Y’know, I kinda knew that I am a very different character when I’m coaching to, like, me most of the time. I’m louder, more boisterous, sure. I seem to be full of all the wisdom – even when I could perhaps be accused of being someone hypocritical and suggest doing all the things I never do. I also seem to both dress and gesticulate like an outraged Italian football manager, and for some reason have developed a strange Afrikaner inflection to some of my speech. Which is weird, because I have never been to South Africa. Neither have I ever been coached myself by a South African. In fact, I know fairly few South Africans at all (although marginally more than the number of Italian football managers I know, if I’m honest).
There is something about coaching and leadership that appeals to me. To part of me, anyway the half that doesn’t want to run and hide from everything, anytime. It’s nice to feel like one is a subject matter expert in something, to be respected for the knowledge one’s spent literally hours on wikipedia obtaining (I kid, I put more effort in than that). It’s validating, and everyone craves a little validation from time to time, right? Especially if it’s around the one thing that you put most of your non-working hours into.
It’s especially important to me right now, in the wider context of the massive crisis of faith I’m having in… well, everything. The sophomore year as Head of Triathlon at the Chasers was always going to be tough, because the second opportunity at everything always is. Your own perception changes.
In my first year as a serious triathlete, everything seemed new, and fresh; it wasn’t without it’s problems, but they were new, fresh problems, and that holds an excitement in itself. The second year was tougher; because my own values and goals had changed as a result of the first year, and I was compelled to reach higher; maybe reach a little too far. My perception of my own abilities had changed, along with my perceptions of what was and wasn’t success. Compared to what I felt I’d achieved in Sweden, it was always going to be a tough ask to match that, let alone better it.
Running a club, and coaching, it kinda feels the same this year. Last year everything was fresh and exciting, and the challenges were ones I relished. Last year everything was tinted with rose and plated with gold. This year, everything is taking longer than I expect it to, everything has more hurdles to overcome. The problems are probably more complex if I look at them honestly, but that doesn’t necessarily fit in the narrative of how I view it.
Perception bleeds into everything. From years one to two to three, my idea of myself as a triathlete has gone from:
Year 1: Ain’t this all hilarious? I have no idea what I’m doing but this is great!
Year 2: I’m pretty much a pro already just give me my damn contract
Year 3: Ah shit. I have to back this talk up.
Now, that year 2 conclusion might seem a little harsh. Here’s the thing: was that what I was actually thinking at the time? Maybe not, but from where I sit right now (at the time of writing: on a coach, somewhere along the M4 between Bristol and London), I can look back in callous disregard at of my failed confidence of last year as hubristic arrogance.
Although that seems harsh, it’s all about how you can use that. Given that I have a family member who can rationalise Stalin as ‘a good man’, I’ve had a good education in looking at awful things and finding value in them, I guess. If I can frame last year as ‘arrogant’, them it keeps me a bit wary and on edge this year, which keeps me paying attention. Mistakes are only a problem when you make them more than once, and all that.
I’ve shifted my attention this year, running in particular, more towards working on how everything ‘feels’ than aiming for specific targeted paces. As it turns out, running to feel can be pretty consistent once you get used to it – for example, I know that what I perceive as 50% effort on a flat piece of road in London will have me running at around 4:10-4:20 per kilometre. 10 seconds faster if I’m feeling strong, 10 seconds slower if I haven’t slept.
On the other hand, the body can be a filthy, sneaky little hobbitses that constantly strives to keep the ring of enlightened athletic truth from me. Because ‘pretty’ consistent is not always the same as ‘consistent’, and running an ‘easy’ long run at sub-3 hour marathon pace is a little bit obscene. There have been a been a few of these sorts of conversations since I started with Coach Tim in November:
CT: “Well that was a good run kiddo” (he has never actually called me kiddo, but let’s roll with it)
HR: “Thanks coach!” *insert warm fuzzy validation feelings here*
CT: Buuuuuuuuuut gotta ask 1) why was your HR too high 2) why were you running so fast 3) do you have more or less brain cells than you have digits” (this 3rd one is a fabricated question he has never asked me that, I’ve just assumed it)
HR: HURR DURR I DUNNO COACH TIM TIEM ON FEET (which has never actually been my response, so now we’re straying in the territory of this conversation being almost entirely fictional), I guess it just felt good?”
CT: *insert facepalm emoji here* (okay, this one has actually happened)
Hopefully by now I’ve established that perception and perspective are tricksy motherfuckers for me, emotionally and physically. Now let’s compound that further by going back to the thing I relate anything in life to right now, of ‘driven’, ‘old’, ‘thinking’ George vs. ‘heartfelt’, ‘young’, ‘feeling’ George (I cannot find name for these two aspects that I’m comfortable with, including any I’ve just used) that I referred to a couple of months ago.
Since this idea first came up in my therapy sessions, everything I analyse about myself seems to link back to it, in an almost-uncanny, maybe-self-fulfilling-prophecy-maybe-not-who-knows kind of way. Self-fulfilling prophecies and Freud; if you like those two things, boy are you gonna love psychoanalytic therapy. Anyway, as my current mental fragility is getting that treatment, I can’t help view my training hobby through the same lense. Also, let’s scrap those three namesets above, they don’t work. Neither does ‘active’ vs. ‘passive’, neither does ‘doing’ vs. ‘experiencing’, neither does ‘extroverted’ vs. ‘introverted’… sigh. Let’s go with ‘externalising’ vs. ‘internalising’, which I’m still unhappy with, but less unhappy with than the alternatives.
‘Externalising’ George is the part of me that I often call a fraud, concerned with results and progress. It’s definitely the part of me that tolerates power-metre climbing, because it’s the me that recognises that I have to be smart in order to succeed. ‘Externalising’ George is a fan of castigating myself about last year’s collapse in the hopes that I’ll be able to salvage some kind of growth from it. It’s the part of me that goes to work every day, the part of me that people experience as ‘Coach Bright’, and is successful. It’s also the part of me that ‘internalising’ George thinks is a giant fraud, a construct I started building for myself around the same time I started writing this blog. Funny, that.
Meanwhile, ‘internalising’ George doesn’t want to be a robot, or look at watches, or care about target paces. ‘Internalising’ George wants to be open and honest about where his limits are, and craves the validation that says, yes those limits are bigger than you suspect. ‘Externalising’ George knows that ‘internalising’ George doesn’t have any real drive to succeed, and craves the security of comfort and idleness. Both ‘externalising’ and ‘internalising’ George are really, really fucking confused at where the mystery Afrikaner inflection has come from, and both wonder if it actually exists or if it’s a figment of my imagination.
If I seem to lack any real consistent perspective on anything right now, it’s because I have two competing mindsets that are constantly back-and-forth, that both have very different ideas on what I need to be ‘happy’ and ‘successful’. I’m aware that I might not have explained them particularly well, and I don’t think I’ve got close to the level of existential doubt they cast over anything I do, say or think at the moment; but it’s probably the best I can do, for now. Understanding myself is difficult enough for me, but I kinda get the impression that when I can reconcile these two parts – or at the very least find some kind of diplomatic, neutral ground between them – I might feel somewhat whole again. Effectively, I need to create a mental DMZ for myself. The world would be a much better place if we could all just get along, and that includes you, Misters Externalising and Internalising.
Listening: Cristobal Tapia de Veer – I Feel Separated (Utopia Season 2 Soundtrack); one of my favourite soundtrack pieces from one of my favourite TV shows, the height of Channel-4-dom.
Reading: Brainpickings – Alison Bechdel on Writing, Therapy, Self-Doubt, and How the Messiness of Life Feeds the Creative Conscience; Brainpickings is such a great site for discovering little nuggets of wisdom, and recently I keep coming back to this article on Alison Bechdel’s work (probably because of those therapy panels that cut like a knife).