In recent weeks and days I came across so many posts, blogs and interviews by and with fellow triathletes about season achievements as well as disappointments. What followed was a string of statements about either a break from triathlon competition or moving on to other endeavours and priorities. Understandably, many of us are in off-season stage and are taking stock of 2018.
On one hand it’s pretty normal and expected, we are human-beings that keep challenging ourselves in variety of fields and platforms. On the other hand it made me think about a variety of reasons behind such decisions for a bit longer then just for the time required to read a particular piece (!) - lost motivation, stalled progress, frustration with no PBs or goals not reached, physical or mental burn-out, life events, new challenges or careers - only to name a few.
One is certain, everyone deals with such emotions and dilemmas throughout his/her life, not only in sport.
What surprised me, was how many triathletes are at these crossroads.
However, rather than deliberating and opining on decisions of fellow athletes, I would like to share my attitude to sport, in general, and triathlon in particular.
Why have I started this sport? Why do I still TRI? Is it for podiums and more Hawaii slots? Is to gain from recognition by others?
The answer is - NONE OF THE ABOVE
I’m sure many would react by saying that’s it’s easy for me to say having qualified and raced in Hawaii (Ironman World Championships) 8 years in a row, many podiums and AG wins, Polish Middle Distance AG championship, just this year alone.
So let me remind you about my story, and how I got into triathlon about 13 years ago...
In 2003 my husband, Rafal, was encouraged by a colleague at work to go and compete in a triathlon event. Rafal didn’t really know much about triathlon at that point. I did come across triathlon when I was studying in Warsaw. A friend of mine was a triathlete and was competing in Polish championships. I even went to cheer him at a triathlon race once!
However, we both been sport-active from our childhood, Rafal - in many sports (being a hyper energetic kid, I’ve heard, he tried every sport available during his school days!) but in particular athletics and cross-country skiing, myself - in athletics. Then we just enjoyed being active, mainly cycling and running.
After his first race, he liked the new challenge and was getting into racing more. Living in London (United Kingdom, just not to confuse with London, Ontario, for my Canadian friends!) Triathlon culture was thriving and it was very accessible for all athletes, regardless of the experience or performance level. Everyone was, and still is, welcomed! I love such attitude and inclusion in sport. British Triathlon has been doing a brilliant job in promoting and supporting triathlon clubs and local races.
Rafal was competing and I was happily supporting and take pictures. However, for me the taking pictures novelty wore off after one season and I thought I want to join the party. There was one problem, I couldn’t swim at all. To solve this problem Rafal signed me for a swim novice course through the winter. Challenge accepted! In my first sprint triathlon race I was last out of the water, suffering from hyperventilation in wetsuit swim but at the end I was thrilled to finish. It was a huge achievement for me. I overcame my weaknesses and did something so fulfilling for myself - I was able to swim and finish a triathlon! I was very happy that from now on we could always train and race together. I did something for myself, I proved to myself I can do it. It was very fulfilling.
I always loved to run, cycle and even swim at that point. Racing was secondary, but eventually I learned to enjoy it and find it rewarding. I think I’m a person that likes challenging myself in all areas, sport wasn’t any different. I was always fuelled by “negative motivation”, if there was a perception that something cannot be done, I made sure to prove doubters wrong each time.
Well, not quite... I assumed triathlon races are only the sprint and Olympic style. Then a Pandora box of middle and long distances opened. At that time I didn’t know what Ironman Hawaii was.
Long story short, Rafal kept moving up a distance and signing me up for these too! Each time I accepted the challenge only to find myself on the start list of Ironman Louisville in August of 2009, a month before our wedding. We got the priorities right - Ironman, not the wedding! (Luckily the wedding was organised by our lovely and relaxed Italian friends in Hotel Aurora, on Lake Como, “no pressure, everything will be ready...” (BTW Lovely place in a stunning location for training too, delicious food, great hosts! Go and check it out if you have an opportunity.)
My internal concern was that I wouldn’t be able to finish the IM swim (not to mention, a non-wetsuit and river swim on cards). Again it was a challenge with myself, I was concerned but I wanted to try. Well, at this race I realised what I really like about triathlon, and longer distances in particular - challenge with yourself to overcome what a day throws at me. In this race as the day progressed I enjoyed it more and more, only to surprise myself and run a negative split on the marathon. Funny enough I was warned that at some point in marathon it would get very tough so I would have to start very conservatively as I would slow down at some point. Actually I was feeling great and had to speed up considerably as it was more fun! I finished strong and it was the greatest achievement in my athletic career. Huge internal happiness!
Over the following years Rafal and I enjoyed training and racing together, travelling to many places and meeting great people. That was my reason to TRI.
We both had been working full time in busy banking jobs in London, but efficient organisation of our time at work and home allowed us to still train regularity without undue stress.
Of course I trained to improve myself and it was pleasing to see my development as an athlete. We were lucky to come across Brett Sutton and his training methods not long after starting our triathlon training. I strongly believe that the training methods we have been applying since are key to our longevity in the sport and protected us from so called “burn-out” over the years. Each year, each block is planned individually for each athlete to make sure that balance in his/her life is maintained.
My mantra in life is to be professional in everything I do, so I was also living those values in training: diligent and consistent. I could focus on each session at a time. I never focused on the future results. Races were celebration and I was happy to be fit and able to race. It’s the process in training and through the duration of a race that I focus on, a step at a time, eg swim orientation, bike fuelling, safety, hydration etc.
So many times I was asked before a race what time I was expected to finish in. Honestly I didn’t know or thought about it before any race. I still don’t... I only know that if I focus on my own race, prepare the best I can, follow my own plan, do the best I can on a day, I would be happy. Then I would look at the results at the finish. It’s an icing on the cake each time of my effort leads to a good placing too.
The 2018 season has been very successful for me in terms of the results. I’m very grateful and privileged to have enjoyed so many great moments in training and racing.
Of course, I also had many low points in my triathlon racing years. I was lucky (while always fit and prepared) to qualify for Hawaii World Championships 8 times. Each time it was massive achievement for me and beautiful reward of my hard work. At times I might have even felt pressure that if I qualified before I should expect the same from myself every time. That could be a slippery slop in our sport so I tried to regain perspective and go back to my values.
I also had many races that didn’t go to my plan. I always tired to learn and draw upon each experience. Many times I was unhappy, angry and impatient for a few days. I was miserable and made Rafal feel it too. (Anyone who knows my husband can confirm that he is much more patient than me!) It was no different in my last race in Xiamen where I didn’t execute a few elements from my race plan but I was happy with what went well.
At such times I always come back to basics:
- I love swim, bike, run and meeting people along the way
- I love being able to run free, relax after a busy and stressful day
- I love being able to ride my bike and enjoy beauty of this world
- I love being able to challenge myself on my turbo trainer!
- Sport makes me feel free and happy!
So many are not able to be active and would love to be .... I want to enjoy it and make the most of it as long as I can...
Nowadays, as a coach, I want to share and lead other people through this journey. If my story can inspire more women and girls into either an active lifestyle or multi sport, it will make me very happy.
REMEMBER! HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE