Learning life whilst doing crazy stuff

My previous blog about understanding what we can control and what we can’t was so popular and many patients have asked me to share some more information.

I have had so many requests to write more about my learning adventures. So here is another snippet.

A few years ago, we trained for and completed the Cape Epic. This is a mountain bike race. Today the Absa Cape Epic is routinely referred to as “the Tour de France of mountain biking”.  Lots and lots of climbing and long. When we did the event it was over 700km.  At the time we competed, it was a journey from Knysna to Cape Town with a little twist here and there on the way.

Each day you have a certain amount of time to complete a stage. For those of you who are not familiar with mountain biking, you get a race number that you put on the front of your bike. This number contains a timing chip that measures your time. The first time you don’t make the cut-off time, you get a big line crossed on your board. If this happens again you aren’t allowed to continue and get a DNF (yes this might as well be a swear word – Did Not Finish). You feel the pressure, and you can see how this pressure takes you out of experiencing the moment.

It is indeed a cruel, long race over 7 days. Each day on average about 100km and a lot of climbing. The climbing is approximately twice as much as the 94.7km road cycle race. The race organizers did a cute thing where you would think you were nearly done, your bike computer would indicate you have nearly completed the allotted distance and you might even see the finish camp, only to be swiftly headed onto a mountain and another intense 5 km. Which in mountain biking terms and terrain can take you another 30 minutes plus. That is a lot when there is nothing in the tank (i.e. your body) and your mind just wants this to stop.

You can see how I made the mistake of so NOT being in the moment. Each day I would work out approximately how long it would take to complete each stage. We would start and head off and I would say, “ok 8 more hours to go. 7 more hours to go”. And when we got close to 2 hours it would be, “ok 1h30… now 1 hour, no, 60 minutes”. I think you get the idea.

What I was doing was living in Future. Although the experience was amazing my mind was saying we should just get this done. By putting all that pressure on myself I didn’t enjoy the race. Believe me the last day getting closer and closer to the finish line my eyes started watering up and completing that finish line was a great achievement. This is not the lesson yet.

Two years later we did our first Ironman South Africa. (Yes, it sometimes takes me a while to really learn lessons). Again, there is the pressure of completing each section in an allocated time.

I started the swim and the swells were intense. I changed my thinking to, “ok feel the water be in the moment. Focus on the stroke of swimming”. When I was on my bike, I said, “wow, listen to the sound the tyres are making, soak the atmosphere of the crowds”, and, “wow, another stunning smell coming from the ocean”. I was in the moment. The excitement and joy and fun of participating in the event was great, and charged my energy instead of sapping it.

So now when I find myself worrying or over thinking the future I bring myself back to the present. Yes, it is corny, but it is a gift – the present (haha). The way I do it is to use all my senses. Touch – I was feeling the handle bars of the bike, the saddle, the pedals going round. Sight – what am I focusing and looking at? Listen – I was listening to the tyre sound on the tar. Smell – what are my olfactory senses detecting. Using all your senses can make you be more present. This only takes a few seconds now as this has become second nature.

What can you touch, see, hear and smell right now to bring yourself into the moment (even if the situation is hard) to really live?

Have a wonderful in-the-moment experience

Dr Debbie

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