I was recently contacted by a triathlete who was just a week away from her first big race of the season. The event was her first half iron-distance race. The plan had been hatched a while ago and the race would form part of a long weekend away with her triathlon club friends. Sounds fun, huh? Unfortunately, a week out from racing and her trip away was feeling less fun and more stressful. As race day approached she was putting herself under pressure to swim a certain time, finish in ‘X’ hours and finish in a certain position in her age group. She asked my advice on how I prevent this internal pressure taking away from my enjoyment of triathlon.
Her question got me thinking about how I approach races and the methods I use to make sure triathlon remains fun for me despite it now being my profession. As we are now in the midst of the season I thought I would share my reply in this column because I think keeping triathlon (or any sport for that matter) fun is essential whether it’s for performance or longevity in the sport.
I have always been sporty but there was a good few years where I decided to step away completely from competitive sport. Having swum competitively throughout school at 1 7 I realised that I really did not like racing. Instead of feeling excited as I waited for the gun to go I was thinking about things. I’d be worrying about who beats me and whether I might not do a good time. Ultimately it wasn’t fun and I stopped racing.
This experience meant that when I decided to start racing triathlon one of my goals was to keep the fun factor in training and racing. I say one of my goals deliberately. I’m a competitive person. I want to get the absolute best out of myself, so I it wasn’t long before I began hatching goals, but I wanted to make sure I had fun in my pursuit of those goals.
Whether you race pro or amateur, sport will always be a bit of a rollercoaster. Being injured, racing badly or missing your goals aren’t fun, but by keeping perspective you can make sure that, overall, triathlon remains a positive part of your life. Here are a few things I try to always keep in mind.
• Before an A-race it’s easy to think only about the times you want to achieve, the Kona slot you want to bag or the position you want to finish in. I always have goals when I go into race. This is what motivates me in training and during the race, but if you only focus on these end goals the days before race week can be pretty tense. It’s not fun for you and, as importantly, not fun for your support crew! Whilst I don’t forget these goals in the days leading up to the race, I do keep my focus on the process by which I hope to achieve my goals. This makes everything feel a little more manageable and keeps me relaxed.
• Similarly, when I am in danger of being overwhelmed by mostly internal pressure that I put on myself to perform, I try to get back to basics. If negative questions like, ‘What if I don’t do as well as I want?” or “What if the race goes wrong for me?” I just have to breathe (breathing is always good!). When push comes to shove all I can do is do everything I can to race as fast as I can. That is all within my control. It is what I love to do. I do feel disappointment when things don’t pan out the way I want, but if I’ve done all that I can on the day I can be happy with myself.
• We’ve all had those races where things just haven’t gone right. I’ve had some blinders for sure! There was the 2008 ETU Long Course Champs where I went off course on the swim and instead of being near the front of the field I was dead last out of the swim. I was pretty miserable for the rest of the race and beat myself up a lot in the weeks (well, months) after the race. With experience though I’ve got better at staying positive in a race even when things haven’t gone well, and therefore been able to take away some positives from the race. For instance, in this year’s Abu Dhabi International Triathlon I was cross with myself on the bike. The lead group of girls had gone past me on the bike and I hadn’t even attempted to go with them. I knew that mistake had effectively taken me out of contention. However, instead of focusing on that for the rest of the race I made it my mission to run hard. This meant while I wasn’t particularly pleased with my overall position I could take confidence from a very solid race. It made my whole race experience much better and meant I didn’t linger on the bad bits in the weeks after.
• Finally, a race is a race. It’s just one day and if things go well it feels great. You cannot beat that buzz. If things don’t go well, I know that one race does not define me. The people that matter to me aren’t going to judge me on a bad performance. I may be smarting for a day or so, but I have always gained a huge amount from a sub-par performance, and it’s fired my belly for the next one… And there is always a next one!