Sisu

This was going to be a blog about Woolacombe parkrun.  Come to think of it, it may still be in a little while if the following idea does not go anywhere…

While I was in blog planning mode, an e-mail arrived into my in-box from James Clear entitled ‘Sisu: how to develop mental toughness’.  You can read his full blog post here. In it Clear explains, Sisu is the concept of carrying on when all hope appears to be lost.  ie it is not so much about the achievement, rather more about facing challenges with determination and valour. He gives an example of Sisu as the last two miles of the marathon when you are absolutely exhausted and sums up the concept saying “we all experience failure, but mentally tough people realise that failure is an event, not their identity”.

But what if you stepped off the path with two miles to go. What if that becomes habit. What if your identity is as a runner or triathlete and you fail enough for the label to become more reminder rather than a series of events? Or even worse, the DNF’s become part of your identity so much so, they engender inertia and the inability to even start, never mind finish.

I started to ponder this.  

Earlier this week I started a book called ‘Landmarks’ by Robert Macfarlane.  I’m only a smidgen of pages in but he has already introduced the topic of how people become landmarks through the story of others lives.  I’ve talked about this briefly in a blog post before.  Recently, I’ve been ’accountant’ lady, ‘crochet’ lady and ‘running’ lady, I’ve been ‘siren’ and other labels much less complimentary.  I’ve been drawn towards ‘radiators’ and run away (literally on occasion) from ‘drains’.  No-one wants the moniker ‘failure’.

Once the mantle of ‘failure’ is donned, in theory to achieve even the slightest hope of success, Sisu is required at every single event undertaken.  Well, that’s hard.  Really hard.  It also backs up what Matt Fitzgerald asserts in his book ‘How bad do you want it’. Here, he suggests the key to success is to make things feel as easy as possible.  When things feel hard, even the best can fail. 

Ever decreasing circles.

And yet, in the real world, I’ve seen examples of this over and over again.  People trapped in the same cycle for years despite protestations of ‘this time it’s going to be different’ and then setting themselves up to fail by not really changing anything.  You know it, the ‘always doing what you’ve always done, and always get what you’ve always got’ syndrome but this time expecting a different result despite having changed nothing at all.

Of course, it’s highly possible that I could be overthinking this.  But the above paragraph definitely applies to the last four years of my life.  Clear’s e-mail struck a chord and I know at present I’m struggling to achieve consistency.  Primarily because every time I head out it’s too damn hard.  Even with half an eye on Fitzgeralds view of keeping the perceived exertion ‘easy’.  

I could argue that many times since 2015, my Sisu had been employed fire fighting in other parts of life. But really, that argument doesn’t wash anymore.  

So, it’s time to change and this time (with fingers crossed and a fair wind that help will be forthcoming) I have asked for it.  This time with the view firmly towards success.  

Well, there you go.  Woolacombe will have to wait for another week and I didn’t expect this to come out as another ‘start again’ blog but I guess one has to start somewhere. 

Race report – Cotswold 113

Last year G and I entered the Cotswold Classic, a middle distance triathlon in the Cotswolds, not a million miles away from Cirencester.  The day before the event we rode four and a half miles to Cirencester to do the parkrun and then four and a half miles back.  The race was in August and the weather was hot, as most of the summer seemed to be last year.  30 degrees, almost too hot to induce sweat, but rather just that sense of being swollen and uncomfortable with no relief.  

The temperature of the lake was almost at the point of being too hot to wear a wetsuit. The organisers had deemed them ‘optional’. As hot and swollen as I was – and not just from the heat – I knew that getting into the wetsuit would be a struggle. I was torn with indecision to wetsuit or not to wetsuit almost to the point of inertia. In the end the inertia won. Still exhausted from the parkrun effort the day before, G and I opted to stay in the van that was our temporary home for the weekend and to my eternal shame, did not start.

Depressing as it was, it was not surprising. I almost had to go back to 2015 to realise a race that I had started with a level of competence. That was Ironman Austria. There, I’d had a rough day but started a few stone lighter with a couple of year of solid training. Not finishing was never an option, both mentally and physically.

Since then just dealing with life has taken almost all the energy I had and had left a trail of DNS or DNF that was demoralising and were now starting to become a barrier in themselves.

I entered the 113 middle distance triathlon almost immediately afterward the failure at the Cotswold Classic, swearing that things would be different.  The event is sister to the Cotswold Classic and run over the same course.  The only difference is the time of year, scheduled for June instead of August.  I could only hope that I would go into better prepared and it would be a tad cooler.

There are a million excuses why I wasn’t as well prepared as I could have been, but I won’t give them any credit.  After recently changing life circumstances again and hopefully for the last time in such a dramatic fashion, now is the time to start setting down routine in the quest for a healthier lifestyle.  So, this event was definitely a way to draw a line in the sand.  Although granted, a half Ironman is probably not the best event to do that with but there you go.

So targets then were pretty basic:
* Get out of the van
* Get into a wetsuit and put myself on the start line
* Finish the swim
* First lap of the bike
* Compete the bike leg
* First lap of the run
* Finish the race

Our alarm was set for 4.45am. Since we had been allocated a later swim wave, 6.40am for me and 6.50am for G, we had planned to go and rack and then come back for breakfast. Alarms started to go off at 4am and so we were well awake by the time ours joined them. Pulling on our tri kit we slid out of the van and to an almost empty campsite. Still, with the first target achieved we were already winning.

Transition closed at 6am so we had to be in and out by then but as it was, we were back at the campsite by 5.30am and sat staring at the kettle willing it to boil. Breakfast over and done with, we collected wetsuits and swimming garb and headed over to the lake to get ready for the race start.

The wetsuit had shrunk considerably since the last few times I’d clambered in. G very kindly blamed the osillations of heat and cold they would face being in the loft. Kind but not true – it had more to do with my burgeoning weight. Eventually I was shoehorned in and despite unable to bend my elbows fully was ready to go.

I was frankly bloody uncomfortable but at least had achieved the second goal and as I pulled on my hat and goggles, resolved to get at least half way round the swim where an option to come back to land and clamber out would be available.

I loved being back in the water – resolving immediately to clamber in the sea more when I got home. It was cool and refreshing and wonderfully buoyant in the suit. Too buoyant actually and I could feel my legs sticking out of the water. After a five minute countdown we were started, I hesistated a few seconds to let the others go and then flung myself forwards and started to swim.

The plan was to swim from buoy to buoy and that’s what I did. After a few hundred metres as the option to bail approached, I realised that while it was slow, it wasn’t getting any more difficult so I decided to carry on. The last wave passed me by, despite me having a ten minute head start. I’m used to this though, so I didn’t panic and just plodded on, very close to last but doing it all the same. It was a relief to get back to dry land – mostly because now I had an opportunity to ride my bike. Which I genuinely couldn’t wait to do.

All the way round the swim I was wondering how G was getting on and so was delighted to see him in transition when I got there. He must have passed me in the final stages of the swim, it was lovely to see him safe and well.

After taking off the wetsuit (bliss) And a bit of a faff I grabbed the bike and headed out of transition to the mount line. Steadied myself, hopped on and Piri and I set off.

I love this bit and it didn’t disappoint. I’d been promised a flat route and golly, was it flat. After some quite ropey conditions the weather was just perfect, 17 degrees, sunny and no wind. While not fast, the bike and I were able to knock out a comfortable 15mph. To tell you the truth, I find flat courses really hard work. Relentless, and unforgiving, I’d much prefer something a bit lumpier. But we managed the first loop and I as I headed back to the turnaround promised myself a bit of time to stretch before heading out again.

Instead, I turned and went out first before the stretch, to remove the temptation to stop, thus scoring another win. As I continued on the second lap, things slowed a little and my back got more sore. The desire to run left me completely. After thinking I’d start the run and do a loop, I decided that by the time I’d got back I’d be done. And so it was. Enough for one day but happier than I’d been on a ‘race’ day for a long while. I’m still miles away from where I want to be but the wins were valid and confidence building. Happy days.

G finished the bike strongly and went on to complete the run conservatively, perfect for IM Austria in a few weeks time.

Clean

Puerto del Carmen – 2019

A few months ago I finally managed to realise a dream to write for the Mass Observation. Mass Observation are a social group that specialise in material that records every day life. I’ve had a life long passion in anthropology and love the work they do. They’ve been in existence since 1937 documenting the mundane in peoples lives. That’s what I love about it most – the beauty in the collection of trivial stories around a theme.

The last set of tasks involved a discussion around plastic and the first task was to list the amount of single use plastic encountered in a day. A suggestion made was to document room by room in the house. I started with the bathroom and initially entered into this task thinking it would be easy. It wasn’t long before it dawned on me how many items we use involving plastic. It was horrifying.

The next task involved thinking back to what we used to do before plastic truely started to dominate our lives. Ironically, my Dad used to work in the plastics and polymers division in ICI Wilton, in the North East. He was a perspex advocate – so much so he glazed his greenhouse with the stuff (and some of the windows in our house). But that aside, the use of plastics was definitely less. We used soap instead of bottles and bottles of unguents. Fruit and veg was either grown or bought in brown paper bags and since we would buy half a beast at a time, meat was delivered on a tray ready for prepping and freezing.

I mentioned it to G and we decided together that we would start to tackle our use of plastics with am aim to reduce as much as possible.

Last week we headed to Lanzarote for our annual trip to support Ironman Lanzarote. After the last few months of hectic living in two places and not quite in either we were due a few days of sunshine and R&R and the island didn’t disappoint. There we managed to catch up with many of our friends, old and new. The simplicity of life on holiday is compelling and what I really love is the chance to research and talk through ideas and concepts with people. Our friend, Lee, is already miles ahead of us in the environmentally friendly game and we chatted about alternatives, especially soaps. Fully sold, we got a few bits in Lanza and when we returned to Devon, sourced a community owned co-operative committed to reducing plastics use.

Soap!

One of the other topics for consideration out in Lanza was health. G and I have been implementing our ‘move more’ philosophy to great success. Already we’re feeling a lot better and G has been running and cycling amazingly well at the moment. Perfect for his trip to Ironman Austria next month.

We’ve been trying to find a lifestyle diet that will help with weight loss but be sustainable. For the last few months I’d been getting increasingly contradictory advice regarding between keto, LCHF and paleo healthy eating – which was leading to confusion.

Lee had told me that one of the pirates had been eating paleo for a while now. He’d had incredible success with it, reversing his Type II diabetes diagnosis and competing in Ironman Lanzarote (which he successfuly completed in one of the toughest years to date). Just as we were chatting about him, he appeared beside us and we took the opportunity to ask him about his lifestyle. He said he had been through the whole gamut of paleo/keto related approaches and now focussed on just four rules:

  1. Eat clean – nothing out of a packet
  2. No seed oils
  3. Swap all ‘beige’ food for vegetables
  4. Take in magnesium

It sounded completely do-able and really fired me with excitement. So, the next stage will follow these rules and add a little more structure to the ‘move more’ around swim, bike, run and weight training.

Hopefully the above will lead to us being cleaner inside and out and is one more step towards a much simpler way of life.