Saturday, September 15th 2018
For the first time in 5 years, I am really nervous. I can’t settle, I feel sick in my stomach. The old restless night sleep returns, like a long-lost friend. I haven’t felt like this since my last game for the Waratahs in 2013 against the British and Irish Lions. Half nervous, half excited.
The multitude of sports performance psychologists I sought counsel in over my time identify this as the fear of the unknown. A general performance anxiety, which results in the body shifting from the ‘rest and digest’ of the parasympathetic nervous system, to the ‘fight or flight’ response of the sympathetic nervous system. My body innately knew that it was time to get ready to perform.
Sunday, September 16th 2018
My alarm goes off at 4.00am after a very broken night of sleep, and then I am off to meet a few of my Human Performance athletes who will joining in on the race; Ash Heng, Sam Bailey, Jacob Flanagan and of course my race buddy, Australian runner Jeremy Roff (Roffy). Jeremy’s fiancé, Lora Storey is a Human Performance athlete. Jeremy represented Australia at the World Track and Field Championships, Commonwealth Games and World Cross Country Championships, so for him to run with a heavy ex-footballer is very kind and generous.
As I disembark the train at Milson’s Point, surrounded by so many eager half marathon participants, I decided there and then that it will be the last time I do this. I was over my life being governed by my own internal perception and expectations of success. I have raced the clock for 18 years, surely there is peace in just living an ordinary life.
But by 5am, when we eventually get to the start line underneath the bridge at Kirribilli, and I start to get growing sense of what the road running community looks like. Whilst I may not be a typical member, I feel a deep sense of appreciation for why so many people become so endeared with the sport.
I warm up for a bit, have some idle banter and then bid farewell to a few of my athletes and the Dill-Macky support clan, and then suddenly I am hit with the reality that I am not entirely sure what 21kms will really look or feel like.
Roffy ensures me I will be fine, for him this is basically like a Sunday stroll. His smile is not reassuring though, it’s the look I use to give First Grade debutants or people about to play in South Africa for the first time in their lives.
But before I can give it much more thought, the gun starts, and we are off.
This is my first sporting event as an adult when I am not a rugby union player. I run past and see a few familiar faces who I have met along the way, and soon I realise, it is not a race to finish first for many but a test against themselves, against the clock and their mind, body and spirit.
Over the Harbour Bridge I feel okay – nervous and uncomfortable, but within the context of what I am attempting I feel okay. I do notice and reflect the beauty of the city and how incredible this run is. At 5km in, we are moving past the Cahill Expressway towards Macquarie Street and I have a deep sense of gratitude for those who I get to spend time with, these days.
I get to Hyde Park and realise we are moving okay. We trek down to the Rocks and start making our way through Barangaroo towards the Western Distributor. The pace is starting to feel more uncomfortable. I am trying to quieten the voice inside my head and get a tempo going that’s sustainable, just on the edge of not forcing my body to enter preservation mode. Runners would say this is ‘threshold’, but my heart rate says this is ridiculous to be running at such a speed for 50 mins already.
I get to Pyrmont and realise as we pass over the bridge it’s around an hour into the race and we are on track: around 13.5km down. It is at this point I have the strangest thought. The last time I was passing over the bridge, it was a night out with some footy boys at Cargo Bar and we were heading across to Pyrmont Bridge Hotel to continue on in the early hours of Sunday morning. I am not sure what feels worse, the thought of being hungover or still having around 30 odd minutes of running left. Oh, the irony.
The next 5 mins I become quite resentful of my preparation. I should have done some more longer runs and I should have lost more weight. They are the same negative thoughts I have about my ending in the game, the lack of courage to play with the freedom at Super Rugby Union as I did at club rugby level, the regret of being constrained by a fear of conservatism and failure.
The next 4 kilometres are hard. I feel good, I feel bad, my hips are getting lower, my foot contacts sloppier, my head shakes and my body is over-heating. Then I start to feel that I can’t breathe, I can’t regulate my thoughts and feelings. I want to quit.
I have gone from feeling like anything above 95mins is a failure, to thinking that my clients will be okay when I tell them I got hurt but at least I tried. I am thinking of injuries, bone stress in the foot, neural hamstring, upset stomach, nausea. The self-justification for failure is strong. Roffy at this point snaps me out of this self-induced loathing with a statement that sparks perhaps the runner inside of me for life.
“Have some courage” he barks.
I then realise I was born to run. Not because I am a good runner but because it is a metaphor for life and things that I enjoy. Discipline in preparedness, it is hard physically and mentally, it hurts, and most importantly it exposes one’s intestinal fortitude.
For the last two kilometres the pain is immense, but I can see the end is near. The minutes seem like hours, and then we swerve our way around to the Opera House steps and I see the finish line.
I finish in 94:31, 4.28min/km @100kg. Around 450 out of 8100.
But the time and result ultimately didn’t matter in that moment, because I felt I had found a new way to look at and enjoy life.
Roffy, my admiration for you doing this at the level you do for so long, and never getting paid is extraordinary. But more importantly thank you for encouraging me to find peace and happiness in something outside of Rugby Union. It’s been far greater than I have ever imagined.
I took so many things from that race, things I never knew I would learn about myself when I entered. Whether it be through the run itself, or the journey I took to get there, these are some of the lessons
Within the race, I realised that in order for me to see change in others I needed to be that change in myself. The attempt for me to live the concepts and lessons I preach within my business, Human Performance, is the purpose of my life. It is the journey not the destination that defines your greatness in one’s career, sport and life. I have found that, as far as I have to go in becoming the runner I would like to be, it won’t define my existence now. If I can practice some of the principles in my previous post within my business, my life and in running then there will be plenty of moments of happiness similar to when I finished the half marathon.
Human Performance Athletes
My gratitude for how much I love my job and business grew enormously. The joy of helping athletes and people of all levels and abilities is very enriching. In some ways, I believe that the people within Human Performance have taught me more about things than I have taught them.
To my athletes– may your journey bring you an abundance of peace, happiness and joy. It will be challenging and filled with so many set-backs, and whilst the destination will be extraordinary, the journey will be even more worthwhile.
The health and well-being of our society is at an alarming level. We have to start fighting for change. Exercising or running for an hour a day is 4% of one’s life. It is minimal time to invest in your future. Around 39% of adults in Australia are overweight or obese. We have to get moving as a society and nation.
We have to start the journey and help people feel socially comfortable exercising and chasing health and well-being, and I believe running can be the key to this for so many people.
Running has made me appreciate the simple and most important things in my life. We all have a choice on how we spend our time and whom it is spent with. During running you learn to appreciate the things that are dearest to you. I wrote it on my hand during the run ‘for Sarah, Winnie, Sigmund and my family’.
To my family– I know there have been so many moments when I have been absent and preoccupied with rugby, playing, meetings, planning, thoughts and work, but my running journey allowed me to reflect that I have finally found peace and contentment. You have been unwavering sources of motivation, energy and are the purpose behind my search for meaning. Whilst forever patient, most importantly you have inspired me to go above and beyond, and most importantly have kept me going. From academic pursuits, career changes and risks, and my high-performance sporting journey, your presence, personalities and love guided me throughout the entire way.
Sarah, particularly you. Words don’t describe my love for you. I hope that I can make you proud and encourage you to stand for your truth. But more importantly I look forward to repaying you with my presence, and not presents.
We all need people to help us out and stand by us in our darkest times. But most importantly we need to realise that the most precious gifts often lay in our own backyard, and not at the bottom of endless rainbows that modern day society encourages us to chase.
The people who I choose to spend time with, will say that I have changed. Those that know me from my rugby days will attempt to deduce this conclusion as a façade and or only a temporary change. But they don’t know, nor will they ever really see that side of me. I am looking forward to the time with people that mean the most to me and that have been incredible sources of support and constants when it mattered the most.
For me, the greatest change that has occurred is my ability to be present and simply enjoy time with other people. I am now no longer absent of thoughts, but absent of distractions and incessant desire for things to be different. I am at peace and it’s an extraordinary feeling. I can sit and smile now, and more importantly laugh at myself. I have gratitude now for the simple things and am truly grateful for the things that I have received and experienced, and what the future holds. I have learnt the greatest thing you can give someone is your time and undivided attention, and help them along the way on their journey in life.