The Things I'm Afraid to Tell You

I’ve been a little more quiet than normal the last few months, after riding the high of Ironman Argentina. I’ve had this draft saved for nearly a month and have been waffling over whether it was “too much to share”. I’ve gone dark (for the most part) regarding triathlon social media. I contemplated deleting my twitter (downloaded an app to automatically delete everything and panicked and stopped somewhere mid-2014) and pretty much just stepped away from triathlon in general.

I love 99% of this sport but that 1% can be toxic.

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Part of it was my own world seemingly holding on by a thread (training, work, relationships, sanity… I have more spinning plates in my world than I care to admit), part of it was just getting tired with the self-obsessed, often snarky triathlon community. Sometime in December, I sought out the guidance of a sports psychologist / therapist and after much discussion, number one on the personal growth docket was committing to building better boundaries for myself. After years of always being the giver, the people-pleaser, the workaholic who always says ‘yes’ at my own expense, I committed to learning how to push back.

Around the same time I resumed training, only to shortly after slice my foot open, nearly severing a tendon, and was forced to extend my month-long off-season into two. My CTL dropped to a paltry 27. Twenty. Seven. Let me tell you, coming back from a CTL of 27 is no fun at all.

At the same time, thankfully, I had two wonderful friends I started spending more and more time with and planning our dreams of 2018 together. After each encounter or group text, I walked away feeling inspired, ready to take on the world and confident in myself. Contrast that to the other relationships in my life, where I walked away feeling drained, doubting myself or feeding into the negative, judging, harmful voices that are oh so common today.

So many people talk about having the right people in their corner, their “triathlon village” if you will.  When I was contemplating no longer racing pro last year, my mom seemed to sigh with relief that I was no longer going to pursue this professional pipe dream. When I mentioned tackling mountain bike races next summer, my coach joked that he hoped I chose "less technical" courses. I spent time interacting with people who loved to snark on and criticize other athletes on social media, whether world class pros or the everyday person just trying to pursue and share their hobby.

My therapist would ask about my support system and while I was quick to sing the praises of some, I found I was hesitant to describe other people that I thought should fall within that circle; conveniently, I failed to mention them. Slowly, I realized that I had inadvertently built a village of only moderately supportive people that caused me to second guess myself and my decisions in the sport—and lead me down that same negative path myself.

Somewhere in January, I snapped. To be successful at the elite level, you almost have to have an unrealistic belief in yourself and your capabilities and use that drive to get you through every single day of tough training. I struggled and still struggle with this. Thanks to my two triathlon (and real-life) wonderful friends, I saw the light in how a “village” should help make you feel day-to-day and how good daily inputs can make the world of a difference. As a result, I re-evaluated and ended a handful of personal relationships and work dynamics that were no longer serving me and had not been for quite some time. I started scrolling through social media less and reading more. I turned off all push notifications on my phone other than text and call. I resumed my meditation practice and built in new daily habits that helped center myself.

I feel more like myself than I have in a very long time.

This is a bit of a secret, but I have started my own project. I won’t call it a book, though some might. After the last 12 months of living in Boulder, living among true professionals, I have realized that I am not one. I may race in the “pro” category, but everything else about the way I approach sport and training and the mental game reflects that of an amateur:

  • I have not had an “all green” week in Training Peaks since maybe March 2017. And before that... maybe mid-2015?
  • I’m probably one of the least hard-working triathletes out there, professional or amateur.
  • When I’m on, I’m on and will work hard—but when I’m off? I’m completely off the rails.
  • It’s a good week if I only miss 2-3 training sessions
  • I have more bad habits than good habits
  • My Work always takes priority over workouts, sleep, well-being and self-care. 

That being said, I think “becoming a professional” is attainable. I have been able to reach my current pro status, gain a few amateur titles and do pretty amazing for someone living the life of an amateur parading as a professional. However, I’m ready to stop choosing the things that keep me from the outcome I know I’m capable of reaching.

So I want you to join me on this journey. It’s going to be part self-experiment, part “By the Book” (an excellent and ridiculous podcast), part “Happiness Project” (Gretchen Rubin) and just part me sharing my own fumblings as I discover what it means to race “pro”. I started (somewhat) within the last few weeks and every two weeks plan on introducing a new professional goal to incorporate and track in my day-to-day. A retroactive overview of the last few weeks will be covered in the next few days, and you can expect more to come.

I hope you choose to join. Maybe you too will discover your true professional side and advance beyond the life of an amateur. At the end of the day, the stamp on your calf means nothing; it’s all about the way you achieve your dreams and your goals.

Footnote: Lastly, and there’s no great way to put this, but I want more people to consider that there are points in their lives when it makes sense to seek out a professional to speak with, rather than a friend. While there is unfortunately still a stigma associated with speaking with a therapist (take it from me: even as a psych major, I put this “taboo” experience off until this past year at the ripe old age of 30), being able to talk out your issues with a non-judgmental third party is HUGE. I’ll never give up my vent-sessions with friends but to speak with someone who gives you direct and actionable advice can be invaluable and lead you to discover your best version of yourself.