Last year was certainly a year of lessons. Each month brought a new challenge and something else to learn. Most of which I learned from others – either through asking specific questions from people that had already done similar events, from reading lots of books written by very inspiring people or (and this was one I probably did the most) by making mistakes and learning the hard way!
The key lesson I learned last year was to not focus on the big goal too soon. Focusing too much on my ironman challenge in January was too soon. It made me panic and doubt that I’d taken on too much. It made me question if I was pushing myself too far; if I would break before I even got a chance to complete that goal.
In struggling to swim more than half a mile in January and comparing that to the 2.4 I needed to cover by September, I thought I would never get there. When I was running 6 miles and finding it difficult, I constantly agonised over how I’d run another 20.2 for the marathon. After my cycling fitness was lost through injury over the winter months, I forgot what my legs were capable of and panicked that 112 miles would never be achievable, especially not after the swim that (at the time) would be a miracle to get through.
Combine all that together and frankly, you have a recipe for disaster. What I failed to do was remember that it was still early days for my swimming and it had been well over a decade since I’d done any form of swim training. That if I could run 6 miles then I was already nearly a quarter of the way through a marathon. And that muscle memory really does exist and I would find my bike legs again.
I’m sure plenty of us forget the big picture when we’re despairing at our inability to complete our end goal immediately. I frequently needed reminding of this when I would get into a panic or a grump about not being able to do something straight away. Big challenges take time and training – that’s why it’s a big challenge! That’s why we usually sign-up with a good few months to prepare.
Instead of solely focusing on how impossible the end goal seemed, I focused on the mini monthly goals I wanted to achieve in the run-up to my ironman: swim in open water, swim 2.4 miles in open water, run 100 miles in a month, run a marathon, cycle everywhere – back to Leyland, to work everyday, find your form to get quicker on the bike. And it worked, the ironman wasn’t easy, but it was achievable, I arrived on the day feeling nervous but ready and that’s the ideal situation to be in.
So yes, have the “end goal” in mind – after all, it’s the thing we want to achieve! But don’t put so much pressure on yourself at the start of your training that you feel dread or panic for the event. Instead, set yourself a specific, achievable (but challenging) goal to tick off in the next month…and then do the same for the month after that, and the month after that. Before you know it your big (and seemingly impossible!) end goal will be much seem much more achievable.
Having been helping to coach Dad on the start of his RAB training journey, I read some very powerful words today from Nelson Mandela that perfectly summarise this post: ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’