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In the first two installments of my personal “lessons learned”, we discussed the importance of taking time to take care of ourselves, of listening to our body and of the critical role that recovery plays in sport and life. I also discussed honesty, cognitive dissonance and the importance of setting goals and working hard. These final three lessons are perhaps the most simple and the most powerful. Again, I hope you can take something useful from these reflections…
Lesson Eight: Be flexible and creative, but never give in
This has to do with why I started doing triathlons in the first place. I have always been a runner, but a while ago I had an achilles injury. The sports doctor I went to told me to stop running! I asked myself, “Is that even possible for me?” Running is not something I DO it is more like something I AM. I realize that probably only runners will understand this, but most of us have something in our lives that is so important that it turns into part of our identity.
Anyway, the doctor suggested I take up other sports… cycling, swimming, he listed a few more… I was not convinced, but I felt like I had no choice. So I TRIED cycling and swimming – both of which I had done at some point in my life. To my surprise, they were not half bad. They did not do the same thing for me that running did, BUT they were fine. Better than fine, I enjoyed them.
Eventually, my achilles came back on line, but the doctor cautioned me that this injury could become chronic if I wasn’t careful. He encouraged me to continue to cross-train, and I did. To make the change more permanent and embed it into my life, I entered my first triathlon. I knew that if I set a goal and made a plan I would follow the plan. It was a great way for me to limit my running and not re-injure myself. My ability to be flexible and to try new sports opened up a whole new world to me. The cross training allowed be to be much fitter than if I had limited myself to pure running. What a fantastic thing to try something new at 43 years old!
In the years since, I have continued to do triathlons and have kept up my running – although I still have the occasional problem with that achilles injury. While I am realistic enough to know that the day MIGHT come when I have to give up running altogether, I believe that by being creative and flexible and by NOT giving up, I can continue to engage in running and cycling and swimming in a healthy way for years to come.
What do you have in your life that you are not ready to give up on? How can you creatively find a solution? I ask myself these questions in many areas of my life now. I find them really helpful with work and in my personal life. It has to do with recognizing what is really important and finding a way to make it happen. It was Winston Churchill who said, “Never, never, never give up”. Those are words to live by.
Lesson Nine: Little things matter – the power of small
I have a friend who is a natural athlete and very successful runner. He has also done a triathlon or two. As I have previously mentioned, before I did my first triathlon I was incredibly nervous. I remember being at a BBQ on his terrace here in Barcelona and I asked him for some advice about the whole triathlon thing. He proceeded to go into minute detail about how to do each transition (which is where you go from one event to the other and it requires a gear change). I remember thinking that he was really over-estimating my level of performance. I just wanted to finish the race!
In hindsight, I should have listened closer to what he was saying. His point, I think, was that with the race in a week, there was no training tip he could give me and no magic to be performed. So, he focused on the small bits of the race that do NOT depend on being a perfectly trained, natural athlete – the mechanics of how to put cycling shoes on when you are wet and sandy. Incredibly practical stuff, because there are SMALL tricks that can save you a huge amount of time. I went back and took a look at these after my first triathlon. I learned a lot and probably cut my transition time in half just by being aware that the clock was still ticking and that this stuff mattered. I am now, in hindsight, incredibly thankful for his advice.
This is also true in life. There are so many small things that we can do that will have a big impact on our lives. The success of the British Indoor Cycling team has made the theory of marginal gains incredibly popular. The impact of one, or a series of small changes that you make in your life can be incredible. And the good thing about small is that it can be easy and sustainable. So, call your parents once a week, say thank you five times everyday, drink a glass of water to start your morning, stop taking the elevator for any destination below the 5th floor, or do the plank for one minute a day… So many healthy, small, positive changes to choose from. Any of them will have a big impact when done daily.
Last, but not least, Lesson Ten: The power of fun
Find the fun and the rest will flow… One of my favorite things about going cycling, swimming or running… I listen to music when I do it and I LOVE music. It adds to the fun. I also allow myself to… go off. I don’t know how to describe this, but anyone who has seen me running on Barcelona’s Carretera de les Aigües and waved to me and gotten NO response at all, can attest to the fact that I am in my own world when I run. I am in my own world and I love it there.
I also find fun by running or cycling with friends. I organize relay teams for the Barcelona Triathlon in an attempt to bring people together around healthy activities. I love the idea of teams and breaking the race down into individual events. It is so much more accessible if you only have to do your part of the race and so much more fun if you are part of a team. In fact, for many people, part of the fun of sport is in the sharing and the social side. Which is great! I have certainly benefitted from that aspect.
My final point here is that many things in life are only sustainable if they are fun. We have so many things vying for our time and attention! If something is important to you, make it fun, add rewards or get a friend on board and it will be easier to do and more sustainable.
And this is where I end this series. I am sure I could come up with a few more lessons, but those are the big ones for me. So, get out there and ENJOY! And if you enjoyed these posts or have any lessons of your own, please feel free to get in touch and don't forget to check out the new coaching unit!