‘Why am I doing this? Why am I putting myself through this pain?’ Every so often, usually during a particularly hard session, these questions enter my mind. But the answers can often be found all around me.
When I began training for my first race in 2013 I couldn’t run more than 3.5km. I hadn’t done any sport for 4 years, and I’d spent most of that time as a smoker seemingly living for nothing more than nights out. The urge to make a change and to achieve something became greater than the urge for the next cigarette. Fortunately, the opportunity and inspiration to do this came from one of my sporting hero’s. Jenson Button had started his own triathlon the year before, and the challenge was too tempting to resist. I got myself the basic equipment and tentatively set about becoming a Triathlete. I should make it clear at this point that this wasn’t what I originally intended. It was going to be a one time thing, and during the race this was confirmed. ‘This is so painful, I can’t wait for it to be over, I’m never doing this again, why did I sign up for this’. I clearly remember thinking this to myself on a nasty climb on the bike stage of the second race of the day (The Jenson Button Triathlon races twice in a day, a super sprint ‘qualifier’ in the morning, and either a Wooden Spoon super sprint or the sprint distance Grand Final for the fastest 50 qualifiers in the afternoon). And yet as soon as I collected my medal I said ‘I can go faster, I’ll train harder and be so much better next year’. The bug had well and truly bitten.
And indeed I did improve. Training for a whole year rather than 4 months and entering more races this time (London and Blenheim were added to the calendar) made a huge difference. At the JB Tri, on the same course, I went 15 minutes faster, 25% of the previous years time knocked off and qualification for the events Grand Final secured. At the time of writing I am training for my biggest challenge yet, the Brighton and London Marathons. It’s ok, they’re only two weeks apart. There will be three, possibly four triathlons to look forward to in 2017 too, and perhaps the London to Brighton ride again.
So why do I do it? What compels me to spend my time away from work pushing my body to it’s limits and through worlds of pain? Firstly, there’s the sense of achievement, the sense that you are doing something worthwhile, pushing your limits and setting new ones every day, learning more and more about yourself as you go. But perhaps more importantly it’s because it’s work that is being done on myself, both physically and mentally. It has provided staying power, a willingness to face problems and search for solutions rather than run. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that up until 2013 I had a bad habit of walking away and giving up when a situation felt too much for me. I left my first uni because of it, and I lost good friends because of it. I can honestly and proudly say that I’ve stuck out every situation I’ve found myself in over the last 4 years and given my best. I believe you can take so much from sport into your working and personal life. Not giving up when your lungs are burning and pushing on when your legs are like jelly has a funny way of making you stronger and carrying over into other areas of life. Going for that run or ride on wet, grey winter days when you’d rather seek refuge in the warm, dry gym, or even on the sofa, says an awful lot about a persons character.
When I was given a late entry for the London Marathon and knew I’d be running 2 marathons in 2 weeks a small part of me wanted to ‘do a Nico Rosberg’, take on my biggest challenge, climb my mountain and hopefully achieve a life goal, and then walk away and find a new challenge, but I know that will never happen. Triathlon, running and cycling may not be an occupation, but it is a lifestyle, more than it’s a hobby. It’s a dedication to sports that I love, that give me a sense of freedom I’ve never found in anything else. It prepares me mentally for what I call ‘The Real World’. If I hadn’t entered my local 10k and the London to Brighton very late in the day, I’d only have raced once and by my own standards hardly trained in 2016, which also happened to be a year in which I crumbled and became a shell of the person I used to be. Another coincidence? I think not.
In the world we currently live in, there are so many things that can be beyond our control, that we can’t influence no matter how passionately we feel. But with triathlon, running, cycling, swimming and gyming, it’s all down to me. If I train hard and prepare well, I’ll have a good race. If I don’t, I won’t. I don’t Tri because I’m good at it, I Tri because it’s who I am.