I’ve just started with my last week of an 8-week swimming training program for my first open water swim. The ultimate goal is to swim Midmar Mile, but that’s still a few months away. So around about Week 6, I had a bit of a training breakdown. It wasn’t pretty and I really just wanted to give up and stop altogether.
That was Week 6 and I obviously did not give up, but a breakdown like that does make one wonder about the power that exercise has and the control it has over our lives.
To me, exercise and control go hand-in-hand, sometimes in a good way and sometimes not. We live such hectic lives and more often than not we feel like we have very little control. If you have even the slightest inclination to anxiety or simply hate the feeling of being out of control, our modern lives can become quite overwhelming to you.
So, we find coping mechanisms to help us take back the control in our lives. Maybe it’s your job, maybe its writing, or maybe its sport. Sport can be a wonderful way to take back a bit of control in your life and assure yourself how strong you really are. Unfortunately, it can also become a means of controlling everything else that you cannot.
I know it might sound crazy, but let’s take a moment to think about it…
In school, I was a complete overachiever (still am but I’m working on it) and I wanted to do it all and be good at it all as well. I did theatre, leadership, academics, socials and of course sport. Athletics was my poison, 800m track to be specific. If you’ve ever seen an 800m race you’ll know it’s one of the toughest. You can’t only sprint, and it’s not long enough to build up like a 1500m – it’s both physical and metal – it’s grueling and exhilarating. I trained five days a week and ran a race on the sixth day.
I was so dedicated I only gave myself one day a week to rest. Yes, some people called it dedication, looking back now, it was quite unhealthy for a 16 or 17-year-old girl to train that much when I was doing so much else as well. I want to make it clear, no one forced me, I actually convinced my parents that I needed it and sometimes they would tell me to take it easy. All this training did, however, mean I sometimes missed outings with my friends and ultimately training through pain which finally ended my last season of cross country running early and with a lot of pain and doctors’ appointments.
I loved running and training, it was my escape, but there were definitely times when I should have given myself a break, like when I could feel my hip burning with inflammation and before the muscle started pulling from the bone. See my point…
Because I was so busy and tried to do everything possible, training was a way for me to practice control over one thing in my life. Theatre is based on other people’s opinions and no matter how hard you study, a test can come out of nowhere and throw you, it’s life. But when you’re an overachiever with slight anxiety, this lack of control can be overwhelming.
In Week 6 I had that same overwhelming lack of control feeling come over me. I’d had a couple of disappointments the week before, I was tired (from training), feeling unfulfilled in my job and my person wasn’t here either. And to top it off on that fateful day I decided to just take a break and not swim for one day, like a reasonable person who was tired, I came home and the power was off (it ended up being off for 12 hours)!
My world was spiraling out of control and all of a sudden, I was angry at myself for taking a day off from my swimming training. The one thing I had control over, the one thing I felt if I worked hard enough, pushed a little more, I could make work, but I was flacking out on. I was angry at myself and hated myself for not pushing a little harder and going for the swim that day (I mean why not, the power was off in any case). I was angry at myself for not committing to the one thing I had control over.
Whenever we feel out of control this is what we do, we try to hold on to the things we can control, and this is where exercise can become very unhealthy. I listened to a very inspiring podcast episode on The Chasing Joy podcast where host Georgie Morley and guest Robyn Nohling touches on this exact thing of using exercise as a form of control (you can listen to the podcast here) and I was so sure again of how sport needs to be more than a way to control our out of control lives.
Unless you are a professional athlete, sport and exercising should not feel like a job or a chore. It should not be the thing you use to add control to your life, it should rather be a way for you to let go. I am a great believer in being active and I completely condemn the idea of stopping all exercise, that will lead to other health and mental issues, but it should be done in a positive, healthy way.
Exercise should be a way for us to celebrate our bodies, yes push, but when you reach your limit for today and your training guide said to go a bit more, rather rest. Revel in what you can achieve but do not use exercise as a way to control other aspects of your life which are out of control. Rather use it as a way to unwind, to realign and to get your spark back.
It’s difficult for us to let go, to actually enjoy what we’re doing, especially when everything else is so topsy turvy, but I’m challenging you to try and stay in the moment next time you exercise, control your movement, your breath, your thoughts, in the moment and you will see how you will gain a lot more control over all the other messy aspects of life as well.