On Commitment

Early last year, a client gave me a small plaque with a quote on it. The quote, from Scottish mountain climber W.H. Murray, reads thusly:

This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.

I’ve pondered the significance of this quote many times since. This notion of commitment, this idea that it engages some universal system of levers and pulleys, I find endearing, and apropos my circumstances.

I decided to run the Calgary Ironman 70.3 triathlon last August. However, I hadn’t really “committed” at that point. Sure, I had mentioned it in passing to a few people at my firm, and I had exchanged emails with certain Tri-Club staff regarding classes, but at that point there was no focus, and I could have easily dropped the whole thing. In fact, I almost did. My very first Tri- class was a swim class, at 6:00 a.m., on a cold Tuesday morning. When the alarm went off at 5:00 a.m.—the most unholiest of hours, and I have yet to get used to it—my mind immediately embarked on a sustained effort to convince me I needn’t go through with it. I lay in bed: You didn’t sleep enough last night. Go back to sleep. Brushing my teeth: Why triathlon? Why this year? You haven’t been in a pool in years. On the frigid, early morning walk through Lindsay Park: Your legs can’t handle it. Do it next year. There’s plenty of time. Just…don’t…do…it…now! It was almost amusing, this chorus of naysayers. I found myself chuckling, and literally whispering to myself as I walked through the park, “I’m going to this class whether you like it or not.”

A few minutes later, I was jumping into a chilly, chlorinated pool, in a pair of baggy, speed-robbing board shorts, and attempting to do the (as I knew it) “front crawl”.

Swallowed a hell of a lot of chlorine. Sputtered and struggled for an hour, but at the end of it, no more voices! Walking toward home through Lindsay Park, I felt invigorated, challenged, and committed. That was it. I was in. The last cosmic tumbler clicked into place, unlocking the floodgates of providence.

This is not the place to delve into metaphysical questions on the origins of providence—whether it’s external or whether its provenance is from within—but there’s no question some significant events occurred. Two of the more noteworthy:

In December, a very kind gentleman at my firm, Tim Ryan, an accomplished triathlete in his own right, just up and gave me a bike. He knew I was getting serious about this crazy triathlon stuff, and so he offered me one of his bikes. “How much do you want for it?” I asked. “Nothing,” he said. “I know you don’t have a bike. It’s served me really well. All I ask is that you similarly give it away when you move up.” This bike is worth thousands of dollars. I was stunned.

Then, a few days later, ETS accepted my proposal to become one of the Driven 5 participants. I thought to myself, I really should commit to things more often.

Since the program formally began, I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of the coaches, their enthusiasm, the amount of work they’re putting into it, and the amount of faith they have in us participants. My coach, Megan Bird, has a wealth of experience training with, and recovering from, injury. She’s been particularly sensitive to the fact I’ve been dealing with a number of leg injuries, the most significant of which is an uncooperative Achilles tendon. Accordingly, my training program for January was heavily weighted toward biking and swimming in lieu of running. And that is fine with me, as biking and (especially) swimming, are the weak links in the chain.

Swimming I find incredibly difficult. Well, let me rephrase: swimming efficiently I find incredibly difficult. I spent a couple years in Los Angeles in my teens, and pretty much lived at the beach on weekends. Water doesn’t scare me. Yet, what folly it was for me to think this kind of time in the water would make for a quick swimmer. A couple of months ago I tried using a flutter board for the first time to work on my kick. I literally propelled myself backward. “This may be problematic,” I said to myself. And my awkwardness in the water has not gone by unnoticed. Megan, as well as her brother Jon, another ETS coach, have made dozens of refinements to my technique (or lack of). I’ve watched dozens of YouTube videos of Grant Hackett, Ian Thorpe, Michael Phelps, others; read page after page of analysis and commentary of their technique; spent hour after hour in the pool, with fins, without fins, with hand paddles, without hand paddles, legs only, hands only, finger drag, closed fist, sprinting, gliding, practicing “the catch”.

It’s remarkable, you can watch these Olympians, you can practice all the drills—you can even internalize it all to some extent—but until you can learn to “relax” in the water, you’re not gonna go anywhere. Megan and Jon have both told me to think of swimming like yoga. Less is more. Why it took me three and a half months for this last point to sink in, I cannot say, but I believe I caught a glimpse of what they’ve been trying to get into my thick head for the first time a couple of weeks ago: my first “a ha” moment in the water, as it were, where I actually experienced glide without fins or paddles. I’ve since been “promoted” to the next lane.

As for biking, Megan has put me into Jon’s Monday night “Hammerfest”, a gentle euphemism to describe the horrors that actually take place in that class. For the uninitiated, what you do is bring your bike to the ETS athletic training zone at Talisman Centre, rig it up to a stationary trainer, clip into your pedals, and for the next two hours subject yourself to myriad unspeakable tortures. As a general proposition, I don’t tend toward masochism, but there is something to be said about barbaric treatment. Megan wanted this session to be my principal workout for the training week, and now I see why. In just three weeks, my endurance and power output has gone up by spades. Perhaps not significant compared to some of the genetic wonders I see in that class, but significant for me.

And I guess this latter point is what is significant. We all too often train against others when we should be training against—or, perhaps more appropriately, with—ourselves. I’ve got these utterly infuriating leg injuries, and there have been times during my running sessions when I’ve wanted to “let loose”, so to speak, because it becomes frustrating to get passed, to get lapped, because you’re holding back. But would I be doing myself any favours by throwing caution to the wind? The question’s rhetorical.

This brings me back to commitment. Megan has repeatedly stressed to me the importance of listening to the feedback my body is providing me. She’s been closely monitoring my progress, and she’s continually seeking my feedback on the effect the training program is having on my legs. If I can be honest with myself, my limitations, my setbacks; if I can be realistic about my goals, both long-term and short-term; if I can recognize and acknowledge when it’s time to make adjustments to the program, when it’s time to push myself, when it’s time to ease off—in short, if I can make the same kind of commitment to myself as I did to competing in this triathlon, then perhaps those floodgates of providence of which W.H. Murray speaks will once again open up and allow me to overcome my current physical limitations. Let’s see what happens…

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