If I could choose just one thing that endurance sport – namely triathlon – has taught me
It’s how to be tough.
That isnt to say that other sports arent tough. They most certainly are; its all relative.
But there is a different type of toughness required in triathlon, that sets it apart from other sports and endurance events. It isnt necessarily the physical demands. I have competed in very physically demanding sports from a young age, but nothing comes as close to this sport.
It demands some BIG questions from an individual. It is the mental fortitude that triathlon requires that can teach an athlete so many things about themselves. Good things, bad things, things that make you uncomfortable.
Things you can learn from.
Achieving mental toughness is a long road.
The physical, not to be discounted or over-simplified, is obvious: moulding 3 disciplines into one long event combined with the requirements of hydration, pacing nutrition, all make for an arduous and humbling event. But what really sets this sport apart is just how tough it makes your mind.
Im not talking the kind of toughness that can see you casually walk across burning coals or suffer intense pain. I am talking about the toughness that is required to plan, prepare and execute for the aforementioned requirements.
Whilst juggling a family.
Whilst managing an income and all of the glorious pressures that come with that.
Whilst trying to retain a semblance of balance in your social schedule.
Whilst ignoring the bewilderment of those that just dont get it.
Whilst having fun and enjoying the life.
To me that is the real challenge. This is what we help our athletes with daily.
Again, not to oversimplify (or render a coach’s role useless) but the easiest part of this sport is the training. You find yourself a plan, something tangible and you. Just. Do. It.
Truth be told, the body loves repetition. It is easy for the body to repeat repeat repeat. The mind, not so much. But it can be taught to.
The hardest part is managing the rest of your life around and into this sport.
You have desires to become faster. Desires to prove yourself (hopefully to yourself only, and no-one else). Desires to one day make it to 19.6500° N, 155.9942° W. Desires to be a better human being.
And you have to manage those desires with the reality in which you live. The environment that either facilitates what you want to achieve our conspires directly against it.
And part of the mental challenge of this sport, is turning up on race day – the BIG DAY – with your head clear, free from stress, knowing that everything else in your life is running at an element of smoothness.
Because if it isnt, well the day is long enough and you will be pushing your system hard enough for any little troublesome though to weasel its way into your head and start to chip away at your sanity.
The sessions that condition the body for racing, yes, they have a purpose. They are an integral part of the process and certainly through those sessions, you can craft your mental toughness.
Where your head goes in training is where it will most likely go in racing.
When an athlete says that a session was boring, or that they needed a distraction, that screams to me that there is an immediate requirement to train focus.
Without focus, you become mentally weakened by distractions.
Remember it is a long and uncomfortable day, regardless of your desires. And if your head is fleeting about not thinking about your environment, how you are feeling, how your form is, when the last time you took on electrolytes, when was the last sip of fuel, do you need ice, do you need water, are you going too fast, too slow, what is your stride rate .then you arent thinking about racing.
Its also not about being robot. You still have to have fun, but part of that is turning up doing what you have been training to do. To do that requires you to be in the moment, completely present and accounted for.
And that is tough.
There is so much concentration involved.
When you wash away all the bike bling, race hype, misinformation and misconception, this is a sport that will ask a lot of you.
Body and mind.
And if the mind is weak, then the body will follow. And that is precisely what I love about it.
Over time, you can learn to juggle, adapt and manage, all of the shit that life throws at you as you try and reach those desires. Just getting in there without fear of hard work, is taking you one step closer to mental fortitude, one more step forward on the long road.
You have a life that is not separate from the sport, it becomes part of it. It should mould into to it as neatly as possible. It isnt always easy but the challenges you face in doing so, make you stronger. And you can use that strength every time you race.
Being a strong athlete is more mental than physical.