“The smell of grilled chicken, yeah that’s exactly how it was like…”
Wearing a sports tri-suit, with all the copious amount of sunblock washed away in the lake, he felt a stinging sensation on his shoulders within a few minutes of running under the open sky, devoid of clouds. “It was scorching 42 degrees Celsius and my skin was peeling off,” recalls 30-year-old Abhishek Mishra. This was only a few months back at the Chennai Triathlon, which he endured and triumphed with a vital lesson as a takeaway: “As soon as you start pushing your physical fitness, your spiritual fitness grows in the process.”
Mishra is from Uttar Pradesh and has been living in Gurgaon for the past eight years. He is one of rarest breed of people who quit their cushy, well-paying corporate jobs to pursue their passion. “If I was afraid of failure, I wouldn’t have come this far,” he says. But spiritual fitness is much more than introspecting about one’s failure, explains Mishra. “According to me, for attaining spiritual fitness you have to do two things: be aware and willing. Being spiritually fit is not a destination we arrive at one day, it’s a journey of a lifetime. And all of this begins with your first step, even if it isn’t perfect. It’s all about paying close attention to yourself.”
The Chennai Triathlon, held in August 2015, tested his deep-set fears and challenged the way he perceived failure. Setbacks no longer pushed him to the edge of disillusionment, but provided a gateway to a new thought process. Instead of thinking “my efforts have failed”, he reminded himself “I need to put in more effort”.
“I fear open waters. When I got to know I had to swim in a 40ft-deep lake, I psyched out. But then this woman jumped right in and despite her sloppy hand movements reached the midpoint. I thought if she can do it, then why can’t I? I guess that faith was missing,” he says.
In any case, the decisive shift in the thought process had started and set the stage for the ultimate goal: The Mallorca Ironman. Now, having completed the Mallorca Ironman in September, Mishra attributes his success to preparation and inner peace. Crossing the finish line of an IronMan triathlon has a special meaning for athletes.
The Ironman race is one of the world’s toughest triathlons, which throws in 3.8km of swimming with 180km of cycling and 42km of running — all to be completed within 17 hours. “The day you realise that failure is nothing but a moment, you will learn to accept that moment and start preparing better for the next challenge. Listen to yourself and be more willing to practise what you hear,” he says.
Attaining spiritual fitness is tough in the beginning, but if you pay attention to yourself you can start today.
Some tips from Mishra to attain spiritual fitness:
‘When you push your physical fitness, your spiritual fitness grows’
As soon as you start pushing physical fitness, you start pushing spiritual fitness. Faith develops because of physical fitness. Your emotional fitness also grows. When I started training for Ironman, I began finding the solutions to my past problems. During the Bhati Lakes Ultra run (100-plus km) last year, I started talking to myself. It was aching all over and I was completely exhausted. That’s when I started introspecting about life’s mistakes and the solutions presented themselves quite naturally.
Defeat your ego
Stop thinking about what’s not worth thinking. Sometimes when I am running, my ego comes in between. For instance, the other day a car narrowly missed me while I was running in Gurgaon. I threw some cuss words at him. But later I realised I shouldn’t have. There’s a difference between being literate and educated. If you can’t control your emotions, you can’t succeed. In endurance sports, you have to leave your ego behind to perform well.
Let your mind drive your body, not the other way round
Once you reach your physical limits, your body will tell your mind that it’s not possible. The mind has to be the driver. Often, people let their body drive their mind. I know that I can stretch myself till a point so that I can come back to my original form, but not stretch till the point I get deformed. The moment I feel uncomfortable doing something, I will stop. But I will give it a try. That’s my logic.
Give yourself time, practise
Lot of people tell me they want to do barefoot running in one go without any practice. They don’t understand I have given myself ample time to understand and implement the biomechanics of running in minimal footwear. It’s difficult to undo what you have done for the past 20 years in just two years. So, if you’re emotionally fit, you will give yourself time. People need to realise why they are running. Once you realise, you stop competing.
Focus on ‘how you can do it’, instead of ‘why you can’t’
Self-actualisation is the most important. I was swimming 50m for the first time during my Chennai Triathlon training, but I stopped at 25m. I just couldn’t go on further. I started thinking why I can’t do it. The focus was on ‘why I can’t swim more’ rather than ways to make it possible. A simple technique helped me focus. I concentrated on the bubbles while exhaling and put my focus on that. Then I started enjoying looking at those bubbles. When I told my coach I did 2km, she laughed and asked how. When I told her the bubbles story, she asked me if I was high on something. Find your focus, and your motivation. It’s out there, but you need to know what gets you going.
Your happiness shouldn’t be a burden on others
When my Spain visa for Mallorca Ironman was rejected, my parents were visibly more annoyed than me. They asked what all I needed to get the visa. I saw my dad doing all the running around for paperwork without having food. I thought I was so selfish. My advice is: Don’t let the pursuit of your happiness be a burden for others. Instead of sulking and making everyone unhappy, be open and share your emotions with clarity and accept help from people.
On the same day, I wrote my Facebook status as “feeling pissed’. From then on I got some 150 calls from unknown people who were willing to help me out. Accept who you are and tell people to accept you for what you are. People will help you if they know you’re genuine.
Accepting your mistakes mean you have the power to correct it
In the beginning, being spiritually fit is tough. But if you are self-aware you will be healthy. It’s necessary to start somewhere and realise your mistakes. Giving yourself time is important. Realise you can be wrong. Accept your mistakes, which means you have the power to correct something that’s wrong.
Understand your reality
When you run for yourself you realise how much health means to you. Running is good for you only if you apply your mind to it. Thinking while running is important.
When you play a sport, you start understanding your body and you can sense it. People told me if you train for Ironman you can’t do anything. No parties, strict diet, no socialising, etc. I said that’s all bulls**t. I do everything. I broke the orthodox way of thinking. Scheduling is important. The journey to Ironman means you need to be consistent. Anyone can do Ironman. It’s important to know who you are and how you are coming to terms with your reality. This way you wouldn’t regret your decisions.
It’s okay to fail, failure is a bigger teacher than success
For me, personally, the fear of failure isn’t there any more. The fear sets in when you have something to prove to someone. It’s okay to fail. People say you need to take a month’s break after Ironman for your body to recover. People have that fear of what others will say about their performance. I have a concern that if I fail, people will start bothering those who are close to me. If you can get people to think they can do it, they really can. You need to be desperate to get something. You will fail only when you think you will fail.
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