Saturday 25 November 2017

Stepping back to step forward again

My own ‘Hillary Step’ confronted me at the door of my house, not anywhere near Everest
My own ‘Hillary Step’ confronted me at the door of my house, not anywhere near Everest

Gerry Duffy

I didn't have to dig far into my mind to find the subject of this week's column. As I write this, I can feel its theme in every square inch of my body.

Last night I returned home having - thankfully - completed my big sporting ambition of the year - the Connemara 100-mile race. To say I was sore getting out of the car would be a tad of an understatement. Mountaineers whose ambition it is to climb Everest, have to navigate one final impasse at 28,740 feet before they scale the summit. It is called the 'Hillary Step' in honour of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to scale the peak. Well my own Hillary step confronted me at the door of my house. I kid you not, when I say I had to stand there for about 30 seconds whilst I devised a strategy to successfully get me in the door. It really brought home to me, just what level I had pushed my body to. Even this morning- 36 hours after finishing - I am moving slower than a frozen statue.

The soreness I am feeling is of course self-inflicted and a welcome discomfort. Now though, it is time to heal. In an online blog I wrote about my pre-race preparation, I mentioned one of my philosophies. It was about having respect for the challenge I was attempting. (More about this next week.) Now though, I am talking about a different zone of respect. It is the respect I must now have to allow my body to heal completely from the punishment I have inflicted on it. This is one of my biggest learnings from previous ambitions.

Many readers of this publication often have big sporting ambitions on their radar. For runners it might be the Women's mini marathon, the FIT race series, or the Dublin marathon. For our triathlon friends, it might be an Olympic event or the classic Ironman distance. Our personal ambitions are always relative, and what they take out of our individual bodies will vary enormously. But for this, I am talking about an event that really tests you as an individual.

Sport, I believe, can be a healthy addiction - but even in that, there must be balance. This balance is in knowing when it is smart to back off and take time out. The body is a remarkable machine but every machine needs servicing. If we don't service the body (rest and recuperation) then we are asking for trouble short and long term.

For me, phase one of that will last three weeks. Today it's climbing the stairs five or six times to gently stretch the leg muscles as well as a short walk tonight. Tomorrow, I will slowly walk a mile. The day after, I might jog a mile and so on. I will definitely not approach double digits in a pair of running shoes for at least three weeks. Phase two will take me to Christmas as I slowly raise the bar again. It will be close to another year before I push myself to a similar extreme.

If we only recover to 90 or 95pc, then this can exact a long-term toll. The next time, we might only reach 85pc. Such a downward curve is not conducive to long-term wellness. The smart thing is to recover completely before we go again. Some go for bravado by pushing themselves too soon after something testing. That can be where we go from a healthy addiction into something else. I prefer to go to the coffee shop and reflect on what I have been lucky enough to make happen.

Future success is cemented by ensuring full recovery from previous triumphs.

Health & Living

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