I was unprepared and I got caught out. Instead of looking at this in a negative light, I’m now determined to put in the hard yards and see where it gets me.
One of the most valuable take-outs of the whole experience was realising how much I relish learning new things. While the safer option was to toddle along with what I knew, the only way to get ready for the event, was to continually extend myself. I was acquiring new skills almost daily and it thrilled me. The other valuable feedback I received was that while I was doubting my ability to get the skills and training under the belt in the required time, to most other people, there was no doubt at all. My perception of myself was quite different to how other people saw me and this made me sit up and rethink certain beliefs I had about myself. Feedback from others was deeply valuable, in many more ways than I had been expecting. All in all, what a profound learning experience: before, during and after: I have discovered a new me, in both my learning and performance zones.
2019 half ironman – here I come.
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Written by Janet Bartlet for Thornhill Associates