No, this isn’t about destroying diversion signs on our (currently frozen) roads. It’s about those mental roadblocks that stop you from achieving your potential, and can leave you feeling empty and unfulfilled. More specifically, it’s about those roadblocks that stop you physically, from adventurous pursuits that require a keen mind and a body that can take some pretty severe punishment.
I have been rowing for around three and a half months. When I started, I was well below average in terms of fitness, and I discovered, height too. There was nothing about me that screamed rower, apart from slightly over-developed forearms from many years of fairly average climbing. But I’d set my mind to pursuing this new sport, and had to give it a good go before I’d opt out again. So, I set my legs to the gym, and appear to be in there more days than not at the moment – which in itself is a major feat! My training was slow but relatively steady, and although I wasn’t hitting the times that the other girls were, I was beating myself so didn’t think much of it. Christmas came and went, and I was still in the gym as I live nearby to the sports centre and University – I guess that gave me a small advantage in that my fitness continued to improve despite the festive period. I’d not thought much of it, plodding along to my own little routine, steadily increasing my hoard of sports gear (another strange phenomena in my household), and just getting on with whatever I thought would do me well. Progress was still steady, but with nothing to compare it to, I didn’t really pay much attention.
Then last week, I got to the first indoor crew session with the coach. Thursday night training, infamous for being gruelling, but something I’d missed out on the last semester due to work shifts. The first session I turned up to was set to be a pretty tough one – a 5k test (in layman terms, rowing 5000m at a particular stroke rate). 26 strokes a minute was our goal, and that ain’t easy!! But I thought I’d nothing to lose, and once the first five girls were underway, I was cheering and encouraging them along, ignoring the voice in my head chanting “You’re next!” When my time came, I was nervous, but it wasn’t anything I’d not done before, and I had only myself to beat. Out of nowhere, my legs pumped, my arms pulled, my cheeks flushed, and in just over 23 minutes, it was over. 2 minutes faster than I’d ever done it before, pulling times I’d barely seen in any form of training. It hurt – man did it hurt – my lungs burned, but I’d just kept pulling, the girls’ shouts spurring me on, and somehow I’ll pulled out more energy than I thought possible.
Several years ago, I was climbing well. Really well. Then things got in the way of my training, injuries happened, and I slipped all the way back down to average. I attempted to claw my way back up, but something stopped me or I just didn’t have the drive. Now, I’ve got the drive back. I realised the only thing getting in my way was me – my doubt, my fear, my lack of motivation. One day, I decided to get back on it, and I’m finally seeing progress. Maybe the rowing training is benefitting that too (in fact, that’s highly likely), but as soon as I made the mental decision to go for it, things started changing.
It’s not about strength, or fitness, not at this stage. It’s about perseverance, and the ability to defy your own thoughts. Saying “screw it” and just giving it a go. What’s the worst that could happen? The only way you’ll get worse is if you stop trying. So get up, face that roadblock, and give it your best shot. Surprise yourself.
image: Me climbing West Wing (E2 5c), Trewavas Cliff, April 2012