Taking a step back to move forward
I was born with an ability, which is a blessing and a curse at the same time. It took me some time to figure out and pinpoint what it is exactly that is different about me, compared to others around me. During my time in High School and playing sports like handball, I was never really driven and wired the way I am now, ‘it’ was still hidden underneath the surface. I performed at an above average level in High School and handball, never the best, except when it came to topics that I could really relate to and that fired me up. When I started with martial arts, I got told that I have an ability and focus that would be great for the sport. I eventually quit after some years and decided to follow my passion of being outdoors with the help of triathlon. The second hint I received was during a track session in the Netherlands. The plan was to run 19 x 200m hard, with a short jogging rest. Having not trained anywhere close to that intensity in the months before, I tried to keep the best effort and stay with the front group. I ran myself to a hamstring tear and cramp at repeat number 18, still doing the 19th repeat afterwards. Afterwards, I heard the leading group included the current national track champ. The run coach called me a "fanatic!". I saw this as a type of compliment, to be able to push. But looking back, he already tried to point me in the direction that needed work.
If used properly, this ability can lead to great things, but there is a downside to it - as it is to most things. In this scenario it was obviously the inability of my body to cope with my mental effort (hamstring/muscle overload injury), demanding something from my body it was not prepared for. I am convinced I can push my body to a level where I become unconscious, if I wanted to. These days though, I know when I start to reach levels when I start to do damage to my body. I am blessed with a strong vessel that can put up with a lot of work. Something I value and I give back to my body as much as possible, with the right sleep, nutrition, hydration and mental rest. In 2018 I learned about the early signs of my body wanting more rest. I do not get physically tired or lack the ability to perform at the level asked of me in training. What goes south first with me, is my emotional and psychological health. Before, I saw this as normal, even as weakness, and I treated it with pumping myself up to get through the next session. After the unit, I did not feel better about myself or any type of satisfaction to have achieved the unit. Another sign I should have taken a step back, because normally after challenging sets, I feel pride to have gone through it and make it out the other end with a smile. So here's my list of ‘go to’ things, I know work for me when I feel this way: - Realize that I don't HAVE to do anything. No training, no work, no commitments to others, if I decide not to. Of course there might be consequences, but it helps me just to say it out loud to relax. It is a way of zooming out of the situation you are in - to see the big picture. - Lowest hanging fruits first (see another blog post for more about that) In short: making sure I eat, drink and sleep enough. If I know I slept enough and drank enough, just ate but still feel off, I will eat again. With me lacking calories (not quality) with regards to food, is a big one. Literally, ricotta, crème fraîche, cheese and nuts make my days, being very high in calories. - Flight mode on = block out everything and sole focus on yourself. I am not useful to anyone around me when I am in this state. No-one, except me alone, can get me out of this state. I don't need comforting words, pity or whatever. What I need in those moments is a train ride into nature, walk with a backpack full of drinks, foods and a book, until my mind comes to ease (no clock or time limits here. Put your life on hold. Just walk with music if you want. It might only take 30min, or 3 hours, something I ignore completely). It is a form of active meditation. I also use meditation in sitting form, when I feel it's right at that time. A great way to relax, but also to build laser focus before a session, when your mind is stuck in a place from the past or future, that is irrelevant at that very moment. Always staying in the moment and not letting your mind wander is an ability that needs training as much as a muscle. This ability is more important for sports than your muscles. If you don't have access to it, you could be in Jan Frodeno's body and still underperform greatly.
Our body always tells us what we need. Also, each of our bodies is different. Some might feel their legs are just like lead weights and don't even want to walk up stairs. You need to listen over time. Write down a weekly diary to see the patterns if needed (one example is too little calories the day before, waking up feeling stressed without any particular reason = low blood sugar. Think lowest hanging fruits first, do it and then evaluate again). To learn when your body and mind need a step back is a lesson for life not just sports. If you do not listen, you might cope for some time before things around you will start to buckle. Maybe just your body, or worse, your relationships with others. In order to grow in the area of your life that matters a great deal to you (from family to job and sports) you need to put yourself first. It sounds like a selfish way of thinking, but it is really not. I have put my patients at work before my own health for many months, until my body eventually broke down with a virus in April. This is one of the reasons why I am changing jobs mid-October, in order to treat less people a day. You need to feel comfortable and balanced for most of the time, otherwise it will affect your life in a variety of negative and unexpected ways. Stay honest to yourself, never be afraid to take a step back. As it will only make you grow to greater dimensions. Have a great week, Chat soon, Matti
P.s. Only a few weeks left, until I leave for my Hawaii adventure, yeeha!