It’s only when you push yourself to your limits that you discover what you’re truly capable of, discovers age-grouper Amy Kilpin

Okay, so it’s probably a less talked about aspect of triathlon, but have you ever wondered where emotions come into it? They certainly play a role (for some more than others). But really, all of us who are participating in triathlon are not just spending our time, money and energy training for certain races – we are emotionally invested in the sport.

We’ve all been there. When you’ve trained so hard for a race, committed so much time to it (the 5am alarms), made sacrifices (goodbye, social life), compromises (summer holiday? How about an Ironman instead?), spent absurd amounts of money (the carbon wheels were obviously essential) only for race day to arrive and for something to not quite go to plan. The feelings of despondency and disappointment make themselves very apparent after crossing that finish line.

Sometimes this can be a good thing because it can act as fuel to push us even harder for the next race. On other occasions, this emotion comes in a very different form, as well. The same build-up can lead to a very different scenario – a perfectly executed race. Everything that you have invested in and committed to pays dividends and at that finish line, you feel nothing but pure elation. That satisfaction, rush of accomplishment and welling pride is virtually incomparable.

It’s fair to say emotions play a pretty large part in this sport, and while finish lines are an obvious time they rear their head, this isn’t the only time they make an appearance. I discovered this a few months ago, when something happened to me which had never happened before: I broke down crying twice during a run.

I was building up towards the biggest race of the year during what was probably my hardest ever training week. And by hardest, I don’t mean the highest volume. Sure, I’ve done high volume training weeks and that just makes you tired. This was truly hard – it was a week which saw high intensity training sessions every day, with prolonged efforts at threshold pace across all three disciplines. Even my nutritionist expressed concern when she saw my training.

The week ended with a three and a half hour threshold bike session and 4k threshold swim on the Saturday. On Sunday, I had a 1 hour 45 minute run which largely consisted of threshold efforts. It happened to be one of those relentlessly windy weekends which made conditions tough. I was on the run, my legs tired from hours and hours of hard training that week, trying to hold my 10k pace into a head wind. At the end of the effort I just stopped and broke down in tears. This happened once again during the session but after that, I managed to finish. People may think I’m pretty weird for putting myself through this. It’s true. I’m not a pro or a world champion, I’m not even close. But it’s all relative. When you work so hard to the point where you are pushing towards exhaustion – both physical and mental – then you know you’re making the best of yourself that you possibly can. That run (not coincidentally) was probably the best training run I’ve ever had. It’s only when you push yourself to your very limits that you discover what you’re truly capable of. No-one became great by just trying half-heartedly.

Finally, I tapered towards the race, feeling confident and strong until the day before the race. At a world championship event, you are literally rubbing shoulders with the best of the best, and one of the biggest challenges at this type of event is to not psych yourself out by acknowledging how fit, lean and fast everyone looks. Unfortunately, I was having a weak moment, and exactly that happened. I felt unreasonably emotional the entire day before the race, doubting myself and generally feeling pathetic and incapable of most things.

On race day itself, all was fine. I felt comfortable, relaxed, raced well and got a decent performance from myself, finishing in the top 20 per cent of women in the world. Ironically though, the finish line felt a bit anti-climactic, probably because of all the pressure that I had put on during the build-up; a legacy of the emotional rollercoaster I had been on.

It’s funny that our emotions really dictate how we feel about a performance; leading up to, during, and after a race. Sometimes it’s better to not let them get the better of us, but more often than not that’s too much of an ask for most people. Actually, I think it’s nice how we value it and what we are achieving along the way, to such an extent it can inspire such strong emotion in us. There’s a lot to be said for that.


You can follow Amy’s journey on Twitter.

This was first published in Triathlon Plus Magazine, Issue 99