Dedication and obsession are key traits of any triathlete, but should we just lighten up and have a bit more fun instead, asks age grouper Amy Kilpin…

Amy Kilpin

Triathlon is one of those slightly strange sports, isn’t it? It gets under your skin and somehow it’s really hard to shake it off. In 2013, I was training for my one and only Ironman. New to triathlon and with only a couple of really slow halves under my belt, it was all about finishing. After that the plan was to move onto something else. The box would be ticked and that would be that. But it didn’t happen like that.

Not only does triathlon bite you like some pathogenic bug, which proceeds to drain your time, bank account and personality, it also buries itself under your skin leaving you helpless to succumb to its needs. Because obviously you need to buy that new bike, those new wheels, enter that race, go on that training camp and spend all weekend training. The list goes on.

When does it become a matter of choice or one of necessity? It’s a fine balance and one I’m not sure I have figured out yet. I know many people who sign up for races and then immediately start to dread them, wishing for it all to be over. Yet despite the dread, anxiety, stress and toughness of the race itself, we still find ourselves clicking the enter button on a computer screen with a quick burst of adrenaline and an even quicker dismissal of our rapidly shrinking bank balance. Addicted.

Triathletes are a rare breed. Most other amateur sports in the world involve a few celebratory beers after a game or event, yet at the finish line of a triathlon we all stand around with our medals and alcohol-free pints of hydration drink like we are all surviving war veterans, grateful to be alive and coursing with endorphins. We revel in our Paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free, fat-free, junk food-free, alcohol-free existence.

Along with the clean living, there comes the guilt of skipping a training session. We all have these moments yet if you look at the entirety of our training plans over a whole year, one missed swim isn’t even a drop in the ocean. We become slaves to our training programmes, but it can’t be healthy. We still have jobs, families, friends and other interests to follow – well the last time we checked anyway!

I’m slowly beginning to realise while triathlon is one of the most wonderful things on the planet, it shouldn’t be to the detriment of other parts of our life. It shouldn’t be sacrificial purgatory, it should be about enjoying the sport, seeing new places, making new friends, feeling fit and healthy and achieving great things. You can do all of this without signing away the rest of your life, believe me.

In the same way, because most triathletes are data geeks, everything is being boiled down to data: how fast, how high, and how powerful. But does this mean we are losing the real enjoyment out of going for a ride because we are chasing Strava segments left, right and centre? My triathlon peers often tell me that I should be doing this with that power and I should be racing to these statistics. It’s a minefield of numbers and while I’m good with words, figures are not my strong point. Try telling three times world champion Chrissie Wellington about how important data is to be successful. She resolutely raced by feel alone.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic that triathlon is becoming such a popular sport. Huge talents are prevailing while the number of races is rocketing and triathlon brands are also seeing a huge boost. However, let’s not forget the age-old saying about a balance in life being the best path to fulfilment. Trying to be your very best is very different to giving everything else up. Just look at Usain Bolt, who eats junk food and sometimes “can’t be bothered” to go to training sessions.

We all work so hard in training and racing that we deserve a little fun and a lot of enjoyment. It’s supposed to be a hobby, yet we triathletes let it consume us. Take a moment to think, if you strip away triathlon from who you are, what is left? Nearly all of us will not be triathletes forever and while it is one of the most fulfilling, exciting and rewarding times of our lives, it shouldn’t define us. We should not forget to be having fun along the way or make the mistake of losing who we really are. We are only human, after all.

WORDS: Amy Kilpin (amykilpin.co.ukIMAGE: Lee Collier

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