I lay in the tent and the job had been done. I was an Ironman! And although it had a been a long day, I had finished and was proud to bear the medal celebrating the SA 10th edition.
Weeks later I would find my body far from recovered. The breakdown of my entire self - physically and emotionally had begun years before when I started triathlons. I used them as a way to get fit again but also as a way to manage my extreme stress and hide from certain realities, escape my life. I didn't realize that what lay below was plenty of unresolved emotional traits that would mean Ironman would become my nemesis rather than my saviour.
The economic crisis of 2008 had left its mark and Hester and I had struggled to recover from the impact on our business. I was working long days and fitting in the training and then trying to find the balance of being a dad and a husband - brother - son and friend.
Heart palpitations- multiple blood tests- GP visits and a grey feeling of depression and lethargy were probably the most confronting feelings I've ever had to deal with. Emotionally and physically I had always been an upbeat and positive person with excess energy to burn. I had always had great health and never really struggled with what was now a new confrontation. Its made harder when the physician specialist tells you you’re fine - and you know you are far from ok.
The fear from the economic crisis, my hyper competitive nature and learning to hold the space with budding teenagers in the home - made the task of recovery interesting. To explain to people that you are ill- when you look fine - is one of the challenges we face - and what I think is one of the great tragedies of our society today. Mental and Emotional wounds do not bare physical evidence but the impact and cost to our lives can be tragic. I hope my sharing this journey will help in communicating the importance of acknowledging the trauma that we all carry, for so many different reasons. It is vital that we don't underestimate the importance of taking responsibility to manage and deal with our mental and emotional selves as part of being or at least becoming whole people. ( Deal with your Sh#t or given enough time or just growing older- it will deal with you )
The illness of adrenal fatigue - burnout is not a life sentence, but to recover and not go around the same mountain means that we need to take stock and learn from the interruption. To look at the journey into it, and out of it, and hopefully see what needs to change.
I've always been deeply interested in the way we work best as human beings and am fascinated by the way that we can have coaches for our physical wellness, sport and teachers for our cognitive education - and yet we seem to ignore the importance of developing our inner selves, that which lives below and drives all our behaviour. My enrolment into an advanced Diploma in Integral Coaching was a turning point for me. The course emphasised the importance of doing your internal work, to at least give yourself enough time and attention - in order to locate and partly understand what values and beliefs drive your behaviour and wether it may be time to confront one or two that may no longer work for you.
The Diploma journey was marvellous for the first six months but as the contemplation and focusfocusedntion on my own need to address some pretty strong drivers of behaviour kicked in, I noticed that my enthusiasm had waned somewhat. I told Hester I thought I was done, I felt I had learned what I needed to and it was time to call it a day. You can imagine her response - ‘Not so fast Buster, you are getting better, I like the new you,- not a chance you’re leaving! I want all the good stuff in and bad stuff out!’
So what has any of this got to do with Tri training - and how is it relevant ? Well I wanted to create a little context so I can sum up some of my learning that has seriously been life changing and to endorse the value of being a part of a Coached Community. No man is an island and the proof is in the pudding, when we are left to our own devices without friends or even foes to help us locate where we are- what's going on - are we making progress in one area of life and blindly letting go of other areas we may have lost sight off.. Below are a few of the lessons I’m learning and awareness of my own shortcomings are not shameful but helpful in that by seeing and knowing what drives me I can now choose to use it or let it go.
Some of my greatest learnings are - Not every session is a race! ( as 1 of 4 brothers and competative parents- everything in our lives was a competition. ) Training is prep for the race. If it's always all hard, you have an issue and/or in my case - Issues….. Imagine enjoying it!! I know sometimes being really consistent and disciplined when you have been sick or haven't slept well or are just emotionally exhausted can be an ask, hard! but in general this is meant to be enjoyable. To give your best in a hard session is good- quality is required, but to finish guilty in the others is good for me. It actually takes real discipline to not hurt myself - be hard on myself and to get that I don't need to imagine winning the olympics or beating the guy or girl next to me to be worth it or feel good about myself, winning is wonderful- but at 46 who are you beating and why ?
Trusting the process and seeing the big picture are essential to achieving your goals. Goals are great and they are necessary and helpful but your goal cannot distract you from the daily presence you need to realize each day and it’s training is a goal in itself. We are not in control and Life presents none of us with guarantees, so to show up and train and have the health and privilege to be a part of a team and a club and be coached and see progress and reach milestones and improve your fitness is a Wonder and should be understood with appreciation and deep gratitude.
Coaches don't criticize- they give you feedback!! What that means is they help you see what you can't- and that's invaluable. The impact and difference in the lead up to me doing a half Iron in June compared with what it looked like training on my own- and the constant overtraining and injuries and illness I suffered, compared with what and where I am now cannot be overstated. The accountability and the energy from the collective of deeply committed and highly energised athletes that daily take on the task of doing the deed completing the program and so slowly the goal becomes a reality.
My minimalist half program with Claire is more training than I ever did for the full but its been done in a way that has allowed me to reflect on the difference in the two journeys. The first was attempted as a lone ranger without the camaraderie of the group. I do enjoy some sessions on my own but in general the long ride and run with company are just that much more enjoyable and the truth is usually done in the aerobic zone that is best. Don Fink the author of Be Iron Fit says we really only need 5-10 % of our training to be done in threshold - the anaerobic space. Patience is probably the biggest lesson learned, to trust that each session completed and each obstacle overcome prepares us for the race. To see the way that I prepare and organise my life before a saturday ride, each week I can see the progress not just in my being organised, but in the way I mentally prepare more ready less stressed and most importantly slightly excited. This sunday I finished my long run and then met our builder on sight and even had the energy to support a friends band on sunday evening with a glass of wine. The stark contrast of slowly but surely allowing the driven and hyper competitive persona be displaced by a no less eager but considerably more mature approach has allowed me to build and compound each training day so that on race day I can reap the interest from the investment. I know that still so much remains out of my control, but that which is within my control I have now taken the responsibility to handle with care. To approach each day as a unique opportunity to learn and listen to notice and look for the opportunity in each set, to realize that an injury can be for many reasons but in my case its because Ive let that crazy competitor take the reigns and all he sees is red. Step by step- day by day my body has changed and so has my mind and emotions. I can now see the rewards of the patient game- the consistency that comes from not taking myself out and living in the fear of being injured or getting sick. The spirit now gives me a great way to relate to others on their journey - have a good chuckle feel the endorphins and yet have enough in the tank to still do Life.
Thanks MTD- I like your style.