I remember my first Triathlon like it was yesterday. I was so emotional walking my bike down to transition that I had to keep my riding glasses on, so no one could see I was crying. I had worked and trained so hard for this moment and I was in the process of fulfilling a dream. This had been a massive journey for me - 4 months of solid training in all weather conditions and a raft of setbacks including a fractured wrist. I should have been walking to that swim start with my head held high shoulders back, proud of everything I had achieved so far. Instead, I was desperate to catch a glimpse of my reflection; not so I could check my hair or make sure my tri shorts looked good, but to make sure I LOOKED like I deserved to be there - that I looked like everyone else walking to that start line.
When the race results came through I was shattered. It was a massive event with a huge number of participants, so the time margins between finishing positions was absolutely minimal. I think I had come 330-something out of over 600. Had I have come in 3 minutes faster I would have moved up almost 80 positions. Thoughts of ‘if only I had worked harder’ kept swimming through my head. I trawled through the finishing photos and couldn’t find mine – had I really been that slow and un-exciting that I didn’t even deserve a finish photo? I was devastated.
Did I just describe your first or most recent race? Over recent months I have heard differing versions of this same story from many of you. In fact, I currently have a client in the final weeks of her prep for her first ever triathlon and we are having this exact same discussion - ‘what if I get there and everyone else looks really fit?’ My answer to that: ‘what, if they all look like you?’
The truth is this habit of comparing ourselves to everyone else is incredibly common, even amongst elite female athletes. In a recent interview, Siri Lindley, one of triathlon’s most successful coaches, noted that her female athletes not only had a habit of putting more pressure on themselves in training, but that she has to make a conscious effort to ensure that each athlete is focused on her own performance and not their performance relative to others.
So how and when do we actually just start running our own races and stop running everyone else’s? Sadly it doesn’t just magically happen, and it is something that many of us must consciously work on. Here are some things that have helped me along the way:
Maintain a training diary: Not only is a training diary great for planning and making sure you are balancing your workloads, it is also a brilliant tool for pre-race reflection. Make sure you note in your entries how you felt that day or that session, what the weather was like, and other little details that give each session context. The night before or morning of your event, take some quiet reflection time to sit and scroll back through your diary, and appreciate all of the work you have put in to get to this point. Note the times you have finished a session despite being tired, or when the weather has not been on your side and you’ve ran or swam in the rain. Remind yourself that training does not discriminate to a size or shape – training is training, and this is what earns you your spot on that start line.
Embrace the moment: SMILE – you’re doing!!! I’ve never known someone to be physically able to run 5km whilst sitting on a couch. Focus your mind on the present moment of the event or the training session. Soak up the atmosphere around you like you’re going to be quizzed about it later. Remind yourself of the power of what you are doing - money can’t buy the memories you make once you realise you are doing something EPIC.
Know what your ‘victory’ is: for me, I need to be my own biggest rival. Because I am a very competitive person, it is too easy for me to fall into the trap of racing EVERYONE – even in training. When I train with our TriNova squad, I’m training with 10 x Ironman veterans, Junior national champions, and Kona finishers. It is absolutely imperative for me that I am focusing on my own times and pace performance. My motto for this is: “if I get up and do something better today than I did it the last time, then that’s my victory.” This applies to racing also – I only ever focus on my own previous times.
Ask yourself what your victory is – is it the fact that you started training in the first place? Are you fulfilling a lifelong dream? Make sure you take the time to identify your victories and celebrate them accordingly.
‘Tell everyone when you’re done’: in these days of social media it’s all too easy to share our race plans or training with everyone, which can sometimes make us susceptible to the ‘noise’ of well-meaning advice or opinion. Social media can be a fickle thing, where you can potentially open yourself up to measuring the value of what you are doing by how many ‘likes’ or positive comments you get. You might feel despondent because a recent post about your PB on your long run may have gotten less ‘likes’ than the last post about your dog eating a shoe.
Personally, I have a ‘deal’ where I post about my races when I have finished them, and tend not to discuss them before this time, because then the only ‘noise’ I have to manage is my own – and sometimes that’s enough!
When getting into the habit of trying this, just remember this analogy: Climb the mountain, take your ‘selfie’ at the summit, and share it when you reach the bottom. Let the ‘summit’ be your moment and your moment alone.
I will note that since this first race experience I have been beaten by a human-sized tomato sauce bottle, asked ‘how many left behind you love?’ at every drink stop for 17.5km, and finished a personally massive race to no fanfare because everyone had moved on to the post-race concert. Did it worry me? Nope. Because I knew the power of what I was doing, and no one will ever take those victories away from me.
About the Author
Leah is the Founder of Body Positive Athletes, a community who celebrates the physical diversity of athleticism and fitness. A sponsored endurance athlete and mum, this Aussie is classed as a global thought-leader in the area of Body Positive Fitness and in promoting the notion that the term ‘athletic’ defines a lifestyle and not a body type.