When Is It Too Much – Perspective with triathlon mindset

Probably one of the hardest, and most drawn-out decisions (something that is definitely not my style) was when I decided that I was done with triathlon. My ‘triathlon mindset’ was clouding my judgement. It wasn’t that I was not ready to stop racing – I was, I knew it, despite ignoring the ‘signs’ for nearly a year. 

Deep down I knew. 

My hesitation was that I had let the sport become my entire world. It was everything; my income through coaching, my hobby/ past-time/ thing-I-do. Everything I read, listened to, produced and published was about triathlon. I was in deep. And that’s OK – you need to be fully vested in a sport like that to realise your dreams.

But, when that healthy obsession becomes the Overlord of everything that you do, your ability to perceive, and judge effectively becomes compromised. 

For me (and others I have worked with in the past have similar anecdotes) I started putting the wrong things in front of things that (should) mean more. Stuff like my health, my ability to see beyond the landscape of being a triathlete, body-shape perception, my capacity as an athlete, my competency as a business owner – even my close relationships were somewhat compromised. 

Not to handball ownership on this, but I knew that I was not alone in this; it is in fact almost a badge of honour for some triathletes: to gloat about how much time they dodge out of work, to ‘joke’ about an impending  divorce due to Ironman prep, the missed school events, the unhappy spouse, the non-existent social scene. It has become widely accepted that this is more than just the norm – it is essential.

But it’s not.

It’s archaic and destructive to think that any sport or activity should require an almost complete disconnect from your personal and professional life; that the sacrifice is so great, that you would need a new life once your journey is done. More, that the desire is so addictive, that you could never walk away with unfinished business.

This may be hard for some to understand, but triathlon is not life. For a lot of athletes, it is a very healthy, beneficial and therefore important aspect of their lives. But it isn’t everything. Even when you have a supportive network of family and friends, triathlon – or any endurance sport – is not the absolute of your world. 

Once you let that thread of obsession unravel, you can find yourself in a very rapid, very difficult to control spiral. You second guess your ability every day. You questions why you are even doing it. anything positive is a negative – even when you have evidence to prove otherwise. 

You begin making decisions that are not in line with your health, your family, or your performance (these can – should – exist in a symbiotic relationship). It’s not exactly a revelation to suggest that the next to fall into that spiral, is the very performances that you hold on to so dearly.

It’s a pretty crappy place to be in, to be honest. Everything becomes a negative – there are no good sessions. You find faults in everything that you do; worse, you start your own private quest to pick apart any and every minute error, failure or mistake and hold them to your ability to progress. 

Let’s point out the obvious here: that this mindset, and it’s subsequent actions, are a massive handbrake on not only your athletic progression but (more importantly) your life.

You are not defined as you because you race triathlon. You are merely the you who enjoys being involved in the healthy lifestyle of a particular endurance sport. Someone who likes to push themselves, to strive to be better than yesterday.

Being better than yesterday is quite an apparent goal: whatever I did before, I should work to improve on. 

But what happens if you don’t? What happens if today is worse than yesterday? What happens if that continues for more than just one day? Does that result in the ultimate failure? Does it mean that the worst fears you had about your ability are, in fact true?

No.

It simply means that you need to stop, take stock on what is real VS what is/ has become your distorted reality.

A bad session, a bad week, a bad month – even a bad season  – do not reflect who you are as a person, other than the fact that you are human, and therefore are prone to mistakes, errors in judgement et cetera, et cetera. It’s not a reflection of your character, of who you really are?

Why?

Because you are more than the sport; you are not defined by it. Yes, your choice of lifestyle and beliefs can be influenced by that sport, but only in a positive way. The way you eat, the way you train, the way you recover. These can all be very influential and very beneficial to a positive environment. As long as you retain perspective

Triathlon is not your life. It’s something that you (should) find great pleasure (but not always) in. Something that helps to shape you as a better person, something that brings out the best in you. It can, no it should be something that influences your life so positively. Anything less than that, and you need to find some perspective.

I used my own example at the beginning of this simply to highlight relevance. But just because you get stuck in that spiral, does not mean you are there for good.

For me, and I was in deep, I realised that it was time to take a break, reset my focus and take some time to think.  That meant no triathlon. But I am, and always will be an endurance athlete – just because I choose to not race a particular discipline, does not mean I do not live and breathe the (healthy) lifestyle of endurance sports.

And that is my point. There is more to endurance than just triathlon. Triathlon is not a lifestyle; endurance IS. I’ve never been a fan of pigeon-holing, but I do think we can define a difference between healthy and unhealthy in this sense. And I know, through my own experience, and that of our athletes, that you can have a healthy relationship with endurance; you can be happy, perform well and be a functioning human. 

 You just have to find the right perspective.