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Cold Showers

It’s been a long silence.

I came off my bike in July and took some decent chunks of skin off my left (problem) knee. Work decided to help my recovery by sending me to faraway places with lots of opportunity to sit motionless, or be so busy and stressed that time to train or even rehab became time to sleep instead. I still raced. My knee, after a month of recovery, would niggle, then a 24hr race would pop up and I’d think “what the hell, how bad could it be!” and I’d race. Then it would niggle more and I’d work and sit, more, which would make it niggle more. I postponed my Everesting goals and more serious races. But the cycle of niggle- race- kind of almost recover- then race again continued until November. Then I ran, because I wanted to outrun my stressed out mind. The knee hurt, but I tried to outrun it also by sprinting stairs. I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe, semi- unconsciously, I just wanted to completely crash, so there was no more temptation. Maybe I was realising that I was falling so far behind my pretty ambitious goals that I needed some big slap to the face to finally come to my senses.

And crash I did. The day after a 12km run, my last run for the last 3 months I couldn’t walk. I hobbled for a week and have been progressively getting better since with occassional lapses. I’ve seen physios and been doing my rehab. I’ve learnt to walk barefoot, absolutely silently. I’ve taken up paddling almost regularly (whenever I’m not away with work). I’m back on the bike. I’ve finally started doing strength work and can almost do a proper pistol squat now.

But these few months have been pretty hard. Over quite a few years now I’ve become wired to find my peace, my calm, my motivation and my inspiration on a trail. Not being able to just disregard the numerous niggles i’ve grown so used to fought in my mind over the fine line of- where do you honour your limits and where do you just throw in the towel? And how do you pick yourself up from the floor now that most of your coping mechanisms you can no longer access?

So I’ve fluctuated. I re-learnt how to breathe and enjoy just that. I learnt how amazing the earth feels under my bare toes and how gently I can transfer my weight over dry leaves so they make no sound. And that I can see and hear so much more because now I’m paying attention- to the sleek tree snake, a matter-of-fact echidna, a tiny flower. And I’ve remembered what it’s like to start feeling grateful again. I would not have thought to “waste” my time walking slowly before when I could learn to run or ride faster instead.

I came back from my holiday break in January almost fully recharged, despite not covering any significant distances on neither bike nor foot. And two things happened:

1. my car had to go the mechanic for a week

2. the weather put on an amazing show and skies poured gallons and gallons of water over the city for most of that week.

So I did what made more sense to me than accepting a replacement car or organising lifts from co-workers. I started riding my bike to work. I couldn’t do the full 25kms (one way) straight away, so I rode a few train stations then would get on the train when the knee would complain. Then I would add one more station, then one more until there was no more reason to catch the train.

And for the first week, as if on purpose, the hot water system at work broke, so cold showers became a necessity. And I decided I’d feel grateful for that also.

It’s over a month now that I start my shower with cold water only. The first few seconds I still gasp from the shock, especially first thing in the morning, but now I look forward to it. It’s better than coffee, exhilarating, uplifting, exciting, and most importantly, it reminds me that I’m reclaiming the old me back. She’s in there still and she is slowly waking up from this hibernation. She is just doing it a lot more thoughtfully and this time, sustainably.

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The danger and importance of “doing nothing”

P1040364“What did you get up to yesterday/on the weekend/on holiday?”

“Absolutely nothing. And it was awesome”

How many times have you heard or said that yourself? Is it something that we believe to be true, or convince ourselves of in hindsight?

What is it, to do nothing? Is it good? Is it bad? According to whom or to what benchmarks?

I am one of those people that is continuously told “why don’t you just relax, and do nothing for a while?!” and I always have a response to that.Whether it has something to do with all the things I want to do, or the fact that complying implies a sense of loss on my behalf, but I never, ever want to “do nothing”.

Yet over the last few years, few injuries and recoveries post-race, post busy periods of time, I’ve actually started doing that. Whether or not I admit it to myself is a different question. Still, I have not been able to shake the feeling of guilt and loss for wasting resources, possibilities.. but most importantly, time.

Firstly, what is it, “to do nothing”? Is it to do nothing of value? Is it sitting in stillness? Is it recovery? Is it just, simply, maintaining status quo, by default, compared to “doing something”, like turning up to work/training/social gatherings?

Sometimes, in order to describe something, it’s easier to explain the opposite. Doing “something” implies progress and achievement. It is setting a goal and working to achieve it, thereby deriving satisfaction or otherwise from either the process or attainment of one. We define our lives by having either one big, overarching goal, and/or in the absence of one, with smaller, achievable missions, either to seek immediate or delayed enjoyment.

Thus, doing “nothing” would imply waste. If goal setting and achieving is good, then doing nothing is bad.

For me “doing something” is often spending a weekend on a trail- either on a bike or on foot, sometimes with only a vague tangible objective (i.e. get to point A via points B and C). There are generally a few reasons to do it: firstly, it’s something that makes me happy. Movement is meditation, goal setting, satisfaction, growth and sense of purpose. Secondly, it is “training”, whether for a bigger event, physical or mental fortitude or simply to “be better”. It’s also a recharge, being in nature, surrounded by sights, smells, sounds which reinforce my sense of being alive, just as often during moments when physically, I’m probably closer to exhaustion and collapse as when I am literally bursting with energy and the desire to fly, figuratively or literally.

Based on that, stillness is waste. Stillness is reserved for sleep (even though I’ve been known to sleep whilst upright, walking or riding).  Therefore, outside of (usually) hours of dark, stillness is bad.

I am injured at the moment. It’s a result of pushing a little too hard, too eagerly, at the wrong times, most of this year. It is a legacy of achieving a massive goal, which came at the expense of time, sanity, work, relationships. It is a catalyst for me to start assigning value to something which, previously, was considered wasteful.

I am learning to be still. Shivasana, the “corpse pose”, final relaxation pose in every yoga class is said to be the most difficult. It is also the most important.

At the moment, I am using this stillness to teach myself to let go of the guilt. It’s a work in progress, because every day I have not learnt something or moved closer to achieving something is one I will never get back. Conversely, I am also learning that “nothing” has much deeper meaning and consequences and whilst it is still pretty hard at the moment to articulate, I am starting to comprehend another dimension to it, an important and enriching one. There are plenty of occasions when “doing something” gets you further away from where you want to go.

This is square 1. I’ve been back here many times. I know I will be back here again, but I also know each time I’m back, I’m richer, having dared and tried, sometimes having achieved, sometimes having failed. And each time I’m back here, I’ll do something different. And even if I do “nothing”, it will count for something, right now and for in the future.

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