On my personal Strive blog I’ve been trying to write about September’s Strive Challenge with a sense of humour, mainly because there’s only so many different ways to write “I cycled a long way and at one point I really wasn’t in the mood but somehow managed to get over it” and none of them are going to be competing with Shakespeare, Tolkien et al on the literary front.
But it’s time for a serious blog post, and a bit of honesty. When I tell people about Strive, the first reaction of many people is that I must be ‘superhuman’. Here’s the truth: I’m not, and the last few weeks have been a struggle.
After being the plucky fool who dragged herself through the STRIVE Challenge with 6 weeks’ notice in 2014, one of the attractions of getting involved with Strive this year was that I could prepare for the challenge ‘properly’, and make a serious commitment to training, because the best way to prepare yourself for being physically active for hours on end, is to be physically active for hours on end.
During the week, I’m trying to train either side of busy days at work. Here’s what that’s looked like recently: one recent Sunday night I got five hours sleep. The next night, I went to bed setting an alarm that would give me six hours’ sleep, to get up and pedal before work. Unsurprisingly, I woke up the next morning feeling terrible. Normally at this point in the story, you expect me to write “But because I’m well on my way to being superhuman, I got up after eleven hours sleep in two nights and pedalled 60km before breakfast – Strive baby!” But that’s not how this story goes. I woke up feeling shattered, so I listened to my body, rolled over, and went back to sleep. Because I’m not superhuman. And to thrive in September, I need sleep just as much as I need training kilometres in my legs.
At the start of Strive training in January, I made a commitment that surprised a few people. When pushed at work to define my “one simple thing” that would keep me happy this year. I’m sure my entire team (including me) expected me to say that it was getting some exercise/training in each day. Instead, I chose to get enough sleep. Sure, the endorphin kick from exercising makes me happy. But enjoying training has never been what’s held me back from training; if I miss a session it’s because I haven’t had the energy to make it happen.
Many people remark that we must be superhuman to be attempting to Strive in September. But the secret to my so-called ‘superhumanity’ is simple: sleep. This is SO not rockstar. Tuck me up in bed for 7 and a half hours and I am ready to take on the WORLD the next day. Anything less, to do much more than simply subsist is a disaster. Lack of sleep is my kryptonite. When I’m getting enough sleep, the other stuff just falls into place.
I’ve always liked to push myself to the limit, and set very stretching goals. I’m a believer in shoot for the moon, and if you miss, you’ll still land amongst the stars. But it doesn’t stop me beating myself up about not landing on the moon.
With a desire to train hard, one of the things I’m most uncomfortable with is missing planned sessions. It feels like a failure. Yet a few things have made me more OK with missing sessions over the past couple of months. Firstly, I’m going against every known training best practice by not scheduling any regular rest days. I promise, this isn’t as stupid as it sounds. In the course of a busy schedule, inevitably each week there comes a day where something has to give, and that thing is training. By not scheduling a formal rest day, I have the flexibility to adapt to the needs of the rest of my life, to listen to my body when it needs it, and not beat myself up over a missed session. The second helpful thing is that I’ve entered a few events over the course of the last month, where I’ve been able to use “tapering” as an excuse for lighter training – and in these events I’ve been surprised and content with how I’ve performed. These events have given me good feedback, and seeing improvements helps me know I’m on course, and means I don’t give myself a hard time about not always completing the aspirational version of my training plan.
I’ve learned plenty about myself this year from striving for a challenge that falls on the spectrum between superhumanity and stupidity. We learn most at the edge of our comfort zones, and personally, I find that’s it’s one of the best places for me to operate. But it’s an incredibly fine balance, and as I balance training with work, the last couple of months have been about keeping my head above water (that’s metaphorical training for the Italy-Sicily swim, at least). For me, the difference between superhumanity and stupidity is sleep… and being OK with just giving my best and trusting it will be enough come September!