Chris McCormack, 3 times Ironman World Champion has been famously quoted as stating ‘Ultimately triathlon is about pain…’ and I completely agree with him – to a point. Yes, pain is a quintessential part of triathlon – during the race. Ultimately, the athlete who can endure the suffering the longest will be the winner, however I believe that it is something else that triathlon is about prior to even stepping on that start line. To me, triathlon – or any endurance sport – is about making sacrifices. A sacrifice is defined as: an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy. This completely rings true to me – giving up something valued. Training for an endurance event becomes a series of questions on a daily basis as weighing up options on ways to spend your time. Sleep or train? Spend time with family or train? Eat a nice relaxed dinner or smash it down quickly and train? TV or train? Tough choices.
The fact of the matter is that at some point, something will have to be given up in order to achieve something that is regarded as more important. The trick to being an age grouper is understanding just what is more important than your event. It took me a very, very long to understand that. I was too focused on my end goal, my desire to be the best I could be on the day that I basically ignored everything else in my life. It is easy to judge me and dismiss my decisions as poor choices, but to be perfectly honest I was so nervous, so terrified of my first iron distance race that it consumed every single moment of my conscious thought. My wife ran the house all by herself, and only saw me at meal times. Put simply, the sacrifices that I was making became the sacrifices that my family then had to deal with.
I think that the moral of this story is to understand that the sacrifices that you make affect such a wide range of people that it is worth considering just how big they are. If you train every minute of every day, sure you might save yourself a few minutes on race day, however if you cross that finish line with no friends and a family who don’t know who you are, has it really been worth it? Have the sacrifices been wise? I’m not suggesting that everyone give up on training right now, however it might be high time to sit down and reevaluate just what you are giving up in order to save your minutes on race day. Maybe it’s possible to train smarter? Or perhaps it’s just a good time to sit down with your family and tell them that you love them and that you appreciate their support.
Today, I am gearing up for a massive race season – including another iron distance race with the view to qualify for the world championships. However, due to a shifting focus on how I adapt my training to fit my lifestyle instead of the other way around, I am spending more time with my family than ever – now to the point that my wife is sick of me being around. On the long days, I discuss with both my family and my coach (who contact each other on a regular basis if they are uncomfortable with my training load) how I am going to spend half a day on the bike and still put in the hours as a family man. Now that everyone is in the communications loop, training seems easier, the mornings less bleak, and my wife actually discusses training sessions with me instead of just being talked at.
So, if you learn one lesson from this article, make it this one: Communicate with those you care about and your work/life/triathlon balance becomes extremely manageable. The sacrifices are shared, and the burden becomes easier for everyone. Once you can have that tackled, your sacrifices become slightly less – still, those 4 am wake ups aren’t great but it can be done, I promise.
And then you can get out and love the pain.
Ben Shepherd - Ambassador