Why take on a challenge?

20 April 2017 by
First published: 8 August 2016

One man’s idea of a challenge is another man’s stroll in the park. Part of the basic human survival instinct is having a natural feel for what we can and cannot do. If you’re out running and come across a stream, your brain will tell you whether it thinks you can safely jump across it. If you’re being chased by an angry dog, that radar may give a different reading. It’s surprising what we’re capable of when we’ve got no other choice. So why take on a challenge? Fitness bloggers Twice the Health have the answers…

An Olympic summer is the perfect time to look at how we can further challenge ourselves. As the world records get smashed in Rio and the elite athletes run faster, jump higher and throw further, we can watch all manner of human competitive endeavour from beach volleyball to water polo and wonder what we might do on horseback, on board a yacht, in the saddle of a racing bike or inside a canoe. Sport should fire up the imagination and inspire us all to try something new in order to work up a sweat and put ourselves through our paces.

So on Saturday 6 August, the first weekend of Rio 2016, we took on something new… well, three things new! A 750m swim, a 20k cycle plus a 5k run equals a triathlon. The open water of Royal Victoria Dock and the Canary Wharf roads around the ExCeL Centre were all that stood between us and yet another medal around our necks. The AJ Bell London Tri got our adrenaline pumping from the moment we began training for it. Another day, another buzz, another challenge.

At TTH, we always like to have a couple of upcoming challenges in the diary. In the last couple of months alone, we’ve run to the top and bottom of the Grand Canyon, pedalled through an Olympic cycle course and trotted up and down an Italian mountainside. It keeps us out of mischief. It’s almost become second nature to spend our weekends carb-loading then carb-shedding in the name of challenge. We like to tick the adventures off one by one, then think up some more. The excitement of sourcing the next ‘ask’ is almost as great as the fluttering nerves and high expectations you feel on the start line. The morning’s tour of east London was just the latest attempt to push the TTH boundaries a little further.

There’s only one question… it’s the question our friends, family and followers continually ask us… ‘why?’ Why, when the sun is shining and the beer gardens are calling, do you leave the summer dress in the wardrobe and opt for a tri suit? Why do you say ‘no’ to a comfortable seat by the Thames and choose to swim in it instead? Believe us, we’re having as much fun as anyone else. We know how to relax and chill on a warm day with the best of them but the real pleasure in our lives come from raising the temperature inside our bodies. We love to stretch ourselves, we love to surprise ourselves.

The surprise element is definitely a driver when we’re looking for answers to the big ‘why.’ Most days we follow familiar gym and exercise programmes. There’s a routine to training that many may find a little repetitive and boring, but as long as you feel well prepared, you can then start surprising yourself. A fear of the unknown is another human survival instinct. It’s a healthy one. Even the great Olympic champions do not take on the ultimate competitive challenges without preparing for them as thoroughly as they can. But once you’ve put in the hard yards, the competition itself is the reward. That’s where the real fun and pleasure come for us. That’s when the unknown becomes known.

So we always know the answer to the ‘why?’ question, the only other one remaining is, ‘have we done enough of the hard yards?!’ The idea of a triathlon presented a challenge we were unfamiliar with. To be honest (and you need to be honest with yourselves when it comes to taking on a challenge), we’re still relatively new to cycling, and swimming is a discipline neither of us have paid much attention to since those noisy galas at school. Back then, we were splashing around in the cosy, warm safety of an indoor pool. This time, we were preparing to plunge into the chill of unforgiving open waters! Any shark reports at Canary Wharf lately?!

It was all just a little terrifying but a litre or two of nervous energy is a good addition to the fuel tank ahead of a trip into the unknown. Finding the right mix between the fitness levels that should cover most eventualities and stepping out into uncharted waters for a touch more excitement is the key to getting the most out of a challenge. We love challenging not only our bodies, but our minds and even our weaknesses, too. Sports psychology is becoming a bigger and bigger part of top level competition; believing you can achieve is often half the battle. The more successful achievements we’ve ticked off our bucket list, the more we learn to trust in our bodies’ abilities to amaze and lift us. Then, you’ve got mind and body working together.

It’s easier when you’ve got a best friend working with you too. From signing up for a challenge to rustling up your pre-race breakfast, we work off each other’s strengths to ensure that whatever the day brings, we’re both ready and in tune for it. And the measure of our readiness is not just who can run faster or who can cycle quicker, it’s as much about how we feel and enjoy the experience. We have come to know each other so well that we work best as a pair, as a team during the pre- and post-race periods as well as the competition itself. We’ve trained enough together now to know when the other needs a push or a rest. The sense of mutual fulfilment is not only the foundation for the friendship but also a source of an even greater kick. We like to see each other happy.

We don’t always smile through the races. It hurts, it aches, it challenges. Every few kilometres, a big wall appears across our paths with ‘you can stop’ spray-painted across it. That’s when we take a look at each other and find a joint determination to get over and past the wall and keep going. However much of a struggle it may seem, that awful feeling is nothing compared to the ecstatic joy of passing the test and getting that medal around your neck. At times, it may be a struggle, it may be a strain but as soon as the finish line comes into view, as soon as you take those last strides, as soon as you are exchanging congratulatory hugs with friends and family, any pain quickly subsides and can be forgotten (until the morning!). That’s when you look at each other and see the smiles that only success in a challenge can bring us. That’s the moment you start planning the next one together.

It’s important to remember and treasure those moments and feelings. Soon we’ll be back into Friday nights spent sweating it out at Barry’s Bootcamp and may need to recall what it’s all for. Just as recognising your limitations is an important human survival instinct, so is challenging those limitations as a means to human improvement and exploring yourself. There are no short cuts. Only a fool would set off on a triathlon armed simply with a strong determination. It’s not difficult to dream up experiences you would like to take on, but motivation alone is not enough. Each challenge requires different and specific training methods and each training programme initiates new goals. It’s those goals that we strive towards and those goals that reward us so wonderfully once accomplished.

So, take it from us… no matter how many times you get asked why you’re doing it, the answer will be there for everyone to see once you’ve crossed the line and you’ve gotten to know your glorious unknown a little better!

To read more about Hannah and Em’s fitness challenges, check out their blog here.