Sport

Battling self through a half Ironman: A superman like no other

“Of COURSE, you can do this,” I told myself. “Not only can you do this, you can beat your

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One second before crossing the finish line and breaking down into an ugly sob about how hard that race was.

time from last year.”

That’s how I convinced myself to stand at the start line of a half-Ironman distance event called the Outlaw Holkham Half in Norfolk (1.8km swim, 90km bike, 21km run) with very little relevant training.

I registered for the event last year, shortly after finishing my Ironman last September in a time that surpassed any of my expectations. Since then, I travelled frequently, fasted the month of Ramadan, went through a few bouts of therapy-worthy depression and anxiety, and lacked a general motivation to put in the necessary time to train for a half Ironman-distance event. So with a month to go before the event, I was telling myself that I might as well just pull out. I hadn’t trained for it and it was ridiculous to even give it a try.  (more…)

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Odd questions of identity

I have always thought that I don’t have any real identity issues. Now I’m thinking question-markotherwise.

I don’t like being placed into boxes of identity. Or so I thought until yesterday, when things I said in my session with my therapist—who I’m seeing to find ways to deal with anxiety— made me wonder.

I was telling her how I’ve been struggling with myself this year to calm down rising anxieties that I need to get everything done in a day: my work, my sport, and my house-related errands. These anxieties are not why I decided to see a therapist. I have much more complicated things happening in my life. But I’ve found it surprising how these seemingly unimportant things, things I know I can put off if I need or want to, are making me feel anxious. I know that the world won’t end if I don’t do that run today. So why is there something inside of me telling me that it absolutely will end?

My therapist said something about how I might be using my activities, such as work or sport, to displace my real feelings about other things happening in life.

What she said made me look back at various phases in my life.  (more…)

Sport and my mental health

I have suffered from anxiety for years. It’s the kind of anxiety that I can usually keep at

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Feeling happy and relaxed after a day out on the bike.

bay. Most people won’t realize I have it because I hide it relatively well. Instead of thinking: Oh, she’s anxious; people probably just think: Huh. She’s a bit of an odd one.

Sport has played a huge role in helping me manage my anxiety. No matter how bad I’m feeling, if I can just get myself out that door and go on a run, for example, I know that my anxiety or stress will almost immediately dissipate.

I have found that the rhythm of sport—of running, of cycling, of hiking, of swimming—puts my mind almost magically at ease. Sport and my daily prayers are my form of meditation. They are how I cut myself off from the daily grind and tear myself away from one screen or the other, if even for a few minutes, to clear my head and start anew.

There’s a “but” coming up.

But, recently, as I’ve felt myself less and less able to manage my stress and anxiety as successfully as I have at times in the past, I’ve been reviewing my lifestyle choices to try to find ways to improve things. (more…)

Winter mountaineering: A new hobby for the list

Call it hiking, hill walking, or trekking, almost anyone can do it with a bit of fitness and

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On top of Stob Dearg in Glencoe, Scotland

some simple gear (hiking boots, gaiters, trekking poles, water proofs, layers, and a backpack). Depending on where you are hiking, you can do it on your own by following a clear trail, hire a guide, or use your navigation skills to get from one place to another. I’ve been doing it for several years now. I’ve done lots of hill walking in the UK, I’ve climbed the mountains of Sinai in Egypt, hiked in America’s Smoky Mountains, climbed and summited Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, walked the full distance of the Inca Trail and did the Santa Cruz trek in Peru, walked between the seaside villages of the Cinque Terre in Italy, and attempted (but failed) to summit Mont Blanc in France and Aconcagua in Argentina.

It was on that last trip that my tent buddy Victoria mentioned an amazing Scottish winter mountaineering course she had taken a few months earlier. I had taken a short course in using crampons several years ago before I climbed Mont Blanc. But I felt maybe it was time to refresh those skills and to get some of the technical skills needed to climb in the UK in winters; something I’ve mostly avoided when there has been snow and ice.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I wanted to know if winter mountaineering was for me.

Let’s just say it was EPIC.  (more…)

Training: Turning off the stubbornness

I have never been able to understand people who are all lovey-dovey about their

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I like to think my stubbornness gene has been active since childhood.

training. You know; the people who are on a constant high because they live a life of “activity”. The ones who wake up cheerfully at 5:30AM in the morning because they are about to go out for a 5km run in the freezing cold. The people who talk incessantly about how great their four-hour bike rides make them feel. Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for them. But those feelings they have are something I have never experienced and I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to have them.

I am the kind of person who wakes up at 5:30AM and thinks: But I just want to go back to sleep! I am the kind of person who never really learned to enjoy pain, and I find running in particular quite painful and thus not enjoyable. I am the kind of person who hates the cold, so jumping in an 18C lake for open water swim training is simply a miserable experience. I am the kind of person who can sometimes enjoy a bike ride, as long as I’m going at my own comfortable pace, I’m not expected to push myself, and I don’t have to ascend or descend too many hills, or to keep going for too long.

When I explained all this in a blog post once while I was training for my Ironman, and then shared said blog post in a Facebook group for people training for an Ironman for the first time, I got a lecture from an Ironman coach in that group saying something along the lines of: Well if you don’t enjoy it, maybe this isn’t for you. You shouldn’t do things just because other people do them.

That woman made me very very upset that day.

We are not all alike. We don’t all get lovey-dovey about training. Some of us find training extremely difficult both mentally and physically. But we do it because we recognize the value in keeping fit. And we book ourselves into events because they give us goal posts to aim for in our mission to keep ourselves fit. We are the people who hate the training, but love the benefits we reap from doing it. We are the people who have learned that we can do things that we really don’t want to do because we know they are good for us in the long run and that they will get us to our ultimate goals. We are the people who take these lessons from our training and are able to extrapolate them into other aspects of our lives.

Because I find training so challenging and not enjoyable, I have to turn my stubbornness gene on to full volume, especially when I need to train hard for an upcoming event. (more…)

The Unclimbing

I may not have summited the mountain, but I did discover the amazing wonders of the pee bottle.

I would not have thought it possible for women. I’ve long heard about men peeing in

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The view from our tent at basecamp (4,300 meters).

bottles while on the road and I was always envious. With years of camping, hiking, and cycling under my belt, I had become accustomed to the quick squat behind a bush and getting my business done. When I set up my tent on a campground, I always made certain it wasn’t too far away from the toilets. I’m the type that gets up at least twice during the night to pee; more during the winter when I’m cold. It’s a bother getting up, getting dressed, unzipping the tent, going to the toilet, coming back, unzipping then rezipping the tent, undressing, then getting into my sleeping bag. But what was I to do? If you have to pee you have to pee.

But on Aconcagua, Latin America’s highest mountain, I learned that it is very possible for a woman to pee in the comfort of her own tent into a wide-mouthed Nalgene water bottle with perfect aim. Of course, this means peeing in the same tiny confined space that your tent mate is sleeping in; that same tent mate that you only met for the first time three days ago. But does that matter? No! Not one single bit. Not when you don’t have to go outside into the freezing cold to pee in a dark, smelly toilet. Not when you can get your business done in seconds and quickly snuggle back into your warm sleeping bag. Besides, who wants to watch someone else pee? No one. So all you really need to worry about is others hearing the sound of a water bottle filling up with liquid. Actually, your real concern is peeing in your actual water bottle instead of your designated pee bottle. That is why the pee bottle gets taped up with duct tape that you can clearly feel in the dark to distinguish it from your other bottles.

The pee bottle is one of my most important takeaways from an extravagantly expensive trip up part of a mountain.

Aconcagua beat the crap out of me. (more…)

Here she goes again: But why, oh, why?

Today was one of those mornings. I woke up thinking: Why on EARTH do I keep doing this to myself?

As usual, at the time when I booked this trip, I thought it was a totally inspired idea. And also as usual, now that I’m about to set off on it, all I can think is that I hate traveling. I hate change. I just want to sit on the couch at home and do nothing.

Of course, when I sit on the couch with nothing to do, I am so incredibly bored with how

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If you happen to see a woman struggling to carry these through the London underground, PLEASE offer her a helping hand. Otherwise, I have no idea how this is even happening.

routine my life has become that I book myself onto trips like the one I’m about to go on today.

Something must be wrong with me.

Well, whether I’m totally sane or completely bonkers, I have no choice now but to set off on another epic journey. (more…)

Learning I don’t always need to be super-Nadia

Oh, those mood swings. Up and down, up and down. I wish there was a “straightforward” way around them.

Back in my Ironman-training days—now long gone, I promise you—I started seeing the race as such a scary monster that I needed to do something about it. So I booked another event for myself three months after the Ironman. It would be something I could look forward to and it would mean that no matter what happened in the race itself, whether I finished it or not, all that training would not have gone to waste. For the last two months before the race, I could tell myself that I was training to keep fit for everything that was to come. I wasn’t “just” training for a race.

Post-Ironman, however, my body was really in need of a break. My MIND was in need of a break. I hadn’t realized while I was training just how much pressure I was putting on myself to do every single training session exactly the way my triathlon coach had prescribed, AND to keep up with work without anyone thinking that I was falling behind because I was doing a crazy race. I made sure never to mention my Ironman training to the people I worked with (well, hardly ever). It was not going to be used as an excuse for falling behind. So I just never fell behind. (more…)

Reflections Ten Days Post-Ironman

This past year, I have been a member of a Facebook group that was set up by the

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I spent one of my recovery days just walking around Girona, Italy. If you ask me, THAT is what living life is all about.

Ironman brand organizers for people who registered to do an Ironman for the first time. Can you believe that about 70% of the participants in Ironman Barcelona 2017 had done an Ironman before? The more I have spoken with people, the more I have discovered that lots of people get hooked on the race. Some people do more than one Ironman race in a single year!

The Facebook group was really helpful. Being a complete novice, it was helpful for me to see how other people trained, what their plans were for what to wear during the race (one piece vs two piece), how they planned to go to the toilet (stop at a port-a-potty vs peeing on oneself while cycling/running…yes, that seems to actually be quite common), what their nutrition plans were for the race, etc. Once people in the group participated in the various Ironman races around the world, many posted reports on how their races went, most of them successful but some not. It was as inspiring to hear the stories of those who crossed the finish line as it was to hear the stories of those who did not. In both cases, a tremendous effort was had, sacrifices were made, and strength and determination shone brightly. There was so much to learn from every story.

As my race day neared, my nerves began to fall apart. During the major part of my training I was able to keep my mind focused on getting through one session at a time. I didn’t need to think about “the race”. I just needed to get through a training session. I could do that. Tapering began three weeks before the race. I started feeling fatigued. The race was also suddenly becoming so much more of a reality, which frightened the heck out of me.

It was around this time that someone in the Ironman beginners’ Facebook group wrote that he finished his race, but he wasn’t feeling, like others had expressed, that he had done something absolutely amazing. I think lots of people took that in a negative way. But when I read his post my immediate thought was, “I want that! That’s how I want to feel about this race!”  (more…)

I’ve always been an ironman

People who do Ironman races are not iron men. They are normal people just like you and me, but with an ironclad determination that can move mountains. Find that determination within you and you will move mountains too.

It was the most difficult part of the race by far. I had already done the 3.8 kilometer swim

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Walking on air in those final steps on the red carpet across the finish line of Ironman Barcelona 2017.

and the 180 kilometer bike ride. Now, “all” I had left was a 42 kilometer run. I was tired. I was sweating in the Spanish humidity like a pig. I really wanted to get out of my tri-suit, which I had been wearing now for more than ten hours, and jump into a shower. My quads were cramping in a way that made me think they might soon snap off of my knee bones. Even so, I found myself thinking, “This really isn’t all that hard!”

I realize how ridiculous that sounds. But what it really meant at the time was that I felt that the training I had done during the months before the race had prepared me well. I didn’t feel anything I didn’t expect to. Most importantly, I was able to keep going.

The real Ironman experience, I believe, is in the months before the actual race. (more…)