“Triathlon doesn’t define who you are, it’s just what you do.”
For most people, life in general can be hectic. I find this more so as a Coach and triathlete. My world revolves around my training, my athletes, my recovery, my sleep, and even my next meal. Things such as family and friends are often gently pushed aside in order to complete that next session or reach that next goal. Birthday’s are missed, milestones are forgotten. Life simply passes us by without even realising it, and efore we know it, we are coming the the end of another season.
We often don’t mean it, but the nature of this sport means that it can be selfish. Our need to continually improve is a burning desire, the habit of comparing ourselves to others lingers after every session, the continual pursuit for a PB is never far away. And at times, we can immerse ourselves so much into one goal that we forget about living our lives, and we forget where we actually started. It’s easy to compare times at sessions, but it’s harder to continually improve those times. The older we get, the more experienced we become. And it’s easy to forget to simply enjoy and appreciate what we are doing, and what this sport gives back to us…. We forget what a rose smells like…
So, 6 years on from my first triathlon, and 3 months on from racing at arguably the highest age group level in this sport – the Hawaii Ironman World Championships, I sat back over the weekend to recall what was my first of many sprint races and reflected on where that leaves me today.
….I remember my first race so clearly. I remember going to the ‘Tips and Tricks’ clinic on the Saturday before the race, laying out my gear the night before, prepping my bike as much as I knew how at the time (which simply meant wiping it down so it looked clean).
I remember walking down to the start on race morning, so nervous I could hardly talk to anyone. I was relatively fit, I’ve always played sport, run and generally been active. But I had only been back running for 3 weeks after a stress fracture, and id only been swimming for 6 weeks. But I love a challenge, so here goes I thought.
I clearly remember lining up at the start line, looking back and seeing my family watching me, ready to cheer me on. I was nervous as hell, but didn’t want to show them. I turned back around to the swim start and glanced at the other girls around me. I was one of only a handful of others that wasn’t wearing a wetsuit. ‘Wish I had one of those!‘ I thought to myself. But before I could even answer my own question, the gun went and I was running into the water. Me, in my two piece bathers and 50 odd other girls who looked like they knew way more than me.
The swim course was a rectangle. I knew I was a terrible swimmer, my first 500m time trial result of 12min45sec told me that, but I didn’t think it was going to be so hard. I swam out to the first turning buoy and had barely caught my breath from the frantic start. So, I breast stroked. Yep. I breast stroked for the next 200m to the turning buoy. Enough to know that I’d survive the rest of the swim. And survive I did. I exited near last in 18:02 for 500m. You do the maths, but that is just over 3min per 100m! :-p
Onto my bike which was one size too big, I had runners not cleats, my helmet old, and nutrition wasn’t even thought about. I went hard enough, but not too hard. As I had never done this before. I completed the 20km course in 39:47 and moved up the rankings from my dismal swim. Not that I knew it at the time.
The run was where it hurt though. The legs felt wobbly, and they wouldn’t do what I told them to. But before long I had crossed the finishing line. And I was ecstatic! I had just completed a triathlon! Something none of my friends had done, something that I’d always wanted to do and now had. I was hooked! The sheer excitement was overwhelming. I didn’t care where I finished, I was over the moon that I had jut crossed the finishing line. And that was the best feeling ever!
In the end, I discovered I finished 24th in my age group in 1:25. Well off the pace of the podium getters who finished 15min in front of me.
I watched in awe as those girls stood on top of the podium and collected their medals with pride. ‘Im going to be up there one day‘ I remember thinking to myself. So before I left, I snuck a picture of myself standing on the podium. And from that day, I visualised what it would feel like for real… And that day did come, just a short 8 months later.
I look back on my first race with fond memories. This was where my new passion was triggered. Where my hunger grew and where my new quest had begun.
And since then, I have gone on to make my new found passion my ‘job’, and what a job it is. I coach other athletes – just like me when I started. I get to see the excitement, the hunger, the passion and the enthusiasm of new athletes taking on this amazing sport.
I also get to ride the ups and downs with seasoned athletes. I share their emotions through their triathlon journey, the races that go well, the spoils of their PBs or hitting mile stone sessions. But I also feel their disappointments, their pains of a race gone wrong, their illnesses, the hard luck stories and the pressure they place on themselves to compete and to continue to improve at a rate that can often be higher than physically possible.
I feel the loss of energy, drive and passion after a big race, or at the end of a season. I know what it feels like to not have any motivation, to hate getting in the pool, to not want to throw the runners on when running has always been your ‘favourite’. It happens to us all. Even to those who you think are immune to it. Me included.
So every now and then, we all need to sit back and remember where it was we started in triathlon. And why we started. Remember that feeling of simply ‘finishing a race’, not whether you hit a PB. But the sheer joy of crossing the finishing line giving it your all. To go out and just ‘have fun’ and not worry about the result. This is after all, a sport – it’s not a chore, or a job. Its a passion, a hobby, a way of life.
So in the past 3 months after my race in Hawaii, this is what I’ve done. I haven’t trained religiously, I’ve slept in when I felt like it, I’ve trained hard at times, but I’ve also trained easy when I wasn’t feeling it. But I’ve raced. I’ve done 5 races in the last 3 months – more than I did all of last season. And I’ve loved it. I’ve loved crossing the finishing line in each of those races. For me. Triathlon is part of my life, so to enjoy it is super important. I don’t want to burn out 6 years into the sport, I want to be one of those old ladies up on the podium when I’m 60! So for now, I have put no pressure on myself to perform. But the benefit of enjoying myself again is, I’m still performing. So for me, that is just a bonus! 🙂
So if your passion, drive or enthusiasm for training or racing, has faltered, why not do what I did and sit back and remind yourself what got you into this sport in the first place? What made you stay this long? What drives you?
To continually improve and be motivated to put in the work it takes to improve is hard work. Nothing comes easy, so be honest with yourself and where you are at – and where you have come from.
But all in all, remember to have fun. ‘Triathlon doesn’t define who you are, it’s just what you do.‘ So remember to enjoy life, enjoy the experiences this fantastic sport gives you, and every no w and then, sit back and smell the roses…. You might just find out how good they smell……
Triathlon Performance Coach
Sarah has competed at all levels of triathlon from a Gatorade Series winner, multiple Half Ironman wins, to last year finishing third at her first attempt at Ironman Melbourne and racing the Hawaii Ironman World Championships.