Last month, my wife and I left for a road trip to Austria in the camper. Ordinarily this would have been quite the adventure its own right, given that last time I drove in Europe, we were all one big happy family of nations. This trip was particularly exciting and nerve-wracking because my wife was competing in Ironman Austria. For those who don’t know the full extent of this madness, Ironman is a triathlon with the following distances: 3.9km swimming, 180km cycling and 42km running. In context, that last one is a full marathon. Needless to say, I’d been in awe of her commitment to training, as I am with all of our friends and family who have taken on such a challenge. However, it wasn’t until the end of the event, after some 15 ½ hrs of gruelling competition in 35°C heat, that I gained some sense of how it affects the mind as well as the body. She crossed the line to the sounds of the cheering crowd and the loud music as expected, but after she received her medal, she headed for the platform next to the DJ and started dancing! Why? Because the track was a favourite of hers. I couldn’t believe it. She had finished the culmination of many months hard training, the long journey and the intense heat and just fancied a boogie. When I asked her about it afterwards, she told me that she had no idea why, it just seemed like something to do.
Fast forward to last Sunday and we found ourselves standing by a lake in the Cotswolds, with me about to start a challenge that I’d set myself nearly 2 years ago. I was going to swim 10km open water, in an event aptly described as ‘a marathon’. I’d had a false start last year, when training was interrupted by my falling down a flight of stairs (another tale entirely). This year, I had worked very hard to prepare for this day and it was finally here. Although nervous as we set off, I completed the first 7km without any drama – I was actually enjoying the experience. Then it started. The slight aches in my shoulders became stabbing pains. My calf muscles decided to cramp in unison, and I began to worry that with 3km still to go, I’d struggle to get to the finish. Here is where my conscious and subconscious went their separate ways too. I am normally someone who thinks they are aware of the level that is ‘doing my best’ and generally, when I reach that without completing something, I stop. It’s been a defence mechanism for most of my adult life against the risk of provoking my anxiety, something I’ve suffered from form many years. The idea is that if I don’t think something is possible despite my best efforts, pushing further is a bad idea. This is, of course, completely unhelpful nonsense. In the swim, my conscious mind had started to freak out, while my subconscious was on auto-pilot. Call it the inbuilt knowledge that I’d trained for this if you like. A friend of mine quoted the character Dory from Finding Nemo, with her chant of “Just Keep Swimming”, which I think was actually reciting during laps 8 and 9. Whatever the motivation, I just moved on to the next 1km loop, regardless of the pain I was in. When I reached the end, it was all matter of fact; no excitable celebration or emotional outburst, those would come later when the scale of the achievement had sunk in.
Tired but happy. Note that the clock is the time of day - I wasn't swimming for 13 hours!
The golf legend Gary Player once said, “the more I practice the luckier I get”, which I think is a good description of all training and experience. I had recalled this quotation when I was fortunate enough to shoot the Malvern Pride event a few weeks ago. As the official photographer, it was up to me to represent the what the day meant both in terms of the struggle for equality and the celebration of self – no pressure there, then. As I began the shoot, I noticed a few errors creeping into my technical process, which led to some shots not being as I expected. My mind started to panic at the prospect of not doing a good enough job. Then I thought “hang on, I know photography and how to use a camera. Just relax and let your knowledge take over!”. Almost immediately, the shoot started to go well and I was really happy with the outcome.
What I learned from this race was that I have the tendency to talk myself out of things when I subconsciously know that I am more than capable of doing them. Our subconscious is responsible for our basic instincts, which includes whether to stand and fight or run away. Stands to reason that it has some idea of how confident we are in a situation as well. I’m definitely going to listen to it more in future instead of letting my conscious mind run away with itself.
As for the swimming, my plan to complete one of the toughest lake swims in the UK, the 18km Windermere One Way, within the next two years, is on track. Just need to make sure I am as ‘lucky’ as I can get.
For details of personal beginners' tuition in photography, please drop me a line at [email protected]
The Malvern Pride photographs can be found at: https://www.richperspective.co.uk/p82495918
My other work can be found in the gallery at www.richperspective.co.uk