Adventures and races: embracing the dread

I find it very difficult (impossible, actually) to understand people who say they really enjoy

I think this was after my first triathlon. I wasn’t even happy AFTERWARDS here.

training. I also find it very difficult (impossible, really) to understand people who get all giddy about and at races they are participating in.

Mind you, I can completely understand that going to a gym class three times a week and meeting up with the gals afterwards for coffee is a truly enjoyable experience. I also can completely understand how going to a running club twice a week and running with people at a pace you can hold a conversation at is really fun.

Those levels of effort are not the ones I’m talking about.

I’m talking about people who train for marathons, triathlons, ultramarathons, ironman races, or arduous adventures (like kayaking across the ocean or climbing really high mountains) and who are constantly going on about how enjoyable their training is. Or you go to the event and they are all bouncy and smiley just before. What the f#$@ are they all happy about? I ask myself incredulously. We’re about to put ourselves through hell! How the heck is that exciting?

I’m the kind of person who thinks up ideas that are well beyond her abilities. Before I sign up for actually doing these things, I think they are amazing ideas. I think they are the best ideas I’ve come up with yet. I think: I can do that! I know it will be hard but I can do anything I set my mind to. (I actually can but I’ll get to that later). But then the second I’m signed up, I am filled with absolute dread. What the f$#@ did I just do?? And that dread accompanies me throughout the weeks or months of training. And it holds my hand throughout most of the actual activity. And it only goes away once I’ve reached a stage where I can see that I will indeed cross that finish line or summit that mountain alive.

It’s like Nadia #1 thinks she is invincible. But Nadia #2 KNOWS she’s not. In fact, Nadia #2 knows that she is below average in everything she does compared to other people who do the same sorts of things. She knows this because it is backed by concrete evidence and numbers. Does Nadia #1 care? No. Not until she signs up for something. And then both Nadia #1 and Nadia #2 panic.

When I was 39, I had only barely started getting fit. Simply because I was able to run a few minutes on a treadmill and carry some miniscule weights, I suddenly started dreaming of climbing mountains. I can now see how ludicrously unfit I was for purpose at the time. But I decided I wanted to climb a mountain so I paid a very decent amount of money and signed myself up for climbing Kilimanjaro. Had I climbed small hills before that? Well, only very shortly before actually signing up for Kili I climbed a small, easy mountain in Egypt. It was tremendously difficult and on the way down I asked to be carried for part of the way by a camel. The camel turned out to be more uncomfortable than walking, so I eventually got off. Then, only one week before my trip to Tanzania, I climbed Egypt’s highest mountain, which isn’t really very high at all (2,600 meters). I did it with a group. I felt sick all the way up and all the way down and I was the last one in the group off the mountain. I went to Tanzania thinking I might end up just looking up at Kilimanjaro from its base and staying there. The ONLY reason I made it up that mountain all the way to the summit was because we had a great guide who walked as slowly as I did and always made me feel it was all right to keep at my turtle pace. And also because I climbed that mountain with two other women who kept telling me the whole way up that I absolutely COULD do this, even if everything pointed to the fact that I probably couldn’t.

That trip taught me that even though I’m not physically strong, there’s something deep inside my head that, if I can tap into it (usually with the help of others but not always necessarily), I can do things that my body shouldn’t normally be able to do.

So I dream big. I always dream big. And I’m not one to just leave my dreams out there in the ether. If I think my dream is even remotely realistic, I’ll go out there and make it happen.

That’s Nadia #1’s philosophy, until, as I explained, I sign up for whatever thing it is I’m doing next.

These days I have the most grueling training program I’ve ever had yet. And it’s only going to get worse. Much worse. I wish I was the kind of person who woke up in the morning all full of energy and thought, “Wooohoooo! I’ve got a run this morning and a swim this evening! Life is GERRRREAT!” Instead, I open my eyes, realize what’s ahead, and try to force myself to sleep just a little bit longer. It rarely works. Then I have to have a conversation with myself.

Nadia#1: Get out of bed. Get this run over with and then you can take a nap during the day. Just focus on getting out of bed for now and getting your running clothes on.

Nadia #2 (on the verge of a nervous breakdown): Nooooooo. Why do you keep doing this to me?? I’m sick of this! Do you promise all I have to do is get out of bed and put my running clothes on? Ok.

It has to be a really beautiful sunny day out for me to think that I might actually be enjoying this run. I live in the UK. I can’t remember what the sun looks or feels like. I’ll admit I don’t mind the swims and bike rides just as much. Sometimes I’ll even enjoy them. But the longer and harder they get, the more I dread them.

I see too many giddy, happy athletes around me at running/triathlon clubs and in sports-related social media groups. It makes me feel left out. I’m tired of always hearing from those guys. I want to hear from people like me who dream huge and do things despite the fact that they are really only exciting at the dream stage and once they are done.

I’ve written a lot about my anxieties while training and doing these sorts of activities. People ask me: well then why do you do them? I don’t do them because I enjoy them. I don’t understand how people can enjoy the torture that one must endure in order to do these sorts of things. I do these things because I need the challenge. I want to be better than me. I don’t want the negative side of my personality to hold me back from doing great things.

I have a couple of adventures coming up this year. I thought they were a GREAT idea when they were in the dream stage. Now I think, as I’ve thought many a time before about other things I’ve done, that these are my stupidest ideas yet. I think: this time I’ve really set myself up for failure. I think: this time I’m really in deep shit.

I’ll keep going as long as I can. But I won’t enjoy it most of the time.

Where, oh where are the people who are like me?


  1. I can’t wait to hear about the adventures you have planned for this year. I enjoyed sharing your bike trip across Europe, and hope you have something similar in mind 😀

    Like you, I dream big but, unlike you, I do enjoy training provided I have a goal in mind. Your bike trip across Europe has inspired me and I’m planning a couple of long trips this year.

    1. It’s a relief to know, that, Genevieve. Best of luck to you on this most difficult but hopefully rewarding journey!

  2. The great British mountaineer Don Whillans climbed some of the greatest mountains in the world and regarded the walk in to Base Camp as the training. Invited to join Herr Dr Herlikoffer’s International Everest Expedition in the 1970s he was derided by the German contingent for arriving overweight and unfit whereas they had been running up Alps. As they progressively broke down he hit peak form in perfect time for the summit. Don Whillans has always been an inspiration to me.

    1. This reminds me of my hike up Kilimanjaro. Every single evening (night) I was the last person into camp, not from our own group but from all other groups climbing the mountain up that route on that day. I was feeling very sick and thankful to be able to put one foot in front of the other. There was a German group climbing at the same time as ours and others. They were all very fit. They had also done some pretty serious training while they were in Germany. They trained in one of those rooms where they take out some of the oxygen to simulate altitude. It was probably because of that fitness that made them feel like they had to push themselves that only a quarter of their team summited in the end, whereas all of our group did. We were going very very slowly. Our group was following the pace of its slowest member (which happened to be me). That probably meant that we acclimatized better. That experience taught me a lot. I don’t underestimate anyone, especially myself.

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