Lest you think I throw myself recklessly into training and competition, ignoring warnings of impending injury, illness or failure, rest assured I don't. If you read the companion to this piece, I Ain't Got Time to Bleed, then I could see how you could come away from that thinking I am dangerously deluded about my abilities.
But risk is part of the process and how you manage risk is going to be, in large part, a contributor to your results. Note I said "manage" risk, not avoid it. Risk avoidance is a viable means of dealing with your fears, but hardly one that is sustainable in any meaningful way. Your life won't quite have that "arrive in your grave battered and bruised" romance to it if you are sequestered away in a soft room and living in a bubble.
Now, I don't want this to turn into a lecture on risk and its inherency in achieving anything worthwhile. This is about how you feel, how you feel about how you feel, and the idea that how you feel is a lie. Risk management ties in nicely with that philosophy, but it's not the salient message; in fact, if you understand how you feel, risk management becomes less a product of environmental cues and more one of honest self-evaluation.
Which brings us to understanding our feelings and the manipulations that occur therein.
It's important to understand that who we are, what we do, how we feel about it, and whether we achieve our goals are all very much interrelated, but often misunderstood. You'd be surprised how much you can accomplish outside of your existing schema when prodded or pushed hard enough. As they say, you don't know how strong you are until being strong is all you have.
And that's what I meant in my previous essay when I elaborated on the idea that feelings aren't helpful and that they are mostly lies we tell ourselves to garner cooperation or completely inaccurate statements even when we believe them ourselves. "I feel like I'm going to throw up" might be true, but how you feel about feeling like you're going to vomit is what truly matters in the heat of the moment. For some, puking means it's over; for me, puking means my body is making room for all the awesome that's coming my way.
Okay, I don't really think that way...but would it be so bad if I did? My first 24 hour mountain bike race was a cool experience--made all the cooler by throwing up all over the course after some ill advised nutritional choices were made. Was the puking fun? Of course not. But guess what? The post vomiting laps were actually faster than the pre vomiting ones. Why is that, do you think?
Because how I felt stopped mattering to me. I didn't feel good, but I also felt okay with not feeling good; how I felt in the first place was probably a lie anyway. So I kept pedaling.
See how that all came together?
Pictured: Is there anything stuck in my teeth?
If perception shapes reality, then what I feel is less important than what I do with those feelings. And understanding that feeling bad is part of the contract you sign with yourself when you test limits, it becomes important to move past first impressions and into the core of who you are and what competing means to you. In other words, make peace with all the things that are going to try to convince you to stop--there is most definitely a deeper meaning there if you are willing to suffer for it.
Because first impressions will make you quit or, worse, take no action in the first place. How you process those first impressions could mean the difference between achievement and failure. Actually, it most definitely will mean the difference. The process determines the outcome, so it becomes part of the athlete journey to create a robust process that informs all of it in a positive feedback loop that keeps the hurt in perspective when it comes.
And it will come.
So why not welcome it?