Face Your Fear

Fear & Leaning In

I wrote in my journal last week, before Ironman Tallinn, that what I enjoy most is a simple, consistent daily routine. As an ultra-endurance athlete that means the repetition of training, eating, sleeping–preferably in a rather unchanging setting. Two days post-race, however, I find myself somewhat lost at not having a race for another ten months. Pausing, I notice a very subtle sensation of panic, and that my breath tightens ever so slightly.

I thrive in the methodical. But I’m stimulated by goals and new experiences. It’s a very curious dichotomy; one that I don’t understand and am unsure how to manage. The only answer that holds truth for me is “just stride forward in the same manner as everything else, one step at a time, one breath at a time.” The core tenet: one step at a time is a difficult and beautiful discovery process.

The reason that routine works for me is specifically because it is unremarkably regular. I’m a person with an addictive predisposition, which means that I can become compulsive about something that appears to offer an improved path to imaginary greener grass. Thankfully, meditation and ultra-endurance exercise teach me the limitlessness of the present moment.

“Stay curious as the moment dances.
Listen. Listen with your entire body.
Hear yourself. Hear the other person.
Hear the silence in between the sentences.
Let the silence linger a little while longer.
There’s no rush. There’s no ‘better’ moment to get to.”
~Jeff Foster

Monkey in my mind

A year ago, during Ironman Kalmar, the voice in my head was strong. “Just stop this nonsense. Just walk. It’ll be so much easier.” I wanted to quit. I swore off all future long distance races. Then, a question arose quietly asking, “Can I relax? Right here. Right now. In this very step.” That’s all; such a simple invitation.

The Mind

I was able to relax. And although it wasn’t pretty, I ran each step of the next 30km (save for walking through aid stations for hydration and nutrition). After I crossed the finish line, the mental monkey jumped down, took me by the hand and smiled. Together we both howled with eagerness to get to the start line of the next race. It had been a long year of physical recuperation and rebuilding, but it wasn’t until that very moment that the mind reclaimed its health.

Meditation became an engrained part of my morning. It’s also something I credit for helping me establish a few more healthy habits. I polarised my training, making easy easier, and hard harder; avoiding the mediocracy of the middle. What’s more, 95% of my training has been at low intensity. Two months ago, progress began to reveal itself in fitness gains–very notable increases in performance–and, I can add, happiness.

Confidence: Born from consistency & faith

It wasn’t until days before my race this past weekend that a distinct shift in my mind also materialised. Chris Hauth said something to Rich Roll in podcast #313, “Meeting Nature Writ Large”, after their stellar adventure at ÖtillÖ Swimrun World Championship.

“There are days that you’re not gonna feel good already the first hour, and the voices, and the emotions, and the self-talk that’s happening in those moments, that’s where you have to trust in your fitness. You have to trust in the work that you’ve invested in yourself, in the training. And that’s not miles run at a certain pace, or distance, or yards swum in the pool, that’s the consistency of the daily emotions you have in training where you build that foundation… yes, I will finish this. I know I can. You don’t even have to dig into those: you just know deep down in inside that you’ve done the work and that you will traverse this distance. You don’t have to think too much or ask yourself too hard to do too much about it. It’s going to be a difficult day and here we go!”

“When you can use your lifelong experience and fitness and walk in to something, and soak it in, and live it, and breathe it, and smile and enjoy it–that’s fitness. That’s health and fitness.”
~Chris Hauth, AIMP Coaching

I reflected on the words difficult day, but also on soak it in, live it, breathe it, smile, enjoy it. That’s precisely the energy that has been growing in me from daily meditation and a gratitude practice.

Fear

Throughout the year, it’s been clear that I’ve been afraid of something. The agitation it caused grew as race day approached, but the source remained shrouded to me. Finally, as event-day loomed closer, I dared look long enough to see the cause: fear of mental strife.

It’s time to face that fear of pain and struggle in the marathon.
Lean into it.
Use it as fuel to fly.
Enjoy your fitness!
Game on!
 
This fear comes, perhaps, from the internal coping I dealt with as a child. I was an emotional mess, but I ceratinly wouldn’t have been able to verbalise that. Nobody was there—dad wasn’t there—to support the child who longed for connection. No roll models were present to promote well-being, confidence, nor belief in self and process. The blackhole of melancholy and despair had been born.
 
It’s time to face that fear of the anguish and torment.
Lean into it.
Use it as fuel to fly.

The logistical events at Ironman Tallinn

 
  • 🏊‍♂️ I had a personal best swim thanks to slowly improving feel & relaxation, and racing with the same form as I train. For me, more effort only leads to lowered economy. I’m happy with my swim, especially considering the temperature was a frigid 15.4 Celsius.
  • 🚴‍♂️ It was a strong 180km, although not quite what I felt was possible. I biked really smart in regards to the traffic of other competitors. Strength is still a work in progress: I’ve only been at this for a few years and nothing in the first decades of my life set me up for leg power.
  • 🏃‍♂️ The first half of the marathon was stellar, I felt great. Then my legs stiffened up; disappointing to say the least. I have a suspicion regarding a contributor to my stiff legs. But generally, I need to do a lot more running off the bike–frequency and duration.
  • I finished 13th of 95 men aged 50-54; 20 minutes behind my target.

I’m super stoked with my cardiovascular fitness. Honestly, I found it difficult to push my legs hard enough to raise my heart rate, which has been the (positive) trend in my training. Building and maintaining a solid foundation with regards to cardio and energy systems remains the bottom layer of the endurance training pyramid. Increasing leg durability now takes the second level in the hierarchy.

(Note: I highly recommend Ironman Tallinn. It’s a wonderfully organised venue. The courses are extremely well thought out.)

Emotional repercussions of Ironman Tallinn

The day following the race, after having bathed and packed my bike, it was extremely interesting to watch the Ironman now Facebook live coverage of the pro women racing Ironman Maastricht (Part II). During the last half of the run they looked very similar to how I felt only hours prior. The announcers were echoing many of the thoughts and feelings I had felt. What I heard was that my own experience was pretty damn normal, which felt nicely soothing.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened in the women’s race. In fact, that’s the point. It was a classic display of struggle through the pain and failing body. Like in so many sports, watching the women is much more akin to my own real life than watching the men.

I related on another level as well. I had gone to battle as a warrior, as these athletes were doing. I kept leaning in. I used the toil, drudgery, travail and mental agony as fuel. The invitation that arose a year ago returned, but this time it wasn’t “can you relax; right here, in this very step”. It was instead more confident–an intention to explore deeper inside by leaning in with determinative grit mixed with a huge helpings of gratitude, love, and presence. To be certain, I was looking forward to ending the pain. But I also wanted to stay with the exploration the entire distance to the finish line.

The next step

I’m disappointed not to have qualified for IM Kona this year. I’ll be there anyway cheering people on. One of those will be John Wragg who completed his 242nd Ironman in Tallinn this weekend. Meeting and talking with Canadians John and his wife Elizabeth, who has completed over 100 Ironman races herself and who together call themselves The Iron Couple, was a highlight of my trip. It’ll be fun to see them again.

Inspiration is a driving force, something that you feel on the inside. It can also mean to be in spirit, naturally drawn from your core to do whatever feels best. Why do I do what I do? Because I enjoy the feeling of being healthy and moving, of being fit. Following my breath, whether in meditation or exercise has become a reassuring curiosity and stillness.

That last word may sound like an odd descriptor for an experience while in physical movement, but it speaks to something much deeper. Jeff Foster recently wrote about being still:

“Intensity and discomfort do not necessarily equal pathology and danger and death.

But we have to learn to slowly, mindfully, gently, BE WITH the uncomfortable feelings. Lean in to the boredom, the loneliness, the fear, the despair. Prove to ourselves that these feelings are tolerable, survivable, even loveable, even pleasurable, life-giving, joyful, relieving, healing. When we feel them. When we let them move through us to completion.”
~Jeff Foster

The power of determination flows strongly inside me right now. Yet I’ve been down the road just long enough to be wary of how fickle it is. The more lasting energy is found in persistence: being consistently with the daily emotions.  Low intensity trudging along may seem boring at times, but it builds a strong foundation and allows me to see, and explore, the glorious subtleties I’d otherwise miss. It would be a platitude to say that the consistent process of striding forward, one step at a time, one breath at a time is the path less followed. But what I can say from experience is that it has been the most rewarding for me.

Recovery

Yesterday was a travel day. The legs get a break from biking and running for a week. Today, I got in the water for some easy swimming. Ultraman Canada is only a year away!


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✌️🌱 … 🙏


Belief – Gratitude – Living
Soulful Sojourn is the invitation to show up each and every moment to live your life. With confidence and understanding we develop a structure to improve fitness and choose a lifestyle that includes training, mindset, and nutrition. The intention is to discover, appreciate and express the process of living.