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'Life vs. Triathlon' by Helen Al Uzaizi

I wasn’t always athletic.

Actually, I was probably as far from that as it can possibly get. The girl that forged her parents signature to get out of PE and walked the 1-mile run as slow as possible because she would hope the teacher would get bored and just tell her to stop.

I never really understood the value of sports beyond narcissism and ego. To me, being athletic was about looking good. Eating well was to be thin. Training was to get those arms that have a hint of a muscle with every movement. And I did that for a while, just like most other young girls.

Over the years, I consistently trained in one form or the other since 2001. I experimented with Kick-boxing, Cross Fit, Pilates, Zumba, Hip Hop and really can’t remember everything else. They were all fun, I enjoyed them and all throughout, I always did some weight training either in classes like Pilates and Body Pump or have a Personal Trainer.

I never would have imagined I would be interested in endurance sports. Ever.

Then I decided to run a marathon, literally over night. From having never run (or jogged) for more than 20 minutes… I ran the full 42.19km. I did it and it was fun; well not really fun, but felt good when it was done. I then decided I wanted to do a triathlon. I didn’t know what that really meant but knew it would need me to learn to swim and bike.

So, I did.

I then decided I wanted to do an IronMan. Again, not knowing what that entails at all, just sounded like a cool thing to do. Seemed ‘hard-core’ and awesome.

Little did I know, it would change my life. And not just from an athletic perspective, but on how I handled my life in general. I found a strong correlation between what works in IronMan training and what works in life.

Lifestyle, habits, mind-set.

The more I do this, the more I see how much of an overlap there is between what I hope to achieve with IronMan and what makes people successful in life. Whether family, career or health.

If we treated life as we treated our training, or rather our mindset when training for a race, we’d be more successful than ever. Not all of us want to compete in races, but we can all benefit from the discipline that it gives us.

I remember feeling and thinking this when I trained for the Dubai 42.19km marathon. And it still holds true today. Every time I get onto the bike, into the pool, onto the track for my run I go through a mix of emotions. From wanting to give up, to wanting to go faster, to wanting to cry from the heat. At the end of each session, however, I finish feeling absolutely amazing.

I realized this morning, that if we treated life the same way coaches make us look at training for a race, we can have that feeling every day — whether training or not.

1.Pace yourself. You are not in a race with anyone but yourself. You are your own guide of how fast you can go and only you know what your legs can handle, your heart can handle and most importantly, what your pace needs to be to finish YOUR race. The finish line is yours, no one else’s and you have nothing to prove to anyone but yourself. Set your pace and stick to it.

2. Consistency is key. You will never get past the finish line, up the mountain, or be successful if you do something for a week and forget about it for 3. Working out hard for a week and then taking two weeks off won’t help anyone. Same with everything else. You can’t play catch up without damages. If you want to be successful with anything, you have to be consistent. Imagine a restaurant, service is great one week and terrible for 3. Would anyone want to go? No. Same in business. Relationships. Training. Its all about consistency.

3. Slow and steady always wins. Slow is relative, so take the term with a pinch of salt. There is no use pushing yourself to the limit in the first 20km’s of a cycle if you’re going to stop out of exhaustion after it. When I want to run for 16km, I need to set a slower pace, maintain a reasonable heart rate so I can go consistently to reach my goal. Can I go faster? Sure, but will I be able to finish? Most probably not. Same with everything else, take your time and you’ll get there no matter what!

4. The early bird eats the worm. Come to the cycle track on a Friday morning at 4:30am and all the passionate and serious cyclists are there, pumping their tires, getting prepped and ready to go on their long ride. Why early morning? Its quiet, less distractions, your energy levels are higher, you are not bogged down by the day. At least that is what works for me (and many others it seems). I get it out of the way and I am ready to enjoy my day without the stress of needing to ‘fit in’ my training. The same applies to a lot of things we have difficulty finding time for — reading, writing, exercising, yoga… anything.

5. Take some daily time to clear your thoughts. I came up with this blog while cycling. I came up with my latest business venture details while running. Figured out a million pending things while swimming. Taking some time to disconnect, be in silence (some will call it a form of meditation) has a huge amount of benefits. On average, I spend 2+ hours in the morning on my own (while training), either listening to music or focused on my breathing and its when I am clearest on my goals, objectives, concerns, challenges… and how to overcome them. “Everything you wanted to learn about yourself, you can learn in 26.2 miles (42.19km)” — Lori Culnane

6. Have a goal and a plan to achieve it. One of my goals is IronMan. I was never a triathlete. I’m a new triathlete and learned how to swim and cycle just a year ago. There is no way I would achieve something like IronMan by winging it. So, I have a plan. The plan has mini milestones, goals, small wins that can motivate me, a few races in between to track my progress and train in race conditions… eventually, I’ll get it done. Same with everything in life. Have a goal, have a plan to get to it. The plan is not set in stone, it needs to change as you go along as your circumstances can change along the way, but adapt the plan with the same vision and goal and you’ll get there.

7. Celebrate your achievements (Gains). No progress is too small and no achievement is worthless. I celebrate things almost everyday. When I started, my mantra’s were simple: Today, I cycled without stopping once. Yesterday I swam with my best time. The day before I ran while maintaining my heart rate. Last week I drank water while cycling. This week I cycled with my cycling shoes. Today, I didn’t fall. Everything and anything that you manage to improve is a success and worth celebrating.

My first ride with cycling shoes.

8. Fuel your mind and heart — Read stories, watch video’s. Of people who play the sport and inspire you, of races, of interviews, of compilations. They can inspire you, teach you, ground you (when you see people who have had to pull out of the race), they are a great way to understand the journey from people who have embarked on it before you. The same applies to everything. TED Talks, IronMan videos and sports videos. I even watch video’s of swimmers, triathletes, runners, Olympians, to watch their technique and learn from them.

9. Love the journey (or game, or what you do). If you don’t have your heart in it, you won’t achieve it. You’ll find a reason to give up. Even if you do it once, chances are it won’t happen very often. You need to have your heart in it to see the light at the end of the tunnel, to wake up really early, to set aside time for it, to prioritize it. Love the journey (and this applies to career, family, everything) and you’ll succeed.

10. Have a support system. Whatever path you walk, if you think you can do it alone 100%, you’re mistaken. You will need people around you at different parts of the journey. Some to support you with learning, others to motivate you when you’re tired. You’ll need people to encourage you when you think you’re not going to make it. I am so lucky and blessed with my family, friends, the TriDubai group and many others who have just been incredible. Find training partners that inspire you, motivate you and push you. Surround yourself with people who are excellent who make training enjoyable. Be accountable to people when it comes to waking up and meeting early… it really makes all the difference in the world. I personally wouldn’t even be attempting to do this if it wasn’t for all of them. I would have given up ages ago, for sure.

11. Ask questions. I learn so much from people when I ask questions. “Do you look at training effect? Is it worth it? Do you focus on heart rate or speed? What do you usually eat after you train? How much water do you drink? What do you do after a long ride to recover? What swimming drills do you do?” From those questions I learned about ice baths, I learned about how to have energy while cycling, I learned about the impact of interval training to endurance and the list goes on. Ask questions, you’ll always learn. Don’t assume you know it all.

12. Fuel your body. Eat well and by well, I don’t mean go on a diet or go Paleo. Just eat good food that nourishes your body. I’m notorious for mindless snacking, eating the kids leftovers for dinner or just having a piece of toast and butter for lunch. Ever since I started training, I felt that if I didn’t eat well the day before (some protein, good carbs, fruits, vegetables… things that give me energy) then my performance would suffer and when I DO eat well, I feel better, perform better and achieve more with less stress on my body.

13. Be humble. Ego will get you no where. There doesn’t need to be much more of an explanation for this one. Really, sincerely and honestly, its good to be confident but ego will not help. A friend told me, when I said I was scared of falling off my bike, ‘The only thing that will get hurt is your pride, if you put that aside you’ll be fine’ and sure enough, when I fell I smiled and laughed about it and it was absolutely fine. The past year has been tough and has been a wake up call. Every day, I see so many amazing people better than me. Older women (some as old as my mum) who out do me on the track, a woman with a prosthetic leg stronger than me, a young kid double my speed in the pool.

14. Be prepared to fight through challenges. There have been times I was ready to turn back when I was going for my long Friday ride. Whether it was windy, whether there were people speeding by and intimidating me, or it was hot and humid or if I just was NOT in the mood. I have had times where I actually turned back after 5km (planned to do 70km)… as I turned back I thought to myself ‘what am I thinking? if I’m going to do IronMan, I can’t control the weather on the day and I’m not going to quit because it isn’t perfect conditions… (wo)man up!’. I turned again and did my planned ride. Felt great when I was done. The amount of challenges I had setting up my latest company are ridiculous and if I was going to give up after each one, then I would have quit about 3 weeks after I started.

15. If you fall over, get back up. When I was getting the pedals/clip-ons and cleats installed on my bike, everyone said ‘you will fall, its OK’. I watched videos and they all said, the best you can do is try to fall in a grassy patch, but you will fall. My first few rounds around the track, I didn’t fall. Finally, just as I was starting to feel confident… as I released my leg… I could feel, as though in slow motion everything just tumble over. I remember thinking ‘OK, I guess its happening’. I got up, cleared the grass off me (luckily, I did end up falling in grass) and clipped back in. It wasn’t that easy, though, because two days later I needed to cycle again and I was dreading it because it was a longer ride, in the middle of the desert, with much more advanced cyclists and I always see accidents on that path. I was scared. I eventually did it and ended up making my best time for the 50km loop. So, fall over, dust yourself off, get back up and you’ll be even stronger than you were.

Its not always straight forward or easy, but I’m learning a lot along the way. Besides finishing the race, I really believe that this experience has taught me a lot about passion, resilience, focus and personal limitations (and how to get past them).

I’ve signed up for a few races in the next few months and I have my sights set on IronMan sooner than I had initially planned. I’m not scared any more and I know that I can do anything I set my mind to. The journey may not be the one I plan, but I’ll get there and cross the finish line one way or another.

Until then, if there’s one thing I’ll sign off with it is that ‘Anything is Possible’.

With my beautiful family as I finished IronMan 70.3 Dubai