“What Keeps me Going” – A Chat to Sam Courty

After an interesting few weeks training and racing I found myself really wondering what motivates me, why I train/race and what the real motivators are. By just finding the answers these questions you find you can really push yourself to the next level, because you understand what makes you tick.

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me & mum shortly before ITU worlds – relaxing the nerves.

I’ve also always been driven by self improvement. I’ve always loved sport but there’s something extra about pushing my body and mind to the limits of what I think are possible, and then realising that they’re not actually the limits at all. It’s a never ending cycle of breaking through the ceiling, and falling through the floor – in an endless quest for excellence.

All these questions have been ticking over in my head since the ironman, and though many people see that as almost impossible to achieve – there are so many parallels to be drawn with real life.

Jobs, relationships, sport at any level – all require time, effort and motivation. If it’s not valuable to you, you’re probably not going to be prepared to work for it. But if it truly means something to you – you’ll stop at nothing to make it work. And it’s these kind of motivations that really interest me.

Feeling very under prepared to talk about a lot of these subjects – I decided to bring in a close friend of mine to talk the topic through. I spoke to Sam Courty – an Olympic hopeful who’s been rowing for the GB squad for a number of years.

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Me and Sam longer ago than I’d like to admit.

I was at uni with Sam and she’s been a solid inspiration for me throughout my athletic career – including when she was rowing.

I find the way she conducts herself in and out of sport exceptional – she makes a great role model. So I wanted to know just what makes her tick!

What makes you do sport in the first place?

I have always been a very sporty person and from a young age all my friends have come through different sport clubs and teams, so it has always been my social circle. It probably also helped that my Mum and Dad were still playing sport when I was young, so it was a big part of my life growing up. The main reason why I have continued though is because I absolutely love what I do. The daily challenge, the highs, the lows, life is never boring and that is something I have become addicted to.

It’s clear that sports a huge part of your life, but rowing is a vicious sport. From my short time in the sport I found it amazing just how hard you guys push yourself day in day out. And that clearly takes its toll on you physically and mentally. What motivates you when its hard and you’re really up against it?

11813353_10155828311185117_3928497400602636717_nThe simple answer is: the good days. Those days when finally, everything falls into place. But I strongly believe those days aren’t down to luck but hard work and perseverance. If you put the effort in you will be rewarded at some point.

 It might not be as soon as you hope but one day it will be your day. However, that is a very “big picture” way to look at things. To help with motivation day to day I find goal setting really helps me. This was invaluable while I was injured as you can lose a lot of motivation during this time. For the first week my goal was to be able to sit down for 10mins, so I could sit on the plane for take-off and landing. I learnt through this that you must be flexible with your goals as things change and adapt them. Being able to sit down was never a goal at the beginning of the season but it was a vital one, part way through!

Do you think that this can be applied to people at any level? Should people break down a bigger picture into much more manageable chunks and remember just why they’re doing it? I know this definitely works for me – there are always days when I look at my to do list and think “not a chance!” – but just get stuck in step by step.

I think this can apply at any level and also not just in sport. I remember at university when I was writing essays and I really did struggle with motivating myself to get them done. As soon as I stopped looking at the essay as a 2000 word limit and broke it into the intro, method etc suddenly it didn’t seem so daunting. If I wrote 500 words a day then in four days it would be done and that really didn’t seem so bad.

When it’s really tough, and you’re absolutely up against it why do you endure? Why don’t you just stop?

11731683_10155797536610405_5218525799290027215_oWhat would I achieve? From memory I can’t ever remember stopping. I’ve slowed down, I’ve had the thoughts about stopping, I’ve most certainly complained but I’ve never put the handle down on the rowing machine or stopped the boat and given in. Training doesn’t just make you physically fitter it also gives you the opportunity to train your mental fitness. At the elite level there is often little that separates athletes physically, there are only so many hours you can train, and most nations now are on similar programmes with similar sport science support. So, when you’re neck and neck with another boat, how is it decided who’s going to win? The crew that stopped once in training when it got hard or the crew that pushed through when everything inside of them was telling them to stop.

 

Do you think that people often stop too easily? When a few more minutes/days/weeks sticking with it could really help them? I’ve often found that social media adds a rose tinted view to life-  it’s easy to take the view that it comes easy to a lot of people – and they barely work for it. I know this is absolutely not the case.

13321747_1014809555269854_6389838155764939099_nI do think social media and the media in general has a way of portraying many things as ‘perfect’. People who post on social media don’t want to publicise the hard days because you don’t want to give anything away; especially if you think your competition is watching. You want them to believe that it comes so much easier to you than them. I love reading sporting autobiographies as I find this is the next best thing to being able to ask my sporting heroes all the questions I have.

You get a real insight into their lives and the struggles they have faced but more importantly how they overcame them. And I am yet to read one where it has been plain sailing and believe me I have read a few! So coming back to your question of ‘do I think people stop too easily’ then yes, I guess people do but if you’re willing to stop then I guess you have fallen out of love or just not enjoying what you are doing anymore and that is absolutely fine because I couldn’t do something I didn’t love and the most important thing in life is being happy.

What advice would you give to someone that feels like they might give up? Or maybe someone that can’t quite make it past a milestone they’ve been trying to break for a while?

Rowing-trials-Sam-Courty-and-Emily-Ford-Peter-Spurrier-Intersport-Images-e1432125038850If the feelings are during a hard session or race, then it’s your mind taking over and just finish. It doesn’t matter how or in what state, but the feeling of finishing will be better than the feeling of quitting. If it’s a decision that’s been playing on your mind for a while, then firstly I would write down the positives and negatives of carrying on and the same for giving up. If one clearly outweighs the other, then you know what to do and remember that quitting isn’t always the easy way out, it takes just as much confidence and bravery as carrying on.

When it comes to reaching milestones I’m afraid that is just the nature of sport. If everyone had a perfect linear rate of improvement everyone with a gold medal around their necks would be the same age. However, the youngest Olympic gold medallist is 13 years and 268 days and the oldest is 64 years 258 days so their paths to Olympic success clearly were very different. Your time will come, if you can’t question the effort you are putting in and you have done everything in your control then you have to wait your turn and be patient.

How do you find that extra gear when you’re hurting?

Your head will always tell you stop before your body gives in, its human nature. But have you ever wondered what it takes to make your body stop? I have and its yet to happen, so I guess there are probably more gears than we think, and if everyone is looking for the ‘extra gear’ we should aim to find an extra two…. just to make sure we cross the line first.

If you want to follow Sam you can get her on instagram at: @samcourty93 or twitter @samcourty

It’s definitely worth your time!

Be Young – Be Foolish

A week before my first ironman world championship qualifier of 2017.

On the other side of the world New Zealand, with nothing but sun, scenery, laid back lifestyles and time to reflect.

If you’re one of my friends, this title will excite you. A sponsor, panic you. And if you’re neither. But not to worry, I hope whichever you are you can take something away from my usual mumblings.

Life’s hard. It’s no secret that day to day there are many struggles that most of us could just do without.

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You spend your adult life going from handshake to handshake, emailing back and forth saying ‘sorry for the delay’.. until one of you dies…

It’s really easy to fall out of the habit of doing the things you enjoy, to let work & ‘adult life’ take over.

Gone are the school days of dashing home so you could do absolutely nothing and not a soul would care. Copying your homework off whoevers turn it was to do a few questions, so at least it looked like you’d given it a go.

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Really you were all out riding tiny mountain bikes round town, playing heads and volleys in someone’s back garden or a huge game of manhunt.

Occasionally you’d have a sports fixture that would get in the way, but you all played in all 10 different sports teams so you knew there’d be nobody missing out.

SAT’s, GCSE’s, detention, break time, the 3 o’clock bell, the chuckle brothers, dick and dom on a Saturday morning.

PS1, PS2, word shark and the word paper clip that used to do fun things for you.

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The list is endless, a continual reel of things that defined & shaped your childhood, and every kid your generation knows. They’ll remember all the things as if it was yesterday.

And the funny thing is, that was just my generation, for the older folk among you, you’ll have things you relate to. All be it a completely different list, like the invention of the wheel and the dinosaurs getting wiped out.

Just messing.

But your parents will have it, and theirs before them, and it goes on.

It’s very easy to forget that everyone has been there, everyone was young once. In an ever changing world there’s far more uncertainty. The 21st century is a crazy place where nothing is set in stone. The average person can have up to 9 careers, 7 sexual partners and a brand new super virus that back in your day, you’d have just shaken off and got on with. Obviously.

Freddos are almost 30p, you can buy your way into the main seat in the White House, but you can’t buy an actual house, if you’re under the age of 30.

In the worlds most powerful country buying a gun is easier than buying a beer.

It’s hard in the new world. The struggle is real.

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But why do we go day to day, doing things we just don’t care about? Things that really, have absolutely no benefit to our lives.

We just slot in with the rest of society, doing things because we think we should. Because that’s the way it’s always been.

Well stop.

Just stop doing it, and make a change.

Be foolish, make mistakes. It doesn’t matter if you’re 20 or you’re 50. You don’t know everything, and in 20 years time you may still look back and think: ‘I really wish I’d done that’.

Well now is the time.

Quit your job, go travelling, start a business, take a risk. If you’re young, move away, try new things. It gets a lot harder when you settle down, get engaged, have a wife and kids.

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And no, I’m not saying be reckless, I’m not saying throw your life away.

You have to be serious, and you have to understand that it’s tough. It’s scary, and it’s going to be hard. But than doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Nothing in life comes free, you have to be prepared to go through tough times, but make them work.

In the final few weeks of our architecture degree, we had a lecture about why not to be an architect. And it really caught my attention.

It’s very easy to go through your degree certain on what you’ll become, because you have to, because it seems obvious. A straight choice.

But that doesn’t necessarily point in the right direction.

Degrees now are fantastic at teaching you a diverse range of skills. You can leave university with a transferable skill set broad enough to point you in any direction, and the world really is your oyster.

All of you will know I turned my back on architecture to attempt to become a triathlete.

Why?

I hear the same things over and over. Architecture is a solid career, pays the bills, design cool stuff, have lots of fun.

Well not exactly.

Now I’ve changed career I’ve noticed something very clear.

Everyones perception of everyone else’s career is a glamorous high life that everybody should envy.

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And really that’s just not it.

Architecture isn’t designing amazing buildings day to day.

Triathlon isn’t flying around the world racing here there and every where.

And all the rich city folk you know that graduated on £45k+ are mostly earning the same rate per hour as an employee at McDonalds.

Of course, each has its perks. Architecture is designing the dream building, once or twice in a career.

The summer of triathlon is all racing, if you can make it through the vicious winter of cold, wet, boring miles.

And the city jobs do pay a fortune for when you get chance to spend it.

But you have to find something you enjoy, something you’re good at, and something you want to make work.

Because if you’re realistic with yourself and you’re prepared to put the work in. It can, and will, happen.

So go travel the world, but think how you’re going to fund it, where you can work, how you can save.

Start up your own business, but be careful with the money, and make sure you’re ready to go through to the tough times with it too.

Go out and make mistakes, get stuff wrong. Cause that’s how we learn, and no matter how old you are, you can still give it a shot.

Follow your dreams and all that. The clichés are true. You have to be prepared to work, but it can work! Nobody else is going to do it for you.

Because the last thing you want, is your future self to start a story with ‘I wish I’d’…

Be the one saying ‘remember when’.

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P.s. Life isn’t here forever. If it isn’t getting in the way of your career, have the beer, eat the cake.

A Catch Up

Hello!

How have you been?

So nearly 2 months since I actually appeared or wrote anything decent, what’s been happening?!

Well I took a break. Stepped back, focused on my degree, and even saw my family over Easter!


Since October I’ve been struggling with a torn ligament and 2 inflamed tendons in my ankle, although I’m glad to say my Strava has now sprung to life and were really starting to get somewhere.


I’ve just been hovering  in the middle of the 90′ indoor bikes and long days in the architecture studio. Hitting deadlines and attempting to build mileage!

I’ve always been very public in posting everything i do, I don’t see any reasons not to. If anyone wants to copy they’d always be one step behind, and there’s no harm in people seeing how fit you are, so you might have caught up on strava.

You may even have seen my guest appearance at the Bath Cc chaingang, helping Rob Pears with a few watts.



I need to give a special shout out to Malcolm at physioimpulse, bath. His extensive knowledge of the mechanics of the body whilst running and cycling has helped me no end in my rehabilitation. His techniques to release the tension in my lower legs and pelvis has really helped my recovery and started me off on a fantastic platform to move forward.

It’s still causing me some pain, and I can’t run yet. However, I can cycle. So watch this space!

Maybe.

When I’ve lost 5kg.

And got through the 33 days until I hand in 70% of my degree. Uh oh!

The Student Athlete – When work gets too much?

Written 2.11.14!
So while I’m sat on a flight to Porto on the west coast of Portugal, eating breakfast & drinking a recovery shake, I’m starting to wonder how bad student life can be?

Work? Some students will ask you what that even is! Gone are the days of being a fresher or sitting in our room keeping ‘entertained’ until training comes around. Some having more fun than others in Ben’s case.


Yeah ok the government are conning me out of £9,000 a year, my rent is more than my maintenance grant & the athlete’s food bill could feed a family of 4. We’re just under 4 weeks into term and I’ve been in the studio working past 12 at least 20/30% of those nights. But all we do is train, drink & sleep right?

If you asked Bath Spa what we do at university, they’d tell you we don’t go hard.

If you asked the locals, they’d tell you we ruin the crescent & other nice landmarks drinking & littering.

And I suppose if you asked our parents what we do at university, they’d tell you on the average day we’d wake up at maybe 1 or 2, eat a meal sat in our pants at the kitchen table, before returning to ‘the cave’ for another hour or so. Maybe do our first session, turn up to the odd lecture here and there before training a second time. Go out for dinner with our mates or see the girlfriends before starting pre drinks. Going out & blowing all our money on ludicrous amounts of alcohol that we don’t need before returning home in some mindless trance, maybe not alone. Get some sleep, & repeat the process. Easy life.

However… This couldn’t be further from the truth!

Balancing student life with sport is a tricky game as any student athlete will tell you, & with a degree like architecture/…pharmacy?, this is no easy feat.

The 8am wake up, all sounds rather easy really, quite laid back day compared to the regular 6am start for the other athletes. But the sleep is most definitely needed.

After getting a thorough breakfast before training I make sure I have everything I need, usually packed the night before & jump on my bike. Depending on the weather & how fresh the legs feel and the looming 9am session, I’ll choose the most suitable route to campus & decide the intensity of the ride.  After all, with fresh legs and a mileage session, it’d be rude not to see what numbers you can push on Strava.

So I arrive at training, usually the morning ergo to keep the rowing muscles crisp, get my recovery shake in and then head over to studio around 11. Already 2 hours behind the rest of the flat on work, I know I’ve got to get my head down.

12.30 comes around and my stomach starts to rumble. It’s been 2 hours since my recovery shake and my body knows it’s time for some more food. So I take a quick lunch break before powering on with the studio drawings, desperately trying to catch the volumes of work everyone else has produced.

At 3 I’ll start to tire, a cycle up, session and 4 hours solid working start to take their toll. Drop Pan a quick text, he’s got too much work to train. Turns out we’re not the only course that actually does something on campus.

So I return to the gym for the lonely second session before it gets too late for my body to handle. 5 and it’s another 3 hours work before heading home for dinner at 8. I’m already a step behind with the work, and a step behind on training as I wasn’t completely fresh like some of the other athletes, which has to give?

8pm, 12 hours into the day. Right about now we’d be looking to finish the ironman in Nice and we’ve completed a cycle to uni, cycle home, 2 sessions and 7 hours of work in the studio.

But still the day goes on. 9pm and it’s time for a few more hours work.

Through the early days of the project it’ll be a short-lived work session before off to chill for the evening with a friend. Sometimes pre’s before the others go for the late night lash. After all, nobody can complain at good company. Going out is off the cards, as you can’t run the risk of ruining training the next day. On a schedule like this, catching up sessions isn’t something you want to be doing.

In the later weeks of the project it’ll be back to studio at 9pm before returning home somewhere between 12-2 ready to sleep and recover for the next day.

So the average day seems to consist of:

20 minutes to wake up & get ready

40 minutes – 1 hour of commuting & getting changed.

3 hours eating or cooking.

4 hours training, stretching and showering.

12 hours working.

1 hour chilling.

And then of course 8 hours recovery sleep for the athlete.

4.. 8… same thing right?

Training: A Healthy Pastime or Horrible Addiction?

This is a topic I have just written a 3,000 word university essay on, as it is currently being marked I’ll have to save the publication of that for a later date.

There’s a certain amount of admiration given to all athletes, be it the guy that won the high school race or the olympic champion. People pay respect to the people that work hard and get the results. And after all, like we’re taught from a young age, it’s the taking part that counts, right?
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It’s 5am and you wake up to the horrible drone of the iPhone alarm, quickly hitting snooze so it can pleasure your ears again 5 minutes later. 
Training is in 30 minutes but you still can’t bring yourself to go down for breakfast or brace the cold, wet morning knowing that your bed is warm & dry.
You just about conquer the step out of bed, pull on some kit and head down to the kitchen, praying that in some miracle a full english has been cooked waiting for you. However the morning weetabix taste surprisingly similar to the day before, but you know it’s gotta be eaten. Flacking in training is not an option.
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Healthy lifestyle, healthy mind.
Arriving at training you look around and that couldn’t seem farther from the truth. Dull and weary; everyone is feeling the same. There’s some comfort knowing that the rest of the team are going through the same thing, but all with the same question on the mind.
‘why are we doing this?’
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If you miss training you feel guilty, groggy, lazy. You know it’s not been done, you’ll never make that time back, the goals are one step further away. 
So you go, you go because you have to, your mind won’t let you not. You want to be faster, bigger, stronger, better, whatever the aim of the session may be, “you’ll feel better for it afterwards”.
An hour, how hard can it be? A OWA. 1 hour. Of my life.
10 minutes in it still feels easy.
20 minutes in you want it to stop.
30 minutes in you’re ready to stand up.
29:59 left, I can do this.
29:50….
29:45….
29:30…..
It goes through your head that you’ll quit all sport the moment you finish. You’ll never do this again, it’s pointless, pain for no reason. I’d much rather be out on the lash, or tucked up in bed.
Eventually, in what feels like a few hours later, it ends. You feel tired, achey. But there’s a strange feeling in your chest, a relief, a happiness? that it’s finished. You’ve improved and feel better for it, you almost want more. But are you getting better, or just fuelling the addiction?
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So off we go to Kaha’s next destination.. work/uni/home. We feel tired and hungry ticking away the seconds until we could have a little nap or a bite to eat. Resisting the urge to eat the protein bar in your pocket until you know it’s time, constantly making trips to the water fountain to maximise hydration.

Off out for lunch, finally! everyone gets a pint, you’d love to but the voice in your head won’t let you. You’ve got training. You can’t do it, you have to be the ‘boring one’. Fantastic. You know desert is too unhealthy & just a main won’t fill you up. Lunchtime becomes a constant strain on your wallet.
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And so we go again, work, then off to the second session. This is even harder than the first because you have the fatigue lingering in your legs. We could just miss it though right? The little voices battle for a few minutes before you finally reside yourself to just getting on with it.
“Just do it”