A short piece on forging your own path.
20 years ago I was new to triathlon and looking for results. When those results did not come as expected, I began looking for answers. At the time, I felt there must be a missing workout, special diet, supplement, or missing gadget that would vault my performance to the next level. I read every book, blog, and article I could find. My workouts were focused on hitting a specific pace that I felt was necessary to accomplish my goals, regardless of what my body had to give that day. The drive and passion was there, but the performance gains were minimal and slow to come. Early in my triathlon career my happiest race memory came from my first race- a race I went into with minimal expectations. It was almost a decade before I felt that level of satisfaction with racing again.
20 years ago I was looking for a result. Now I look for a path.
When new to triathlon it is easy to fixate on a desired result. I can’t blame you, I’ve been there. The problem isn’t your ambitious goal, the problem is your misplaced focus.
Focus on results if you want to become keenly aware of what you do not have. A focus on what you don’t have is the same as ignoring what you do. If you ignore what you have (say the effort you can give a workout today), then you are ignoring reality. And as Ayn Rand once said, “You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.”
As a young athlete hoping to one day race professionally, I would conduct workouts at a pace or power typical of the professional athletes of that time- and found it unfathomably difficult. If the local pro triathlete said it was a hard run day- I ran hard. If the local cycling legend said it was long ride day, I rode long. Ultimately, I had no path, because I was too busy following the path of others.
You cannot be truly satisfied with your athletic journey until you acknowledge that your path will be unique to you, and you alone. This is not to say you must blaze your own path entirely- compatriots will share a similar journey from time to time. But at all times you must have the courage to part ways if necessary.
This is especially hard if you realize that your path may be counter to the popular trends of the time. For example, it took me years to realize that I cannot do the same amount of high intensity training as others. It took me years to realize I have issues with a high carbohydrate diet. And I still struggle with the realization that I cannot train as much as others without injury.
The tragedy is not that my path was meandering and full of mistakes- it was that I tried so hard to make someone elses path work for me. A mistake made on your terms is no mistake at all- that’s called “learning”. The sooner you embrace your unique path the sooner you can begin the process of discovering what works for you. Every bend and turn in the road becomes an exciting opportunity to learn something new about yourself. The standard you hold yourself to no longer becomes your training partner or a pro athlete. The standard becomes the person you were yesterday, and how well you are holding up to what you are capable of being. If you can do this, your journey will be more satisfying, and you will learn more about yourself along the way.