by Kim Van Kets

LEADERSHIP IN SPORT

Techniques for getting comfortable with fear

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I’m running a really long way in a couple of weeks and every time I really think about the distance, I can’t breathe for a minute or so because of the intensity of the panic, writes South Africa’s premier long distance athlete, motivational speaker and best-selling author, Kim van Kets.

Fortunately, I recall a deep breathing technique that I learned at antenatal class and deconstruct it into X number of Park Runs (I mean anyone can do X Park Runs, right?) and the panic momentarily dissipates. That is, until I am forced to engage with people who don’t run, about the race. “So when are you doing your big walk dear?”

“Ummm actually it’s a run, not a walk and it’s in X days and I’m mildly panic stricken at the prospect.”

“Hahahahaha don’t be silly, you’ve done it before you’ll be fine! You have such a strong mind!” And then I have to resist the urge to assault some dear well meaning geriatric who is just trying to be reassuring because I will bloody not be fine! And neither will any of the other 50 or so poor sods who will be lining up at the start. You can’t run that far and be fine, no matter how bionic you are. At some stage, the pain will get you.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, we will all run through the valley of the shadow of death at least once (unless there are some very good pharmaceuticals out there that I know nothing about). So, telling me that I will be fine is much like suggesting to a mother who gave birth naturally and without drugs once a long time ago that there is no need to worry because she’s done it all before. It’s precisely because she’s done it before that her natural inclination is a general anaesthetic.

I have completely accepted the possibility that I may well be alone the entire way. If I have company, I will be delighted but I will not crave it or run faster or slower than planned in order to have it. I have a mental play list of songs I will sing to myself featuring everything from Pink Floyd to “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!”

I have memorised some rather rousing speeches (Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, and Maya Angelou) and will make up a few of my own along the way. I visualise myself delivering them at sunset on a suitable plateau or outcrop of rocks and I am sure I will move myself to tears.

This is, of course, bizarre and will then lead to hysterical laughter, which I will embrace. When it’s 2am and I am at my lowest ebb or when I have 30km to go and it seems impossible, I will play the games I always do in these moments and will imagine myself in a war zone pursued by people who are intent on capturing me.

I will imagine a hostile army tracking me relentlessly, who will catch up with me if I don’t keep moving. I will entertain the dreadful fantasy that, if they catch me, they will harm my child and that the only way to ensure their safety is relentless forward progress.

If all else fails (and with grateful thanks to my brother Craig who introduced me to this compelling image), I will concentrate on the fact that a wounded buffalo, which could be stopped by any one shot can maintain his/her relentless forward progress, despite taking 50 such shots once it has begun its charge. I will be the buffalo.

I have decided that when I feel my form begin to slip and my core strength begin to dissolve, I will stop and I will do idiotic power poses until testosterone and serotonin are coursing through my veins. Then I will think of how ridiculous I would look to anyone who might see me power posing alone in the moonlight and I will laugh out loud and I will feel immediately better and more fabulous and altogether less weak and pathetic.

I will break the distance down into 8 or 10 or 20 half marathons (which, for me, is the most manageable breakdown) and I will reward myself with peanut butter sandwiches and new socks at the end of every 20km.

I will need a Sherpa for my socks and peanut butter sandwiches. I will have conversations with my imaginary sock Sherpa for whom I feel an inordinate fondness (oh dear). I will not succumb to the evils of check point yearning (a phenomenon to which I have devoted a lot of research) and I will embrace the journey for as long as possible.

I will remind myself what a privilege it is to be fit and strong, to have access to an astounding wilderness area and to have the resources to do this race. I will remind myself that any strength I have comes from joy and that my aim is to prolong it as deeply into the race as possible.

I will remind myself that, although my training has not gone 100% according to plan (it never does), I am stronger in my head than ever before.

Also, I recall that Tim Noakes once said it’s better to be overweight and undertrained than the other way round. I have embraced that idea for most of my adult life (so please God let him not have made an about turn on that opinion too)! Bring it on! 

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