FF Life: What I’ve learnt from training to be a triathlete

September 10, 2022: Notes on being intuitive, being consistent, and unlearning to learn

Founding Fuel

[From Pixabay]

Siddharth Shetty is the co-founder of Sahamati, a non-profit formed to promote and strengthen the Account Aggregator ecosystem in India. He leads strategy & design for the Data Empowerment & Protection Architecture, a techno-legal framework that gives an individual control of their data. And that is how our colleagues NS Ramnath (Ram as we call him) and Charles Assisi have known him for a long while. Imagine Ram’s surprise then when he got to know recently that Siddharth is a triathlete and has been training for a little over a year now. And when they met the last time around in Bengaluru, there was much Siddharth had to share about his experience. 

When Ram spoke to us about all that he heard, we listened with much interest. Because in our heads, people who participate in triathlons are endurance athletes who operate in an altogether different zone. They are the kind of people who train to run, swim and bicycle to complete the event they participate in. We had to get to know some more and we asked Siddharth if he could share his experience with us. 

It was compelling listening to him talk about how he has become a better professional, a calmer person who appreciates that life has a cadence of its own, and that the only ghosts that exist reside in our own minds.

It wouldn’t do justice to Siddharth if we attempted to fit all of what he had to share in the written format. That is why we engaged with him in a recorded conversation. 

What follows are condensed extracts from the full conversation. May we urge you to tune in to the video? Be assured, you’ll emerge richer listening to him speak. And like some of us, at least start considering the triathlon—or any sport—seriously. It’s a state of mind.  

Have a great weekend!

Team Founding Fuel     

1. There is no failure

“There is no failure. There is no failed runner. All of us can run and so all of us are runners.”

  • Why he chose to train for triathlons during the lockdown.
  • Triathlon is one sport, and not three separate disciplines. So the way you train is very different than if you were training as a runner, or a swimmer, or a biker. 

2. The learning process

It begins by learning the conventional way

“The data from the smartwatch was influencing my training. At the end of every session I would look for continuous improvement… But now I know that was absolute bullshit!”

  • His discovery of the mental connection with the sport of running and how much of it is also in the mind. 
  • At the beginning, the way he trained was aligned with how he thought about the world; he was heavily invested in the data ecosystem in India as well. It took him a while to realise that it wasn’t working as well. 

Next, you question convention 

“I was not just measuring my workouts, but measuring my sleep, the food that I ate, I was quantifying everything. I believed quantification was everything. That’s when my coach told me one of his students used to measure everything. But never won a single medal.”

  • His first coach taught a swimming class, with 30-40 people of different ages. It was very similar to the schooling experience. The coach was well intentioned, but applied the same technique to every student. 
  • You cannot deconstruct a swimmer such as Michael Phelps’s technique and apply it to triathlon. 
  • The realisation that, if the mind is willing, how much more can you push yourself?
  • And finding a coach in Switzerland, who has coached elite athletes, and who agreed to coach him remotely. 
  • It dismantled a lot of the conventional assumptions around training an individual—when we try to teach, for example, a language—around distance being a barrier, etc. And the limitations of the data paradigm in bringing about true personalisation. 

Then you spot gaps 

“The type of personalisation that we hope to achieve in healthcare, in education… It was quite clear that there is a big gap and we are not codifying the right types of knowledge. We're not capturing emotions, which play a key part in how people learn.” 

“How do you maintain the balance to train every day?... You start to then get into a mental state where, supplemented with the right levels of self belief, the outside world doesn't really matter, you're doing it for yourself.”

  • Technique-driven approaches to training versus just trusting yourself and operating on the back of your feelings in that moment.
  • How do you train every day? Because one’s schedule is very unpredictable. Life happens, you're travelling, etc.

3. Now you begin to define success 

“For me, that became a very meditative experience.”

“I realised that a lot of the current institutional structures we have — how we are teaching people — a large part of this is just eroding the intuitive capabilities people have.”

  • You define what success is to you. And you just keep training. For him, that's been the real shift. 
  • The parallels with education and learning. 

Then you get rid of the insecurity

“You start getting influenced by these very rough approximations, and that makes you insecure”

  • Insecurity created by the logs from wearable devices. When you  measure everything, it gives a perception of control. But the fact is, those signals aren't completely true—they’re just rough approximations. 

4. How does this merge into the professional life?

“You need to build a new system. No data can give you the answer. You have to tap into your most intuitive self and have the sheer self belief that this particular artefact or solution is what society needs at this point in time.” 

5. What did you unlearn?

“Just be consistent. The score takes care of itself. The constraints are really in our mind. I was comparing myself to Olympic athletes. Do I need to? I was competing against myself.”

“You will get injuries. You will face failure. It is inevitable. But failure is feedback. That’s it. So, when you get feedback from failure, it is all about how you speak to yourself.”

  • How do you be consistent? 
  • How you speak to yourself stops you from starting again; that negative energy stops you from training. 
  • Pain is not gain. You run the risk of injury and forget that you’re training for the long term. What’s missing a week when you have the long-term in mind? 

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Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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