How to overcome any fear. Just think of Alan.
I was beyond frightened. I had to eat something but my body was listening to my brain and my brain was saying “why are you doing this? what if you fail? why don’t you just pull out?” These thoughts, fed by fear, were on a continuous loop. In an attempt to ignore them, I meticulously organised and reorganised everything I would need for the following day on the bedroom floor. I had to eat because if I didn’t, my body wouldn't be able to do what it needed to do. It needed to swim 3.8km, cycle for 180kms, and then run for 42kms.
This was how I felt the night before my first long-distance triathlon.
The race was held in the beautiful seaside town of Busselton in Western Australia. My husband and I, and a couple of thousand close friends, had descended on this small town with its famous jetty that stretches out to sea for 2kms. We would be swimming to the end of that jetty and back in a few days time. I wasn’t enjoying the beauty of it though, I was just listening to that little person in my head who was freaking out.
Race morning came, the race happened, and I finished. What’s crazy is that as soon as the start gun goes off, every fearful thought disappears. I was just immersed in every swim stroke, every turn of the pedal, and then every forward step on the run. Yes, there were times throughout the day when there was a battle going on in my head between the guy who wanted me to stop, and the guy who wanted me to finish but I was no longer paralysed by a fear that was simply a negative story in my head that had no evidence.
What do you want to do but your fear is stopping you from getting to the start line? This is something you want to do. Not everyone wants to do a marathon, or write a book, or complete a new course. But if you want to do something and your fear is stopping you, then ask yourself why.
Take small steps to overcome your fear
I didn’t go from doing no exercise at all to doing a long-distance triathlon. If I look right back to the start, I had to learn to ride a bike having never owned one as a child. There were years of learning and training that took place, and many short-distance races before the longer ones.
If you really want to overcome a fear that’s holding you back, you need to just start. Just start somewhere. Start talking to people who do what you want to do and feel their inspiration. Change happens at one of two junctions - inspiration or desperation. Be inspired and take a small step.
Create your “can do” story
After taking your first step, congratulate yourself and start a conversation with the guy in your head “hey, I can do this. I’ve started.” Feel the warmth of that little dose of confidence that finds its way in.
When preparing for the Busselton triathlon, I trained … a lot. And while there were some training sessions that felt not-so-great, there were many that felt fantastic. I could feel my body getting stronger. In training, I rode the full race distance (180kms) a few times so I knew it was possible. I had evidence that I could ride that distance. So when I had thoughts that weren’t helpful, I could push them aside and say “hang on, I’ve ridden that distance. I can do this”.
Be kind to yourself
Never ever, ever berate yourself. There is never, ever, ever anything good that comes from it. When I had a lousy training session, I could easily slip into negative chatter with that guy in my head. I had to learn instead to put it behind me and learn from it. There will be blips. There will be times when you take one of your small steps and it goes awry. There will also be times when you don’t follow your plan, you fall off the wagon. Just get back on. It’s history. Learn from it and let it go. Never berate yourself.
What’s the worst thing that could happen if you don’t succeed?
I had to ask myself that question too. What if I didn’t finish this race? And the answer is “so what?” Does it mean I’m a failure? No. Does it mean I don't have enough grit? No. It means I didn’t finish that race and that if it meant that much to me, I could do another one. I’m healthy, I’m strong, I’m capable of doing all that training, and I have wonderful friends to train with. Gosh, feeling down on myself if I didn’t finish, given everything else to be grateful for in life seems a bit self-indulgent. A little disappointed … sure.
Perspective brings your thoughts outside into the wider view of life rather than being sucked into your own self-pity party.
Believe in yourself
These long-distance races begin in the dark usually. Your bike is in a big compound with another 2,000 bikes all set up. There are large floodlights, thousands of people including competitors and spectators, very loud music booming out, and helicopters above. It’s intense. I can still remember the song that was being played. It was “Let’s Get It Started” by Black Eyed Peas. I have it still on my phone and playing it brings back that exact moment.
At this race, you racked your bikes in the compound in alphabetical order. I was racked next to a guy that I didn’t know with the same surname. It turned out he was the oldest guy in the race at 75 years old and his name was Allan. He was from the United States and he wore bright pink running shorts. He said he wore them so his wife could pick him out of the crowd as her eyesight wasn’t great. Wow. Love him.
If you have the belief you can do something, you have the resources/plan you need to do it, and you take the small steps to just start and then put in the effort that's required … you can achieve anything you want and overcome any fear you have. Just think of Alan. I do. Often.