One of my all time favourite sayings is, ‘Some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the statue’. Well, for the 2020 Oman 70.3 run leg, I am 100% the statue. This quote for those who are unaware of what pigeons to do statues is a metaphor for when things go well one time but can equally go to shit on another.
Failure is a negative situation where you have opportunity to learn, experiencing pain is also another. Once you are able to see these negative situations in that light, it makes suffering a whole lot easier. I’m not averse to pain, It's a question i'm often asked, ‘whats the worst pain you’ve ever been in?’ I think it is so hard to answer because when you are in enough pain, your body and mind can work in tandem to make you forget it. So the honest answer is I don’t know what’s the worst pain i’ve been in, but my most savoured memory of pain is lying on a bed in a French A&E unit with palm size patches of skin missing on my arms, hands, hips and bum and the soured face French nurse scrubbing iodine into them with a plastic bristled brush. I remember vividly my vision narrowing with each scrub and thinking ‘ah this is it, this is how much pain I have to be in before I pass out’. I didn’t pass out, but I did learn a new limit. So why did this encounter with extreme pain matter? Because since then I knew I had a bench mark to go from.
Back to the race, I exit T2 6th overall. You could say I’ve had a good bike leg, my coach would say ‘it was a touch peppy’, meaning you’re an idiot and you’ve overcooked it. I start the run, HR already through the roof. The 1km mark is passed and it is not coming down, immediately I throw the brakes on, a few km’s at a slower pace will see me come good and then I can build it back up. At 6km i’m still waiting to come good, HR is still sky high and I feel like I have been running for hours already. I see the leaders coning back up the course at a turn around point, they’re going well, suffering but going well. I’m suffering and going nowhere, it’s been on my mind since 3km in, I really, really want to quit.
I have a stitch in the top of my ribs and a headache, neither one seems to be subsiding. My legs are good, no pain there, just an increasing stabbing pain and dull ache that gets worse each time my foot hits the ground. DNF, DNF… Can I DNF here? I know i’m not faking these pains, this isn’t my A-race, it doesn’t matter. Well, it does matter and I absolutely will not DNF this. Thanks to my well studied pain gauge, in reality I am fine. I just need to slow down more and by that, I mean I need to walk through aid stations, let the stitch calm down then run again, let it build up to its worst point and stop and walk again. I absolutely hate walking in triathlons, it destroys my ego. Here lies a great lesson, I don’t want to walk, not because I don’t like walking, but because I don't like being seen walking in races. Lesson acknowledged and I begin my walk/run routine.
In the past experiencing these thoughts and converting them into lessons completely by passed me. I was so stuck in my own head I used to miss them completely. Now I can think a thought, analyse it, learn from it and be thankful for it, it’s 100% a skill you only learn from endurance. On my 2nd loop I run past Marcus and Holly again, the first time it was all positive energy and I latched onto it. ‘You’re gonna come good mate, the guys ahead of you are really suffering and you look good, you’re in good shape’, I have lied to Marcus on many occasions during his challenges and he definitely re-payed the favour on this one, so i latched onto it and thought ‘yeh, I will come good. I just have to be patient’. This time around it is clear, there is no good to be seen here… I’ve had time to think through how my day is going, and all I can say when Marcus asks how I am is ‘hurting, this is going to be one hell of a lesson’.
I turn the marker for my last stretch to the finish line, glancing up I see another IFE tri suit in the distance. Here is another lesson on the way. My coaching style is what you might call ‘front line’ coaching. I race a lot and I love racing in the same races that I have clients in. Lead from the front and all that… Usually I see my guys in races but i’m normally too focused on my own race to check in on them. Here lies a chance to check in with an athlete, help in anyway I can and not worry at all about myself. There is about a 30s gap between us and I close the gap up slowly. What to say in these situations isn’t always easy, one wrong word can really wobble an athlete in a race, so I take my most used approach and say absolutely nothing. We just run together for 20 - 30s, Andrea T then asks ‘how you doing?’ I give a one word answer, ‘hurting’. It then just happens another IFE athlete is up the road, Andrew W. Immediately I think ‘wow’ this is going to be incredible, we are going to run as a three. Three people connected through a sport that we are doing right now all together. As we align, the energy around us lifts, it is really incredible and one of my favourite moments I have ever experienced in a race. My reason for answering AT’s question truthfully is to fake a response when so visibly suffering creates a miss trust. To clearly lie to someones face can throw them off. A case also stands for shared suffering, no doubt she is suffering too, so by creating an equal ’suffering ground’ you feel less alone.
Imagine I had DNF’d, what a price I would have payed. You cannot buy the feeling the three of us had during that 5 - 10mins we ran together. I can't really remember what was said but I can remember being so content and filled with pride that the suffering I went through before it was 100% worth it. Any ties to my result for the race just disappeared, it used to take me days to let go of bad results, this time I have already let go of it before I have even finished. AT has her own race to run, AW it turns out had a mechanical on the bike and his race was gone a long time ago, I use the chance re-iterate a few tactics to AT and I continue onto the finish line. The last 20mins of the race I dig into this feeling of contentment and pride. I’m content because despite my own race going to shit, an athlete I know works harder then pretty much anyone else I know is racing well and is OK, I also know 4 other athletes I have at the race are doing their absolute best, i’m also content because at that moment I have no ego, I have nothing to worry about what so ever. I’m proud because once again, the IFE athletes are delivering. I’ve heard (thanks to Marcus) that an insane amount of PB’s have been achieved at the RAK Half marathon. Oliver H who has gone through 18 months of the most frustrating injury will finish his first 70.3 very soon, Amani M is about to finish her 3rd 70.3 in 3 months! What an incredible team.
The following day coach Rob Foster asked me for a quote for our weekly mailer, it sums up how I feel after Oman and how this sport, 20 races on is still developing me.
"What you guys are achieving as a team is so, so hard to do. You are making a sport, that usually creates isolation and selfishness, feel like a true team environment. It’s 100% changing my outlook on my own endurance journey and it’s a real pleasure to be part of yours”
By; Tom Walker, Endurance Coach