Recently I’ve had a number of conversations with discontent athletes. Some of these athletes are up-and-coming elites, while others are relatively beginner age-group athletes. However they all share something in common; that is, they can’t stop comparing themselves to others! I’m not talking about comparing personal best times, or about comparing yourself to Joe Muscles who keeps taking your KOMs on Strava. I’m talking about comparing triathlon lifestyles.
Let me explain. When athletes first start triathlon, the inevitable fitness gains and enjoyment from spending copious amounts of time exercising is a natural high. Add the sense of community and accomplishment, and it is no wonder that so many people get hooked to triathlon. However, as athletes become more dedicated to the sport, it becomes apparent that there will always be more they can do. They can add in strength training, mobility, rolling, physiotherapy… and soon there just isn’t enough time in the day! This is the point where athletes first begin to begrudge the professionals. I can’t count how many times I have heard, “Well you have it easy! I wish I could just train all day!” What then follows is envy of any athlete who has it “easier”. Maybe it is your main competitor, who doesn’t have children and can spend all their hard earned money on the latest bikes and equipment. Alternatively, it could be your training partner whose job is a lot less stressful than your own, and who seems to have so much energy at each session. No matter what the reason, there is always going to be someone who has it easier.
Let me tell you a secret though. Professionals experience the same comparison-envy. Not only is there always going to be a competitor whose federation pays better, and therefore those athletes can afford to go to more races (not to mention eat), but there is even smaller comparisons towards the volumes or intensities of training that one athlete can handle versus another. Personally, it took me a very long time to accept the fact that I am not good at sleeping. Because I struggle with sleep, I do not recover as well as my teammates, and therefore I get sick or injured more often. Believe me, the professional triathlete lifestyle doesn’t seem that easy when your source of income and self-worth depends on your ability to train and race, and you are constantly sidelined.
Luckily there is a solution to this problem, and that is that every triathlete, newbie to professional, can stop comparing themselves to others and start embracing their own particular circumstances. The best change I made to my training was to accept that I would never hit the volume of training that some of my training partners would, but that I could excel with less so long as I made good decisions to avoid injury and illness. I had to get to the point where I could stand on a start line knowing that I could be competitive with the training that I had done, because it was my best training. Similarly I am trying to impart this confidence into my athletes by teaching them that each and every athlete has their own set of challenges, and that all they can do is be the very best version of themselves with their given lifestyles. Importantly, when you realize that everyone has challenges, you can accept that you have the same potential as everyone else to succeed, and to win. All you need to do is stop comparing yourself to others.