My Relationship with Exercise
Firstly, before I start, this will be the final week of our Covid-19 support blogs. But don’t worry if you’ve been enjoying the content, as we are starting a brand new series next week around the theme of “Back to Work”, to reflect the position we are all now starting to find ourselves in. So the content will change subtly towards solutions to move forward rather than observations, reflections and coping strategies.
If I take you back to my , when I said this period has been a time to reflect. Well, seven weeks on and I’m still reflecting.
I had a massive epiphany back then, that was going to be included in the first week’s blog, but I decided to sit and reflect on it further before I put it out there. Seven weeks later and I’m still on exactly the same page.
This would be my biggest observation around what’s important and what drives me. This is something that is at the heart of our programmes, so I should know this stuff right? Wrong, I thought I did, or maybe I did then, but this is now, it’s a new landscape. I’m not going to try and predict the future of what the post-covid-19 world looks like for society, although I do think it will be very different to recent years, all I can do is reflect on how it’s affected me. So let’s look at my relationship with exercise. Coming into this, I’d set my stall out and for the last few years been driven by the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). This has seen me complete in 7 Iron Distance (Long) Triathlons, and qualify for my country in doing so. I’ve even done a Tedx talk explaining exactly how, despite not being a podium finisher, I planned on qualifying for Kona, the biggest Ironman Triathlon on the planet. I presented my 5-step plan to get there. When this Covid thing came along I was marathon training, and also planned some long-distance cycle Time Trials this summer, intending to tune up the engine, ahead of another Kona push next year. In the first week of lockdown, I still ran 21 miles, declaring on social media, “Even though my race has been cancelled I’m still going to complete a marathon at race pace on race day”. Then our local pro-triathlete, Joe Skipper really put the cat amongst the pigeons by riding a 200-mile training ride. He defended that position, much like I was still justifying my position. And let’s face it, neither of us broke any rules. We did one piece of structured exercise, and even after Matt Hancock’s clarification (which never made the rule book), he did say “Depending on your level of fitness”. That could easily be construed as - if you’re really fit, you can do more, and for Joe, it’s also his job. But for me it was clearly my chimp, as Prof. Peters calls it, exercising its right to be right. Obviously the rules around exercise have been considerably relaxed since then, but at the time this led to the following:
Observation No.1 - Our emotional brains can easily convince us of justification of the right course, even if it may not be
An intervention from my coach, Joe Beer, then made me think, “Is this right?” I decided to curtail my training back. If I could manage just three good runs a week, I could maintain my fitness. I still committed myself to run a half Marathon every Sunday though, which is clearly going to take longer than the hour that was being bandied around as acceptable. Fearful of the social media backlash, I went dark! Strava disconnected from Garmin, Garmin privacy setting changed to me only. No one out there would know I was running for nearly two hours!
And this is when the magic really happened. As soon as I stopped sharing, my running was no longer about anyone else, it was just about me. No kudos on Strava, no likes on Facebook. No “Smash it”, no “Awesome bud”. But guess what happened, I enjoyed running more, I started to properly look forward to it in the way I did in my debut year. It’s hard to say I’m quicker, as I usually do get fitter and quicker this time of year. But despite all the worry and ongoing sleep issues, I feel amazing. My biology agrees with that as well, with my Heart Rate Variability reads all going decidedly Green. So this gave me my next observation.
Observation No.2 - My relationship with my exercise is only about me, not anyone else. I don’t need to share it, I don’t need anyone’s approval, I just need to connect with it
And let’s face it, maybe too many Ironmans were taking me too far up the famous U curve, where the benefit of exercise is being undone by the damage it inflicts. I then realised something even more profound:
Observation No.2 - I didn’t actually want to compete in Ironman anymore, I didn’t want to try and qualify for Kona.
I’m not saying all this to try to say that Ironman is bad, I loved doing them and I don’t regret it at all. And that GB shirt and those medals are something of substance, something to be proud of. Who knows if, like an old boxing pro embarking on one more comeback, I might want to do an Ironman or even try for Kona again later in life, but right now I’ve found my way back to the deeply personal reason I connected with exercise, a connection that saw me give up the job as a CEO of a good-sized business, to help others get more energy, feel better and live life well.
Please do follow me on Strava (Kidding!)