by - Meg MacKenzie | Insta: megmackenzie1
I recently travelled to La Palma to race, and after a chat with my coach, decided to use the experience as a learning one to help me grow as a person and athlete.
I had a long chat with my coach about my reasons for going to race before I left and discovered that a lot of them weren’t about winning. I thought I'd share some of them with you, because ultimately it doesn't come down to racing, it comes down to life lessons and valuable take-aways from pushing yourself outside your comfort zone.
My coach suggested that I jot down the notes after our chat and refer back to them during the trip (and/or) any point I felt a little bit uncomfortable or homesick. That way I’d be reminded of my original intentions and remember to follow through with them. My notes had a few highlighted topics:
1. Travel with a beginner’s mind. Be curious, what can I learn?
2. Practice letting go
La Palma is a Spanish island, about a three-hour flight from Madrid. Being volcanic, its full of beautiful moonscapes, black sandy beaches and has stunning stark contrasts of lush green forest in and amongst the harsh rock formations. It was daunting and exciting. Travelling alone and not knowing a soul, to a country where I don't speak the language (they speak zero English in La Palma) and racing two races in two races where I had no idea what to expect, well it’s safe to say I was a bit out of my comfort zone! Now that we have some context, back to the highlighted topics!
I use this a lot in day-to-day life and it’s such a useful tool for travelling, training, running and even in relationships. The idea is that the more you know about something or someone, the more you assume you know about it (which is not true because people, situations and feelings change all the time). So, to use a beginner’s mindset is to not assume anything, but rather to pretend you have never done or seen something before. So for example, getting nervous before a race - instead of thinking "here we go again, nerves make me feel awful, I hate being nervous", rather observe the nerves like you've never felt them before.
You can even use it with simple things like travelling on a plane. Flying can be a tedious task - most of us hate it. If you can use beginner’s mindset and are curious about how your body responds, the people around you, the food you’re eating, it can be quite exciting. It’s almost as if you’re trying to be a little kid, seeing and feeling things for the first time without any preconceived notion of what they are like. This helps you to learn from your experiences rather than just go through the motions. It makes even the mundane a learning experience and you come out with a richer and much fuller experience.
Letting go is easier said than done, and it takes a lot of continuous practice. I use this a lot when I'm travelling and racing. Flight delayed? Let it go! Stuck in Madrid for two extra days? Let it go. Race only starts at 9.30pm and will be dark, cold and possibly not the smartest life decision? Let it go, it'll be an adventure! Lost in the rain in a city called El Paso and can't find the bus stop? Let it go! The more you can learn to just let things go, the easier it is to go with the flow without any preconceived notion of how things should be.
Some people might want to groan or smack their heads like the emoji when they hear this topic being raised. Some might want to high five me and read on. For me, meditation of any sorts, is the best way to recover from training, prepare for racing (and training) and get through days (especially when travelling) with the most joy and peace. When we run, race or train hard or undergo anything stressful our bodies go into a sympathetic nervous state, which means they are in fight, flight or fright mode. Getting ourselves back into a parasympathetic nervous state is the key to recovery, rest, less anxiety and happier feelings. I use meditation in a number of ways, namely breathing techniques, walking, guided meditation using an app, a body scan or an ice bath or cold swim in the sea. All of those will help your body to return to its 'happy' state where it can digest food, recover, sleep and be ready for the next challenge!
With thought, intention, knowing your 'why' and some tips and tricks to help you along the way, any challenge is possible! Setting your intentions before a trip or race, and using techniques to help align you with them is a great way of growing as a person and an athlete.