A long distance triathlon is not something you can do alone.
We often think of triathlon as an individual endeavour but this is far from the case. Whether it be friends, work, coaches, family or squads, there are times when one or more of these aspects will combine to either assist you or present obstacles to your goal.
Initially I started in this sport (as most do) for a challenge. I was long past my days as a swimmer, the desire to spend hours in the gym was lost and I needed to feel that competitive drive again.
Skip two years and once the crazy decision (at the time) was made to complete an Ironman I sought out Coach Rich for help. His first comments to me weren’t whether I knew about the distances and what would be required, but primarily ensuring that my girlfriend (now wife) was on board. I was told to make her aware of the sacrifices that would ensue and that she should call Richard’s wife Lisa to chat in more detail. It wasn’t until many months into my training that I fully understood this approach given the early morning wake-ups, late night finishes, constantly being hangry, grumpy, or falling asleep by 8pm on a Saturday night (sorry date night); not to mention every holiday always including the bike. Without her support and understanding things could have been very different. I’ve had numerous friends where either this conversation hasn’t happened or the partner didn't understand which created a lot of tension.
Training for an ironman can be a weekly commitment of anywhere from 15-20hrs per week; sometimes more. Initially I was undertaking what felt like the majority of my sessions solo, including long rides, as I didn’t have friends also competing at the time. However, looking back I can see I had a tremendous support network to get me through the weekly program. Obviously, Coach Rich was amazing, always on call to answer any questions and available to provide key guidance as required. Unfortunately for me being based in Brisbane, the majority of this was by correspondence (new for me at the time) so I started cycling at Cams Cycle Coaching once or twice a week (sometimes more) which was a great way to mix up the program with some indoor riding to power and the atmosphere there was really amazing. With the music pumping and the competitive banter flowing from the others on my “line” they really helped me to get the most out of myself and those friendships have long continued. For similar purposes I was also trying to get to a swim squad once a week. A little less time for banter in the pool but another example of a group helping to make the journey less daunting and more enjoyable as a collective.
All of my immediate friends (and family for the most part) thought I was insane. But while there were obvious nights out missed, family dinners canceled or catch-ups postponed, the support received from a great bunch definitely helped to get to the start line. I can now say from that group there are a number who have gone on to complete their first triathlons and some of us are training for an event in 2017, making it so much easier to suit up again and get into a session.
Obviously an understanding workplace that encourages a healthy work/life balance is also critical. There are going to be times when you arrive tired, late (damn flat tyre in the middle of nowhere with no spares left) or pop out for a quick lunchtime swim or run. Ensuring your work is aware (and hopefully supportive) of your extra-curricular activities is important so they know you’re not just being a slacker!
Another aspect is in your body maintenance. The support from a physiotherapist, massage therapist, acupuncturist et al, is vital to get you to that start line. When consistency is king, getting your body through the weekly grind, particularly at the pointy end of the build, takes a lot of additional work on top of the swim/bike/run.
It takes a village to race long distance and I’ve taken these lessons and communicate this to all of my athletes to ensure they understand the impact it can have on their loved ones and the sacrifices they are also making daily. After all, not every day presents an Instagrammable moment (very few do, in fact).
Since my first race I’ve met so many wonderful people from a wide range of areas, located throughout the world. Those I have met through training I now call some of my closest friends. I have the privilege to train with these people weekly and the support from my wife has been constant. It’s been a nice change to return the favour in recent times as I’ve stood on the other side of the fence and supported her training for both half and full distance Ironman triathlons.
While some may say it’s an individual sport and it may feel like it at times when all you see is the pavement or that black line, don’t forget to stop occasionally to thank and appreciate the village you have around you to support and push you towards your true potential. Above all, it’s important to remember that for any naysayers out there who may stumble into your village, there are always two more supportive people just around the corner who will happily their place.