In my training towards triathlons, the ultimate lesson zeroes down to one precious learning – to become good at this sport you need to become good at coping with the discomforts and stresses that endurance sports bring you face to face with. When the body is telling you one thing and the mind the other, it is never telling you the same thing and comprehending the difference is in knowing what to do next.
I had not raced in over the two years of the pandemic and I had to put all that training to good use. My body was ready but my mind had some shaping up to do. I was surrounded by many doubts. Through the days nearing the event, all day I hoped for it all to go well, especially on the bike course. I hoped against cramping, against technical glitches and when the day came I felt ready.
Standing at the start line, running into deep waters as the gun went off, my strokes were as strong as my thoughts. Swimming has always been my strongest discipline but one can’t predict the choppy waters or the sun on your head or another athlete trying to overtake you. It’s not like swimming in the pool for sure. But here I was done and dusted with the swim part, headed fast into the transition areas. I struggled getting the wetsuit off me. I was juggling the mind and body, but my body was slower and zillion things went on in my head. I got onto my bike and off I went into the grizzly mist.
As I mounted my bike, I could feel my legs getting heavy, a weight I was finding difficult to carry but my mind kept telling me just stay on course and maintain the pace so I wouldn’t get any slower .
A few minutes onto the bike course it didn’t feel easy at all. Easy it never is, but the discomfort was on the rise. As I fired up to gain distance as fast I could, I had now cramped my left calf adductors. I had lot of questions going on in my head – should I stop and shake out the legs and saddle back up? Finishing the bike course in agony would ultimately result in poor run performance. I did have a run leg of 21 kms ahead of me before I reached the finish line. So what was it going to be???? This was the question which needed an immediate answer.
We all have some reserves left before that point of exhaustion comes. Hard physical limits do exist, but no athlete renews them purely on physiological limits. It’s our minds that reach a road block before our body does.
I made a 3-min stop. My legs felt under a truck of fatigue, and I had to release my legs in very little time. There was heavy cross wind and head winds on that course. The only advantage I had was that it was a relative flat course but that was only a small advantage.
My heart sank as the referee came close and asked me if all was well. I feared he would give me a blue or yellow card which would cost me another few minutes of my race time but he was concerned as I had stopped in the middle of the bike course. Phew! I smiled and saddled back up.
It is impossible to become a top glass endurance athlete without a high level of inherited physical fitness and same goes for one’s mental fitness too. Finally it all comes down to how much ONE can suffer!
Riding into my last few kilometres I felt I was getting blurry images. A lot of factors were at play here. For instance I could feel my shoulder muscles clamped and tightening. I would constantly try and release the shoulder muscle by pressing them the best I could while riding in TT position. It just wasn’t getting easier. My mind kept telling me that I only had a few more kilometres to ride and these had to be my most fast and powerful splits.
I suddenly didn’t care or think about anything but finishing the ride as best as I could. I changed gears and charged towards the finish line of the bike course not so much by competitive fire but more so by a desire to end my misery.
With my head down I gladly transited to T2 to collect my running gear from the holding area.
The voice in my head kept going off telling me that my run had to be strong and consistent for me to make up for the lost ground on the bike course. Into the run course, I managed to get a good start and I kept pressing. The experience of struggle provides an adaptive response and this response gives rise to better coping skills in my case.
There were so many mental hurdles while I ran but for some reason my legs felt faster and I felt almost – No Fatigue. Considering how badly I cramped on the bike, I was not sure how my run legs would go. I only hoped for the best and did not give it much thought.
My mind turned even more competitive at this stage. How do I become faster than her running so strongly ahead of me? Then there was a point I wanted to keep pacing behind her till she disappeared and the gap only increased between us. I could feel my legs getting heavy, a weight I was finding difficult to carry but my mind kept telling me to just stay and maintain the pace.I was closing in to the 15th km and had to keep telling myself that I had to get faster now.
My final tool is always my self-talk. But at this moment, it was not working because somewhere my mind was telling me that I was already doing my best.
Something had to be done.
I have come to realize one thing that journey towards becoming a mentally fit athlete is very much a journey of personal development. Living your dream is hard. It’s really hard. Sometimes I cry for hours as my body hurts. I miss my family when I travel for these races. I am not always fine or strong or fearless but I tell myself that there is strength in being just the person I am.
Self Talk Helps!
I am Meera Cheema and I am the brightest star, I am tough and I am strong. I am living my dream. It’s hard but it’s so worth it. Even the bad days are worth it as being a triathlete is hard, it requires you to be mentally tough just as much as it requires you to be physically fit. I would not be doing any other sport but being the best triathlete each day. Going with the flow, and never fighting it when it gets tough. Keeping a smile and enjoying the pain. We all are an outcome of our choices. I choose to be a banker; I chose to be a triathlete. These are all my choices and mine alone. I am never going to regret my decisions. Nothing ventured, nothing gained right?
People give names to their bikes, treadmills and spoiling equipment, I don’t have a name for my bike but she is a beautiful curvelo P3 and her heart beats with mine. She is as ferocious and fearless as me. Never lets me down.
I am an ordinary girl who believed in her dreams. I was ready to work hard and achieve what I had set out to do. We all get one life and I want to make each day count. I want to smile when I think about my journey and have no regrets.
I have never felt any doubt. I decide what is to be done and then I just want to win. Winning is giving it my best that day. No questions prevail over my decisions; once I have made up my mind then all I do is make sure I come out an achiever. Good days and bad days are both a win for me as long as I didn’t quit, and quitting isn’t an option for me. I don’t know what that means. I will keep my chin up and smile, no matter how much it hurts. To my mind, when I give it my all while preparing for a race and when the day comes, it is time to celebrate.