By way of a background, I love keeping fit and pushing myself pretty hard. I play netball, and I totally love the feeling of power in my legs – in speed or hills. But the others in the squad were in their prime, many competing at state or national level. I felt like such a fraud going onto the track with them. I have played loads of team sports over the years but never competed in an individual sport, and never competed in a sprint race since high school.
To get myself out there, I used 4 different strategies:
- Make the desire larger than the fear - I had to make my desire to have a crack at this sport, larger than the fear itself. I was aware of the intense thrill I get from the feeling of sprinting flat out and the feeling of the power in my legs, so I focussed on that. Each time my fearful voice began its unhelpful chatter about being too old and looking silly, I reframed it into how incredible it will feel to get to sprint hard, on a proper track. This helped to create a more balanced and realistic context of the size of the fear verses the size of the rewards.
- Be grateful - I also found the use of ‘gratitude’ to be very helpful. When I intentionally stopped the negative, fearful voice and replaced that with how grateful I feel to be offered this opportunity; to be physically able to sprint; to have the full support of my wonderful family; to be able to afford the running spikes etc, it quickly made the doubts melt away. I find gratitude a very powerful antidote to fear and insular thinking.
- Write a goal - I wrote a goal for what I wanted to achieve with sprinting. This helped to sharpen my focus on what was possible, to quieten the “what wasn’t possible” voice. I wrote an intrinsic goal around bettering my times, not focussed on winning. This helped it to feel a lot less scary when I didn’t set myself up to have to beat anyone but myself. I know I’ll work hard on the track, so beating my own time was more realistic and achievable. Beating someone else’s time was a big unknown and not wholly in my control.
- Get a cheer squad - I also surrounded myself with my personal ‘cheer squad’. Those wonderful family and friends who believed in my dream too, and encourage me.
Next challenge – my first competition. After training for only 4 weeks my coach tells me to enter a race. Really? I wasn’t nailing the block starts yet and was still developing so much, surely I wasn’t ready to compete? My coach’s argument was nothing beats experience as your best trainer, so just do it. He tells me not to expect much, just have a go and see how it feels. The. Voices. Start. Again! “You’ll look silly out there”, “what if you muck up the start?”, “why did you think you could do this?”. Again, I make excuses for a couple of weeks for why I can’t compete. They seemed like pretty real reasons at the time - other commitments and things - but if I was honest with myself, deep down I knew they were avoidance strategies.
Again, I go back to using the four points outlined above - 1) make the desire larger than the fear, 2) be grateful, 3) re-read my goal, 4) speak about my fears with my cheer squad.
So I find myself on a mild Saturday evening, lined up at the start line of Santos Stadium to run in my first competitive race. The marshal calls us over, “number 629” (that’s me!), “lane 2”. Now my heart starts racing, this is kind-of surreal. “On your marks”…..as I crouch down to place my feet into the blocks I get this massive grin across my face. I am overwhelmed by a feeling of “does life actually get any better than this?” This feeling of sheer, bursting joy and excitement completely overtakes the nerves. I’m as excited as punch. “Set”……now I’m talking myself through the steps – bum up, head down, turn elbows…..brace yourself for the gun. BANG…. I’m off, (and I’m pretty sure I’m still grinning), I power down that track. I come second but the place was a lot less relevant than my time, and way less relevant than the amount of fun I just had.
I did it. For me it was instantly addictive. I felt more at home for those 13 seconds on the track that I think I ever had in any sport before. I loved this and the rewards for pushing through my fears and negative voice were 1 million-times rewarded.
I kept competing for the remainder of the 2014/15 summer competition. That sees me compete at the State Track and Fields, State Masters and several Club meets. I find that I don’t only love sprinting, but I’m actually quite good at it for my age. My best time over summer, still sits at 19th fastest in the world this year for women aged 44 – 49 – and that’s out of 84,700 women across the world who have registered an official time. I start to extend my sites. I love this so much, with a solid winter training, I can come out next summer a lot faster. A bonus is that I’ll be 50 next year, so that puts me up into a new age bracket where if I ran even the same time again, I would be sitting 6th in the world. The rewards are far outweighing the original fear.
Yet my dream continues to be challenged. Unfortunately I developed tendinopathy in my quad tendon, including a long bony spur that has grown into the tendon and snapped off when I was pushing out of the blocks. Prognosis currently isn’t good. I’ve been forced into 10 weeks rest – which is very frustrating to watch all the hard training on my muscles just shrivel away. Possible surgery, which would likely end my sprinting altogether.
As the resting weeks drifted on, no change was happening. I had an orthopaedic surgeon who I felt had little interest or understanding in how badly I wanted to get better and see how far I could go on this journey. I got caught up in his complacency and I felt myself giving up on the dream.
Refer back to point 4 above – my cheer squad! At this point my cheer-squad swung into action. They weren’t going to accept the uncaring surgeon’s view. They got fired up about seeking a second opinion. They reignited my dream and reminded me of how unbelievable the sprinting experience was for me. This helped me push against the negative voice that had got louder again about being too old for this sport and getting over myself.
I met with my sports doctor to seek a referral to another Orthopaedic surgeon. Her support, passion and care was amazing. She totally backed me in, and got straight on the phone and booked me in the same day to see another highly regarded surgeon. This surgeon certainly didn’t pretend it’s an easy journey because of the extent and complication of my injury. But he really assured me he was on my side to do everything possible to get me back on the track. And that brings me to today.
The World Masters Track and Field happens to be in Australia in October 2016, and the surgeon and I are both working very hard to have me competing at that. My journey is far from over. I am still very unsure of the final outcome. But what I do know is that your mind has a negativity bias that magnifies and hunts for the worst-case scenarios. Try not to be guided by your unhelpful negative voice, and use the types of strategies that I’ve outlined above.
At my mature age, I have experienced some of the most peak experiences of my life because I didn’t give in to the negative voice. Don’t deny yourself the chance of wonderful new experiences simply because some unhelpful voice inside your head says you can’t!