It’s fucking freezing in here. Water boils all around me but I can’t feel my face it’s so fucking cold. A sea of arms flail wildly through my misty goggles and exasperated faces breach the surface like stubborn turds that won’t flush, gasp for air then submerge beneath the frothy brown surface of the lake.
This is my first (and likely final) triathlon: the sporting event of choice for ageing, sinewy PB nerds and dissatisfied execs eager to get away from their hateful families.
So you needn’t worry – I haven’t joined the ranks of amorphous corporate he-drones grasping at the ghosts of absent paternal affection in the mire of physical endurance. My triathlon is just an experience: try everything once they say.
And I had a bloody lovely time as it happens. Especially the analogy for capitalism that the swim section turned out to be. Pootling along smugly with my head elevated above the surface, I felt like David Attenborough in amongst it on safari, scrutinising mindless creatures as they clamour for position, willing even to endanger their safety in the meaningless pursuit of status, yet all the while becoming evermore directionless and exhausted.
This experience worth honking about because it highlights the monumental disparity between how we perceive, and the reality of, stressful life events. Not just competitive ones; everything that happens to which we attach emotional significance to. That could be your wedding day, a massive freelance project or ‘losing your V’ as we called it at school.
Weeks before the triathlon I found myself fixated with things going wrong – whether that was falling ill before the event, a blister rendering my feet useless or collapsing mid-competition. With only days to go before the event my focus shifted to stuff I couldn’t afford to forget, triggering alarms without snooze buttons in my psyche, jolting me alert every few thoughts with that unpleasant lurching feeling in your stomach that you get when you drive too quickly over a bridge.
I also put huge pressure on myself to sleep well the night before the triathlon, so consequently spent most of the night worrying about not being able to fall asleep instead of, well, actually sleeping.
Every fan of crippling anxiety will recognise these symptoms as classic catastrophising: when your imagination conjures up worst-case scenarios then weaves them into your subconscious so they too-closely resemble reality when they’re anything but.
So I’ve decided to do things differently next time, by analysing where the unhelpful behaviours stem from and how I can think differently. Perhaps they’ll come in useful for you too, next time a big project, meeting or public speaking event looms on your horizon.
Decide how you want to feel
I’ve covered this bastard sufficiently already, but in short we make instinctive decisions about ‘threats’ in our life when they first appear on our radar. So it’s best to rationalise that instinctive reaction as it happens, and weigh up whether that’s actually a helpful perception of the event.
If how you feel about it isn’t going to help (based on earlier experience) – change it. You could do that by writing about how you want to feel, or better still talking to people and voicing your intentions. I’ve noticed that when you state how you want to feel framing as how you will feel, it seems to come true because your mind hears it back as a commitment.
Months ago I decided the triathlon was going to be nightmarishly hard and I wouldn’t be 100% fit for it so I buried that thought and it gestated until the date arrived. Cue wildly oscillating feelings of dread, panic and psychosomatic symptoms of nausea and illness.
Trust yourself and your preparation
Like an arsehole, I ruminated on minor issues in my head over and over again, as well as checking my kit multiple times. Imagine if that was your boss – you’d pop a gonad with such paranoid micro-management.
Next time I’ll plan thoroughly with a master list of some sort, detailing what equipment I need, important information and things I need to do. Then I’ll act on it once, in good time. What follows should be reassurance and quiet confidence in my own preparation.
Know when to switch off
Now that practicalities are accounted for it’s time to take care of your well-being. That means getting a routine in place that says to your body “now is not the time for imagining being the victim of a freak mid-triathlon knife rape, now is the time to relax.”
I reckon sleep sits above diet in the ‘things that help you die less’ charts. When you’re well-rested you cope better, much better than you would if you spent the night before a big commitment worrying about all the things that might go wrong (which invariably start to happen when you’re sleep-deprived).
Are you one of those people who find it hard to see past a looming stressful event? I am. It’s as if your life has been leading up to it and that beyond it, a future doesn’t exist. No wonder such emotional significance gets attached to it if you perceive it to be the climax of your existence.
Instead, I’ll schedule nearby calendar events to look forward to which deflate the pressure, and help to remind me that life goes on, whatever happens.
Give yourself some love
Pants-on of course: I’m referring to some healthy appreciation and self-congratulation for yourself. It’s just occurred to me now that in the run-up to the triathlon at no point did I sit down and actively think how fucking awesome I am for even attempting it, regardless of what transpires.
That’s despite having written a splendid book that’s essentially all about that sort of thing.
What was all the fuss about
Like most of the things we agonise over, the triathlon passed with ease and zero drama. I had a jolly good time cracking the drones’ race-faces, toying with the spectators and soaking up the gorgeous weather and scenery.
Even though I didn’t sleep well the two nights preceding the event I was still able to perform well – thus proving my worries as unfounded and pointless. Nor did I forget anything, in fact I was probably over-prepared with way too much kit.
I was thoroughly pleased with my performance too, elated that all my thankless training paid off. Crossing the finish live came with an immense feeling of gratitude that triathlons aren’t a full-time mode of escapism from the people I’m supposed to love, unlike my fellow participants.
It’s a real shame I lost perspective and forgot that life is rarely as dramatic as you imagine. This time round it got the better of me, but next time I’m certain it won’t.
LOOK! There's a book full of this shit and more!
Self-help business books perpetuate the myth that success is relentless growth and more of everything means progress. They preach about bookkeeping and market research: things you might need to do of course. But let’s face it they’re fucking boring.
The Human Freelancer book is your antidote: stuffed full of emotional support and insightful advice for vulnerable newbies to self-employment like you.Buy it now