This article is written for athletes like those of us here at TriForce. Those of us who go beyond participating in triathlon for fun and health. Those of us who at some point got the bug to push ourselves and see how fast we can get and to achieve big goals, PRs and qualifications. Those of us who, even though we aren’t professionals, make triathlon a big focus in our lives, maybe just below family and work.
Here’s a dangerous question… why? Why do we train so hard and make sacrifices? And is it worth it? Obviously, fitness, health, camaraderie, fun explain part of it, but you don’t need to be serious to get most of those benefits. And the love of a challenge is a big part of it, but that also doesn’t quite explain it.
Done for superficial reasons, becoming a serious triathlete is a selfish endeavor. We want to achieve our own goals and people in our lives have to sacrifice and pick up the slack. Our work and relationships can suffer because we are spending so much time and energy becoming good athletes and those around us don’t get much in return.
But done for the right reasons, being a serious competitor can make us better people and improve every area of our lives and our relationships. The superficial goal (PR, Kona qualification) could be used as a tool to develop character traits to improve every area of our lives and help us be better people to those around us.
What if right beside our other goals (e.g. “qualify for 70.3 worlds”), we made these goals equally important to us?:
LEARN TO TAP INTO A DEEP WELL OF INTERNAL STRENGTH.
There is an unused part of us and deep down we know it. We are animals who are born to run and born to fight to survive. If we spend all day at a desk, making small talk, or picking out paint colors at Home Depot, this part of ourself dies a small death. When we are pushing through the pain at the end of the race, pushing to the end of a hard rep getting everything out of ourselves, it’s a chance to tap into that primal part of ourselves. Most of us will never have to fight a tiger or go to war. We need to create our own mini tests of life and death to see if we have “what it takes.” We want to be in the last 5k of a race, tasting blood in our mouth … and that’s where we find out what we are made of!
Once we develop it in sport, this primal part of ourselves, this deep source of strength, can be more available to us when we need to fight hard in other areas of our lives. When we have a deadline or when facing tragedy or crisis, we will be ready to STEP IT UP for the people who need us.
BUILD DISCIPLINE, SELF RESPECT AND SELF ESTEEM. A PRIVATE VICTORY.
Self esteem shouldn’t come from beating others. It comes from doing the huge things like achieving something you once thought was impossible (finishing an Ironman, e.g.), but more importantly it comes from winning private little victories against yourself. It comes from:
- sticking to a training plan
- going for a run in the rain, even though you don’t feel like it and even though no one is making you do it.
- doing things that other people (or the “old you”) might think is crazy.
- pushing even harder when you start to hurt, even though the voice in your head says “slow down”
- getting on the bike when you were stressed and tired instead of watching TV.
Doing all of these things builds DISCIPLINE- doing things even though we don’t feel like doing them. And we should take the discipline we develop as a competitor and apply it to the rest of our lives. We can use that discipline to work on a dreaded project instead of procrastinating. We can use it to be patient with loved ones when we are grouchy. We can use it to keep the little promises we make to family and friends no matter what. That way the discipline we develop with sport makes us better people.
BUILD HUMILITY AND RESPECT.
The pride we have in ourselves for winning private battles should also give us humility. It should give us respect for everyone out there who is fighting their own private battles- from those fighting to win all the way to the person fighting to make the cut off. We should realize that a winner isn’t determined from placing, it’s by giving our best effort. The sport itself should make us humble. Even a Kona qualifier is dead slow compared to the fastest pros. And even the fastest pros are slow compared to the best single sport athletes. And every year at Kona some of the best athletes on the planet have to walk parts of the marathon.
We could bring that humility and respect into our everyday lives. We can give more respect to the people we meet in everyday life, especially those from more humble walks of life. Chances are that the private battles they have to face are much tougher than ours and we might have no idea what they’ve had to overcome.
BE AN EXAMPLE.
Finally, when we use sport to build these character traits, we are an example for our loved ones and people around us, including children. We get to be an example of internal strength, discipline, hard work and also how to show humility and respect for others. Nothing we say in life speaks louder than our example.
And speaking of good examples, this article was inspired by the examples of the many TriForcers who have great family lives, great careers, and are all around great (and happy) people while they push their guts out every day to become better athletes. I’m the coach, but you are the example!