Life 101: Ironman training

With each mile, I learn. With each mile, I become a better and a higher version of myself. Being a girl, in India, people can make it really hard to train outdoors, but if your heart’s in it, you innovate and redirect, cause its ultimately about you, and not them.

Training for Ironman is tough, its a certain level of discipline that most people don’t understand, its also very repetitive, and yet one day is never exactly the same as another.

You may think that it gets easier after a certain level of training. I’m starting to realize that that’s not the whole truth. Yes, your stamina might get better, you might get more comfortable with distance, and you might even build tremendous endurance as a result of your training. But what they don’t tell you at the start is, that each day is actually a fresh start- doesn’t matter how many miles you clocked in yesterday or day before, you’ve to show up, and do it all over again, each and every day. To those who think that that’s easy, I’d like you to compare it with the Law of Diminishing Returns. Yes, of course you start with excitement & commitment, but once the mind knows that it has to keep doing the same thing again and again- it takes a lot of mental strength to keep going. It’s the same thing again and again- till one day, you actually reach the finish line, and then it all in hindsight makes incredible sense. How much of it is mental vs physical? Personally for me, it’s 80-20. If I’m feeling good, thinking right, feeding off energy from good thoughts, I normally am able to complete my session even if physically I’m sore, hurt or tired. However, if my body is ready, and my mind isn’t up to it, I’m not able to do anything, literally. Call it mental fatigue, some days you’re just going to feel burnt out, which is worse than anything else I’ve experienced. When it comes to it though, training is where I realized the real value of the term ‘mindfullness’, for you need to present in each moment, each breath, each mile, each ‘now’, otherwise you risk everything. If you think of the future (how much you have to do), it can weigh you down, and if you think of the past (how much you’ve done), your body will beg you to stop as a natural response.

Although after a few episodes of mental fatigue, you start putting things in perspective, and you stop beating yourself down. You start realizing that a failed session isn’t a failed effort in its entirety, but just one failed session (in a way, an opportunity)- the next one doesn’t have to be, and probably won’t be cause now you know you’ve to work harder. This has probably been the most refreshing insight that I’ve lived through. Why? Cause now I know that a bad day or a particular setback, is so temporary in nature, that it can’t hurt me if I don’t allow my mind to dwell there. New day, fresh start- almost like you’re rebooting and restarting every day, and its yours to own. This feeling is really empowering, cause after this realization, not much can affect you, not the petty stuff anyway.

Another aspect of this sport is how personal and introspective it is. Each journey is unique for each athlete and in the challenging moments you tend to find and discover yourself, your grit, your willpower and your own reasons. You’re constantly redefining your limits, challenging what you’re made of and striving to excel- on the risk of sounding cliched, you’re unraveling truths of your life. Having tasted this drug of individualism, it becomes kind of hard to settle for mediocre ways of life- cause this habit of striving to excel transcends to everything you do, every role you play.

Lastly, we aren’t in it for external recognition or laurels, but conquering and winning inner battles is what fuels us. Most endurance athletes will tell you, that although its nice to be acknowledged, we are in the game because we have something to prove to ourselves and have raging, chaotic storms inside our heads, that we try and tame. For me, Ironman is the ultimate test of psychological and emotional strength, its where I get to develop, idealize and philosophize life, to reflect, introspect, and grow. This is my mode of serving this beautiful gift of life, by delivering my very best, exceeding my current expectations and living a meaningful, high quality life.

To end with, one of my favourite essays of all time by Ralph Waldo Emerson called ‘Self Reliance’ (read it here), has the following lines:

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. Not for nothing one face, one character, one fact, makes much impression on him, and another none. This sculpture in the memory is not without pre-established harmony. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.

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What do runners think about while running?

On my regular runs, I normally listen to podcasts. They distract me from the physical work, and engage my mind. It feels like I’m expanding my horizons along with my endurance, which is a very rewarding feeling. This sense of contentment dawns over me because I learn something new, I listen to conversations among great minds all while challenging myself to go on for longer, get better. Tim Ferriss, Jonathan Fields, Kevin Rose, Dan Carlin are some of my favourite podcasters, by the way, just to give you an insight into what I normally listen to. They’re all like human guinea pigs that do crazy ass experiments to improve the quality of life, something that I seriously believe in. Becoming the best version of yourself is what they talk about, so if you’re interested, do tune in sometime!

Although podcasts are great company to be in, during my 20Km runs, I have these physically daunting laps wherein I need to switch off from the distraction because it no longer helps. The thoughts about knee or body ache, distance still left to cover, my speed, comparisons with other runners and all things about running crop up and I have to bring myself back to the present again, almost forcefully. I’ve read about mindfulness a lot, which really helps me during my runs, as I focus on my next steps rather than distance, and focus on form rather than aches. I try to breathe almost as if I were meditating, deep inhales, strong exhales (enough to attract attention, and scare people along the way), and keep moving. I’ve realized how much of a difference it really makes, to live in the present, to be in the moment- I’m not sure if I never truly knew what that felt like before. I want to extend my runs to 30Kms then ultimately marathon distance (42.195Kms).

It is mentally agonizing to run long distances especially when you’re just starting out. I always was comfortable till about 10Kms, but this 20Kms is something very new to me- and might take a few weeks before I finally get used to it. I can’t help but wonder though, what is it that the elite marathoners think about or focus on during their runs? Isn’t it fascinating that they can keep their heart and in this case legs where their mind is? Even during my long runs now, I have this great, powerful force that comes upon me, towards the last few Kms especially. I almost visualize this wonderful, almost blinding white light lining my body internally, activating all my chakras, and making me one with the universe. I have written about how I value the divinity that is within us, the tremendous powerhouse of energy that lies within- and it isn’t something that I just write about to get attention, I have felt it. I feel it. Today, as I was running, only after 2.5Kms, my right knee started hurting awfully, and I was reconsidering my training regime but then I knew if I could get my mind to it, I’d do it. And, I did it! As I write this, I have an ice pack around my knee, because after the 20K, I could hardly lift my leg off the ground but during the run, I endured, I mastered, and I felt spiritually connected and massively inflated from within. This vision sprung into my mind from somewhere- of my sitting by the beach and meditating. I knew peace, and in my head I joked to myself that that could be the island that I’ve always dream of buying (yes, larger than life vision, you may laugh). The vision saved me from myself and my thoughts today.

It is in your most challenging phases that you realize how strong you are, how much you can really endure and how limits only exist in our heads. I know that as I keep evolving and improving, I’ll become a more focused thinker and gain clarity of thoughts- but for know my pseudo spiritual sense is my drive forward. I cannot help but wonder, what really goes on in the minds of the runners around me? I can say for sure, if they’re doing long distances, they’ve got a winner’s mind- cause this takes all you got, boy!