Mind over matter

Sometimes when you mix with people who take on crazy challenges as a matter of course, the desire to join them is too much to ignore.  Such was the case for me in 2011 when I decided to take on the challenge of Ironman Regensburg in Germany.  I didn’t come from a sporty background, and indeed I only took up triathlon in late 2009, having completed a couple of short sprint triathlons, building up to a half iron distance race in June 2010, where I came dead last.  I can’t even remember how much I weighed back then, but I was a few stone overweight and thought that training for the Ironman would help me lose weight.  It didn’t.  The ironman triathlon comprises of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run (marathon).  I had a 30 week training plan to get me to that start line, but if the truth be told, I knew from the word go that I wasn’t capable of completing the race.  I could picture myself running down that finishing chute on the one hand, but I couldn’t conceive of actually being able to get through the training in one piece.  Despite the couple of triathlons I’d completed, I didn’t feel as though I was in a better starting position as someone who’d just peeled themselves off the couch and into a tri suit.

Regardless, I started the training plan and smashed out the first couple of weeks, hitting all the sessions.  Cue the start of week three and I was totally and utterly fucked.  I missed quite a few sessions, just being too tired to complete them.  Weeks 4 & 5 I picked up the sessions again, but again after a couple of good weeks I’d be too buggered the following week to make good inroads into the plan.  My subconscious knew I didn’t have a chance, and this pattern repeated itself up until race day.  I hadn’t done enough.  I knew it, and although I was excited to take part, I knew in my heart that I hadn’t tried hard enough because not trying hard enough meant I had a ready-made excuse for not finishing.  If I’m honest i’m sure anyone else expected me to finish either.

I arrived in Germany and met up with my pirate pals, and very luckily was taken under the wing of Happychap who looked after me over the week.  We went for a run a couple of days before the race, and having only run about 3 miles I was totally bolloxed again.  Realistically I had no chance of finishing.  Anyway, race day came and I lined up with hundreds of others at the start line of the Ironman race.  I think I was 3rd last out of the swim, overtaken in the last few hundred meters by a guy in his 70s.  I barely made the cut-off time, but made it out on to the bike with seconds to spare.  It was a two loop course with a couple of hills in it (as shown below).


I’d driven the course on a previous trip, and knew that there was one hill that I may need to walk up.  I peddled on around the first lap, right from the start being overtaken from people on their second lap, a couple of pro riders glided past shouting “good luck!” to me which was a nice boost.  The hills arrived and I got up the first without walking, but only just.  My mind was all over the place, berating myself for thinking I deserved to be there, knowing I hadn’t put in the hard yards.  However, I thought I just needed to keep on peddling and see where it got me.  I must have got a bit confused as to where I was, as I struggled up another hill determined not to get off and push.  I was at my limits though, and was disappointed knowing that I’d definitely need to get off at push at the worst climb.  Except what happened next was I reached the feed station at the top of the last climb.  What? Have I not got one more climb to go? NO!  I’d done it, i’d managed to cycle up without stopping to push.  I can’t describe the feeling it gave me other than to say it felt euphoric.  I peddled through the feed station with renewed vigour and a sense of excitement.  In that moment my mindset completely switched.  Realising I’d achieved something I thought initially impossible, I switched from thinking ‘this is impossible’ to ‘nothing is impossible‘.  Before I’d left home, I was chatting to my pals and saying that I needed some kind of mantra to help me in the race.  I’d tried a few things out but nothing stuck until my lovely friend Krista said “you get to do this”.  That was it.  I might not have been fit enough, but I had two legs, two arms and the ability to get to that start line, many others would not be so lucky.  So when I reached the top of that hill I reminded myself that I get to do this, and I knew it was game on.  I cycled down the other side of that hill like a bloody demon, and when I reached the flat I knew I had to just go for it.  Before reaching the summit I’d toyed with pulling out, of giving up because I knew the finish line was not on my horizon that day.  But when I reached the top and had this epiphany I was absolutely determined that I was NOT going to give up.  I did a quick calculation that in order to make the intermediate bike cut-off, I’d need to cycle consistently at 25 mph for the next hour.  I’d never cycled at 25mph in my life, but that didn’t matter.  I peddled my bloody heart out from that point, and reached the point I was hitting about 20 mph for stretches, again not a speed I was normally acquainted with.  Logic & physics said that making that cut-off was an impossible task, but in my heart I knew I had to just go for it.  I knew that if I quit i’d always think “what if?” even though it would have been physically impossible.  So I went for it, and I smiled the whole way to the cut off point.  I’d never felt so good, because I knew I was giving it my all.  In the end I did miss that cut-off, but I knew I could live with myself because I tried, even against all the odds.

I’ve never attempted another IM since then, mostly because  I knew I didn’t have the real desire to commit to the training I would need to do to get me to the finish.  I’ve done various running races since then, many times again signing up with the view that having a race to focus on would help me lose weight etc.  That just doesn’t work for me though.  Last year when I discovered the low carb high fat (LCHF) way of eating, I realised for the first time in my life that here was a way of eating that worked for me, whether I did an ounce of exercise or not.  So last year I did pretty much zero exercise, but still lost a fair bit of weight.  A few times I gave into the sugar demons though and that set me off track for a while.  I’ve been on and off LCHF for a while, but I’m back on it now, because ultimately for me I know it’s all about mind over matter.  I’ll always struggle with the sugar demons, but at least now I get back on the horse rather than abandoning it completely.

Losing weight on zero exercise was fine, but it also made me realise that I was craving doing some exercise for its own sake, a position I’d never been in before.  Hence the reason I signed up for the Cotswold Classic triathlon this August.  I want a challenge, and I want to push myself and push my limits.  I’m not putting a time goal on it as such, but after so many years of being overweight and never managing to be consistent with anything really, I want the challenge of training and proving to myself I can do this.  I’ve achieved a lot in life because I refused to believe I didn’t have the ability (all my studying, flying etc.), and this time I want to see what I can achieve with my body.  I get to do this.  I still think of that mantra a lot, it’s what motivates me.

So this last week, having switched back to LCHF, it’s fair to say I’ve felt totally spangled.  I forgot that there’s an inevitable dip in energy that comes with moving towards being a fat-burner.  I’d promised myself I’d do 3 each of swim, bike & run this week, and I’ve almost achieved it – I’m short by one bike session, primarily down to bad planning.  To be honest a couple of the sessions were shorter than I wanted, but i’ve just been knackered.  I know my energy will return soon, so at the moment it’s just a case of pegging back the effort and getting the sessions in without destroying myself.  It comes down to mind over matter.  Next week i’m aiming for 3 of each again, albeit I might have to make them shortish and low effort as I still adapt to the LCHF lifestyle.  It’s exciting though.  I like having a goal and in a way I can’t wait to see what i’m capable of.

That said, I think it might be time for a nap.  Thank the tri-Gods above that recovery is an important part of training!

Have a good week folks 🙂



5 thoughts on “Mind over matter

  1. Good stuff Pea. Stick at it. A few missed sessions, or sessions cut short, isn’t the end of the world but inevitable. Maintain that focus and just do your best to work towards your goal and it’ll all be good.


  2. How bad do you Want it ?
    Had a positive affect I’d say
    Believe in yourself and consistency is key to exercise & diet
    Good luck and rooting for you all the way


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