As I sit here, cozy on a Sunday morning with ice pellets hitting the window and a fresh cup of coffee, I am very grateful to no longer be an elite triathlete. I don’t write this with any animosity or even negativity towards elite sport. Rather I write this for two groups of people: 1) my friends who are still in the trenches, and will one day retire and go through a lengthy period of loss and personal re-discovery and 2) The general arm-chair warriors who think training and racing around the world for a living would be an easy and ideal job (disclaimer: it isn’t).
1). Swimming. Number one on my list of things I don’t miss is swimming. As a brief calculation of how much time I have spent swimming, it is almost exactly 10,000 hours, or over a year of my life. A full year (24h/day) staring at the bottom of the pool, and still coming out chase pack (another demerit for the 10,000h rule). Ouch. Crawling out of bed in the dark full of exhaustion and despair, scraping snow off a frozen windshield, not talking to any of your equally soul-dead teammates, and then forcing yourself to dive into a cold pool for your morning dose of pain. NOPE! I like my option to wake up early or sleep in as I please (and not get chlorine-urine-poisoned) thank you very much!!
That said, a year after I quit, I was swimming around in a lake and realized just how hard I had worked to get my stroke to where it was, and I teared-up a little. Darn you swimming!
2). Body Weight. UGH the body weight issues. I know it’s a hot topic right now with Mary Cain etc., but even in a very healthy coaching and training environment, everyone is still obsessed with body weight. Triathletes’ metabolisms are also so messed up that they likely have far less control over their body weight than they even realize. I despise the “Just finished 2 weeks off, happy and fat and ready to get back to training!” tweets. Being a normal person where you can gain 5lbs and not have to worry about it is honestly the best. Also having a normal and healthy metabolism where you don’t instantly put on weight for eating nothing is also nice. Something to look forward to my friends.
3). Getting sick all the time. I am a bit of a hypochondriac. Almost every week I say, “I feel like I am getting sick”, and I get made fun of for it. But you have to understand, if you get sick when you are a professional athlete, you miss out on training and set yourself back a week or two weeks, and then you have to train to get back up to that baseline before you can start getting faster from there. Meanwhile, the more robust triathletes don’t get sick all the time, and they train double the amount you do, and no wonder they are faster!! That’s why I am a sensitized hypochondriac, oKAY!!
4). Racing and Travelling. The travelling that you do for triathlon is certainly formative and a wonderful experience, but travelling itself (the planes and the trains and the bike boxes and the race wheels) is pretty awful. Furthermore, the racing itself is one of the most stressful things you could ever willingly put yourself through. People ask why I would get so nervous for races, and it’s hard to verbalize, but essentially it is this: You have put your whole life – YOUR WHOLE LIFE (I started when I was 4 years old!)- into these moments where you are trying to show what you can do, and you travelled across the world for this, and maybe someone else paid for it, and you know the preparation may or may not have been ideal, and you are never feeling perfect, and you may have slept 0 hours the night before, and you know it is going to hurt like hell, and you worry that you will have a bad swim and it will all be over from there… IT’S STRESSFUL OKAY!!! I don’t miss that for a second.
5). The lack of autonomy. There’s an interesting culture in elite sport where the athletes – even full grown adults – are typically treated like children. They aren’t allowed to make day to day decisions that they know would be best for them, they are chastised and yelled at as you would a child (and never would in a professional setting), and have no control over where they will be, or what they will be doing, for almost every day of their lives. I was lucky to have some great coaches who treated us as adults, but that is certainly the exception and not the norm.
So now, as I contemplate what I’m going to do on this lovely ice-storm Sunday, I am just so grateful that I get to choose what I want to do, when I’m going to do it, and if I workout, I can decide if it’ll be an easy day or a hard day depending on how I feel. For those of you who are now feeling down about triathlon and elite sport, I’ll give you the list of things I DO miss about being an elite triathlete:
1) I miss being super duper fit.
2) I miss the elation after an amazing race. That’s the feeling everyone is chasing, and it keeps you in the sport one more year. (and one more year).
3) I miss training outside all day and not having to work in the summers (I don’t miss it in the winter).
4) I miss how close your training squad becomes, and how you always have friends.
5) I miss how well those training partners know you. You’ve all seen each other at your very worst, so you have to accept each other as you truly are.
6) I miss World Championship squads and feeling pretty special.
7) I do miss travelling to beautiful places and post-race beach sessions :).
Cheers my Friends,