Choosing a race: go big or go home, right?! All or nothing is a pretty typical mindset of a lot of endurance athletes. If you’re attracted to the sport of triathlon, you are a driven individual – this isn’t something you HAVE to do, it’s something you get to do for FUN. So why in the world would one put their bodies through the daily stress of preparation?! Because you are naturally driven. You like to strive for a goal, achieve, and feel that sense of accomplishment.
The problem is that this all or nothing mentality doesn’t always jive well with whatever else you’ve got going on in your life. There are a lot of items in your stress bucket: family, job, travel, daily living demands, and of course the training piece. These are all various forms of (good and bad) stress that fill our buckets. We only have so much room in our buckets before extra stressors become detrimental to physical and mental health. So, when you’re choosing a race, rather than just going for the biggest + longest one you can find or choosing what all your friends are signing up for, take a step back and assess where you’re at in life. You need to account for everything else going on. Just because you CAN make something work and squeeze in the necessary training and preparation steps, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. And just because you can’t be at the same fitness level that you were [a year ago/when you first started the sport/when you really shined, etc.] doesn’t mean you just need to sit idle for the “perfect” alignment of all the life bucket pieces again to enable that fitness level.
I recently experienced the above firsthand. I hadn’t raced since 2015, before that, I had undergone a pretty significant foot surgery that brought with it an extensive amount of time in PT. So really, I haven’t felt “on top” since probably 2013. All that time out of the game will really play with your head. I had doubts that I could finish. I had thoughts that I had zero business toeing that line again. I knew I needed to conquer those poisonous thoughts in my head.
We have 2 young boys at home (ages 3 and 11 months), I can realistically only put in 45-75 minutes/day of training, and I don’t even own my bikes anymore! There were a ton of reasons to not do it, but I knew I had to. So, when choosing a race, I chose one that was local and on the shorter end of things, a sprint tri. I did about 3 weeks of focused training and then a short little taper a few days out. I borrowed a bike and adjusted the fit a bit but probably pedaled on it outside for a grand total of 20 minutes. I showed up, I raced, and it went well! I had a ton of fun, I felt alive, and I conquered those fears. Was I as fast as I was back in my peak shape?! Absolutely not. But it was probably one of my prouder race moments because I overcame the attitude that I had no business racing since I couldn’t train XX hours/day and I couldn’t choose a grandiose goal. I walked away remembering that this sport (even if you’re currently racing as a professional) should be fun!
Maybe you’re traveling a ton, have a super demanding job, or have recently become a parent….no need to hang up your racing hat completely, just pick a sprint race to keep that carrot dangling in front of you. Perhaps you really don’t have a great place to ride your bike or are unable to afford the equipment you need, there’s plenty of multisport events now that are swim + run only so go for that! Or maybe you’ve recently retired or become an empty nester and have time to spare…. then go for those big goals! Do a long race or really go for peak fitness for the sprint/OLY distance and try to place higher in your age group than you’ve been able to before. The awesome thing about multisport is there’s something for everyone at every stage: there’s a great big world of race options out there!
Bottom line: adjust your race choices to fit your life circumstances and align your goals for those races to what you can do right now. Balance that stress bucket and you’ll enjoy longevity in the multisport life.
This post was written by former Coach, Sarah Hankla.