I am one for heroes. If asked in a Bob Holness Blockbuster-style pop-quiz “What ‘S’ describes Pipedownpipers’s number one all-time hero?”, anyone who knows me well would leap at the response: “Shackleton, of course Bob”. I’m almost obsessed with him. In fact, he’s one of the reasons I like endurance sport so much. For any non-Shackleton geeks out there (what the hell have you been doing with your lives?), his fated ship was named the ‘Endurance’, after his family motto Fortitudine Vincimus – by endurance we conquer.
But Shackleton isn’t my only hero (alas, he is my ultimate number one of all time) and he sits on a board of heroes, with whom I have a conference in my mind every night before I drift off to sleep. I’ll ask them questions about my day-to-day strife, and how they would handle things were they to find themselves in a similar situation:
Me: The car broke down, and we were told the engine was finished. So we bought a new engine from some dodgy connection. And now we found out it’s not the engine, it’s just the water pump, and we fixed it for $20. But we’re stuck with a spare Holden Commodore engine now. What would you do?
Steve Jobs: I’d make that spare engine look as clean as you possibly can. Take some of the spare crap off of it. Polish it. Make it look good. Make it feel good. Make it a sexy engine. Then sell it back for as much as you can.
Me: Thanks Steve.
Usually they give more constructive help than the above example – Shackleton is especially good at handing out advice on determination and goal-setting, Branson is great at charisma-related leadership and entrepreneurial dilemmas, and Lance Armstrong is the king of making sure I get up out of bed in the morning:
Alarm: Beepedy beepedy beepedy beep
Me: No way, not today.
Lance Armstrong: I didn’t win seven Tours by lying around in bed all morning. Get the hell out of bed right now you lazy piece of crap.
Me: OK Lance.
Seriously, the conference (and general ongoing internal banter with them) is great for motivation. But I have a new hero, and one that comes close to threatening even Shacko’s position on the heroic pedestal.
It’s no secret that Chrissie Wellington has extended the boundaries of what we used to think was humanly possible, but I have recently finished reading her autobiography. And I feel a little bit like shouting from the rooftops about it. I don’t have a rooftop (as I live in a ground floor flat). But I do have the internet-box.
A Life Without Limits was an education in selfless humanity, self-deprecation and self-discipline. Anyone even remotely interested in triathlon will already be privy to her sporting achievements (four time World Ironman female champion, and thirteen time ironman winner, and has won every ironman race she has entered). I knew this when I started reading. And she was already in my ‘athletic heroes’ category. But it turns out that before she had even thought about entering a triathlon (or even a marathon), this girl was changing the world. Without going into too much detail, her passion for international development and for making other people happy is remarkable. Her work in Nepal (which no doubt shaped her into such a phenomenal athlete due to her relentless altitude training) is incredibly moving, and above all her intelligence and understanding of the political complications associated with development, shine through in her articulate discussions of some very delicate issues. (That sentence is too long, but I’m too excited about Chrissie to self-edit). Additionally, the easy and open way that she talks about grappling with a very serious eating disorder in her past, is positively refreshing. Her attitude bears no shame – she is open, honest and realistic. And she acknowledges the obvious segue in obsessive self-control, from eating disorder to extreme athletic training. Fascinating stuff.
By the time the book moves onto triathlon training itself, I already wanted to be her; motivation and self-discipline that led her to achieving 3 A’s at A-level despite not having the academic pedigree (although I imagine this to be a self-deprecating statement of the highest order), a first class degree and distinction in her Masters, a formidable career as a civil servant determined to change the world – this girl is something special. To then, after all of that, ‘discover’ you are a gifted athlete, and commence world-domination of a sport you know very little about (she only found out what an ‘ironman’ was a few weeks before entering, and winning, her first Ironman), you have to be something a bit spectacular.
I realise this has turned into a mini-book review. And I know Shackleton is going to be jealous – but there are a gagillion things I love about Shackleton. And CW is a whole new world of admiration. Reading this book made me laugh and cry. But more than that, it has motivated me to investigate the boundaries of everything that I might be capable of.
And yes, I probably do have a bit of a girl crush on her right now.
For anyone that wants some bite size tips from Chrissie (we’re on first name terms now, since she started jointing the daily conference), try these:
• Set a goal Take an honest look at where you are now and plan how you’re going to get from there to where you want to be. Not just in terms of the training, but rest and recovery, the equipment you might need to use, your nutrition. Focus on the gratification that will come from achieving something new. You’ll feel so good, physically and mentally.
• Get support towards your goal It’s hard to do it alone and sometimes you need to lean on people. It doesn’t have to be a training buddy, it could be a friend or partner – someone to say: ‘Go on, get out the door.” Joining a club is fantastic. There are around 600 triathlon clubs and they provide this amazing cocoon of support, camaraderie, advice, coaching. Contrary to what you think, they’re not just for athletes. You can go as a novice and find the support you need.
• Celebrate successes on the way You’re going to have highs and lows, but if you enjoy the journey and celebrate successes you will feel you are achieving something.
• If the weather is putting you off, adapt your training Go for a swim instead of a run. Or get out there and endure it and see that as part of the challenge.
• Find inspiration Music is an inspirational tool, although don’t use it when you are outdoors on a bike. It helps me to put on songs that remind me of good things, or lift my spirits, before I go out training. I also have a dog-eared copy of Rudyard Kipling’s poem If – and I write lines from it on my water bottles when I race.
*These tips have been plagiarised in good faith from the Guardian online – the original article can be found here.