I am really trying hard not to beat myself up too much about taking on the ludicrous 26.94km trail run, which resulted in eternal glory but also an injury which may prevent me from taking part in the upcoming Sunshine Coast Half Marathon.
Boy, even typing those words makes my eyes prickle and stomach churn. I haven’t come to terms with the possibility of pulling out, yet. But I am still stumbling around in pain, only just able to walk properly, with no hope of running. So it is important to start facing up to it.
Needless to say, it has made me wonder if the trail run was a mistake and this is my comeuppance. Did I get greedy? Was it an utterly stupid thing to do? Was the feeling of being ready based on anything other than hope?
I am clinging to the belief that I did the right thing. I am very proud of my trot around the Glasshouse Mountains, although there are undoubtedly improvements to be made to my training and race execution, as well as my recovery. Maybe I shouldn’t have done it, but I am glad I did.
If I could go back and warn myself about the impending injury… I might not have signed up. The Sunshine Coast Half Marathon means a lot to me because I have some history with it; hence the reluctance to admit defeat with it just yet. But I couldn’t know that I would get injured. It’s a risk I take with every training session and every race, I guess.
So the question is, how can you tell whether to sign up for a challenge that you’re pretty sure is beyond your limits? Why is it important to continue to move towards a goal that you secretly suspect may not be achievable for you? I promised to talk about this in my last post. Because like a lot of people, when I can’t do something it is hard for me to imagine ever being able to do that thing and frankly I feel like quitting running forever right now. Yet conversely I still harbour dreams of completing my Half Marathon in just over two weeks’ time.
Obviously the whole point of training for an event is to get ready for the event. Which to my mind always implied that at some point during training I should be able to look back on my training calendar and have confidence that I’ve completed the steps required to be ready.
For both of my my triathlons thus far (see here and here) I was able to successfully achieve that feeling of being ready. Even though I complained and whinged that I was freaking out and the voices in my head were sure I wasn’t cut out for the challenge. Deep down I knew I was ready to go. Because quite simply, I’d done the kilometres required to get me across the finish line. It was like a basic mathematical formula: (Subject A) can exercise for 1 hour continuously + can swim/float/not drown for a kilometre + can stay upright on bike + can run for over 10km = can complete little triathlon.
SIDENOTE: And that was in spite of missing plenty of sessions, failing miserably at times and suffering more than I thought I should be. I’m not saying it was perfect preparation, but somehow I knew it was enough to get me personally to my goal of finishing, for the races I’d committed to.
But for some events – especially those slightly-insane ones like running 26.4km on a course you know nothing about, or giving yourself 3 weeks to recover from an injury before running 21.1km, or entering a Half Ironman – it might not be that simple. For those events, expecting proof that you’re ready to take part before you allow yourself to feel ready might mean you miss out.
I know some of you reading this think nothing of going for a 26km run, so perhaps this post is not for you. But I am presuming there are many people out there who think more like I do. People who have hangovers from school PE lessons, where your ability to take part in the hockey game was dictated by a couple of your peers standing at the side of the pitch picking whichever teammates they liked best.
For those of us who have been conditioned to believe that other people have some kind of say in whether we partake in physical activities or not, this is for you. If you think you’re not supposed to take part in certain things that are reserved for a special group to which you could never belong, please feel free to pay attention to what this crap triathlete is about to write.
SIDENOTE: I look back now and can’t believe that doing sports was the worst part of my school day in high school, when now as a grown-up (I am now the proud owner of a Dyson, so yes I am an official grown-up) sport is my favourite part of any day of the week. And I will never, ever understand why our PE teachers couldn’t divide us into teams themselves, rather than scarring us all by equating ‘sporting ability’ with ‘popularity’.
Technically, I shouldn’t have been tempted to enter the race. I definitely make a better triathlete than I do a runner. I wrote about it in my race report, but in case you missed it – I simply didn’t belong with the rest of the people milling around at the start line of the Flinders Tour. If a PE teacher had emerged from the school building (the race precinct was at Beerburrum State School playground) and told two people to start picking teams, I would have been the last one picked.
Technically, I should not have felt ready. When I’d discovered the race a week beforehand, I didn’t know whether my body could stay injury-free over the course of 26.4km. I wasn’t 100% certain that I’d be running over the finish line, because I’d never run any distance over 20km before.
But I did feel tempted and I did feel ready. Because… My idea of readiness is different to how it used to be.
I’ve decided to share this with you, partly to defend my current situation and future actions (such as signing up for an increasing number of events that seem far beyond my abilities) but also partly to encourage you to change your own definition of ‘ready’. Because believing that you can’t do something is terribly restrictive. The more things you can make yourself feel ready for, the more adventures you will commit to, the more fun you will have, the more life you will live.
Step one in ‘changing the definition of ready’ started around the same time as this blog, when I began setting myself some crazy challenges and accepting that in order to achieve them, I would have to feel uncomfortable. It started with small things, like jumping in a pool and trying swimming. Since beginning this triathlon journey, I’ve grown used to pushing boundaries and trying new things, but I have also grown attached to feeling uncomfortable. I now equate that feeling with owning the power to change my life.
Nobody is standing on the side of the triathlon pitch telling me that I can or can’t take part: I choose to suffer because I want to be part of the glory that suffering leads to.
Over the past 10 months I’ve grown used to struggling and failing – to the extent that my fear of those things has lessened and I can even see the pleasure in ‘shooting for the moon and landing among the stars’, because at least I’m not stuck on the couch on planet earth. The slightly-painful place that I find myself in most of the time, which is just outside my comfort zone, seems much more familiar than it used to. I quite like it out here.
I wanted to do a half marathon because I am chasing bigger goals. Painful goals. Goals I never thought I’d aim for, but thanks to all the practice at beating smaller goals, I am confident enough to attempt. You may recall that I signed up for the Sunshine Coast event when I realised that having official races and proper finish lines to aim for would help me in my training. But I craftily left out the reason why that distance in particular mattered to me…
Which is that, after The Noosa Triathlon, I’d like to do a Half Ironman event.
What the what? A Half Ironman Triathlon, also known as a 70.3, consists of a 1.9km swim, a 90km bike ride and a 21.1km run. That’s a grand total of 113km – or 70.3 miles (hence the name)
I will never ever feel ‘ready’ in the traditional sense to do those distances together. I am sure of it. But I want to do one. I fancy myself as half iron. Granted, the other half may be cotton wool, but I’m definitely feeling half iron over here. So I chose the half marathon because I thought if I could survive it, I might be on my way to surviving half an Ironman too.
And yes, even after the pain of the 26.94km run (and resulting injury) I still want to do a Half Ironman. There’s an event early next year I have my eye on, which is only a couple of hours from where I live.
So I’ve booked our accommodation, although the race entries aren’t available yet. I am dreaming of it. I am preparing for longer periods in my uncomfortable zone. I am open to increased pain and probably crappier performances.
In short I have conquered step one – get over your idea of normal and comfortable. Embrace the highs and lows (and very highs and very lows) of abnormal and uncomfortable and choose to be there.
Step Two in changing my definition of ‘ready’ was understanding the magnitude of the things I’m signing up for and giving myself a pat on the back for it. It’s important to maintain a healthy respect and fear of the challenges I’m setting myself so that I continue to train thoroughly and don’t become arrogant. When I thought about The Flinders Tour (and when I think about the half ironman) I was (am) under no illusions about how hard it will be.
And when you put your readiness into the context of intimidating distances, you start to realise it doesn’t count for anything anyway.
Because ultimately the race is in charge, no matter what your readiness equation says. Anything could happen over the course of 7 hours (the likely amount of time I would need to finish a half Ironman) and many of those things cannot be trained for. Step Two of my journey meant I had to accept that adverse outcomes would be acceptable.
Instead, I have come to understand that apart from training, the most I could be ready for was the opportunity to grow from whatever outcome I earn. Better how? Well not physically necessarily, because that is what training is for and I can concentrate on physical improvements every day of the week. I think from the events I enter, I am looking for some kind of mental improvement. I can’t pinpoint exactly how I expect events to make me better as a person, because each of my achievements so far have given me wildly different lessons. I have no idea how a half Ironman will change me. But I know, I just know, that it will.
I won’t try to guess how I will grow and develop as a person because of entering (and hopefully competing in) obnoxiously difficult events. But I must be ready to accept the opportunity.
Once that’s achieved, step three is to understand that none of it matters one single iota. I think about this often; that nothing in my life matters to the world. And no offence, but I am pretty sure nothing in your life really matters either. I am absolutely, 100% insignificant and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But the kicker is, if nothing I do matters, then everything I do matters. I don’t have some things that matter, and therefore some things that don’t matter…
All things matter equally.
Smiling at my neighbour is as important as doing a good job at work, which is as important as being a safe driver, which is as important as walking my dog, which is as important as being a good friend/partner/granddaughter, which is as important as running scary races. None of it matters, so I might as well treat everything like it’s the most important thing I will ever do.
And if I can’t get myself pumped, positive and ready for the most important thing I will ever do, well…
So bearing all that in mind, I hope you agree that I was ready for a race that taught me I was braver than I thought, even though it injured me. It might have been stupid, but I was as ready as I could have been for the Flinder’s Tour.
And it may be even stupider, but I will continue to work towards a Half Ironman next year as well.
If I get the chance, I’ll be ready for the Half Marathon, too.