How Serious Do You Have To Be To Be A Serious Athlete?

This weekend we were down in LA at a wedding with a bunch of friends. It was fun and exhausting and probably not amazing Ironman prep. All weekend people kept looking at the wine glass in my hand or the piece of pizza and going, ‘OH MY GOD, don’t you have an Ironman next weekend?!’

Clearly, I should have been locked in my bedroom resting and eating appropriate amounts of lean red meat and kale.

Friday I got fried swimming in the sun. Saturday my planned long trail run + open water swim turned into 40 minutes of running early because when the groom wants to go early you go early. Duh. And, then I needed to nap and meet up with other friends and OOPS! Saturday night I had four glasses of wine at the wedding and then was suddenly very sick. It didn’t seem like I’d drunk enough to feel as abruptly terrible as I did, but I didn’t think too hard about it. Sunday, though, when I got up, I started breaking out in a cold sweat and my stomach felt like it was ripping in half. I had to lay back down until about noon — when I was forced to get up to check out of our hotel. By then, I hadn’t kept any food down in 15 hours, so I was pretty pale and shaky. (It seems the burger I had earlier in the afternoon Saturday may have not sat great and the combination of things made me pretty sick.) Eventually, I had some soup and then a sandwich, but any workouts for Sunday were out. Now, I have blisters on my feet from my shoes — even though Erin lent me flip-flops halfway through the night — and one of my ankles is twisted and my stomach still hurts a little and I could sleep for days.

This does not seem like ideal Ironman prep.

There are lots of very good athletes I know who are very, very good because all they do is be athletes. They skip going out; they eat at home where they can control the food and know what they’re getting; they go to bed at 9 p.m. and pass on social outings. They’d have worn comfortable sandals and gone home early from the wedding after splurging on one glass of wine.

There’s a degree to which you have to be serious if you want to be serious. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time and setting yourself up for failure. But, in the times I’ve tried to be super serious, turning myself into a swim-bike-run machine has never gone well. It’s too easy for me to get burned out and over it. What’s the point if you’re not having fun?

The problem with this philosophy is that if you’re not the check on yourself, then who is? In the past, Steve has been the backstop, since he’s not as prone as I am to eating a brownie sundae every night or throwing ourselves a party of two for Cinqo de Mayo. Only Steve isn’t training seriously anymore, so there is no backstop anymore.

People asked a lot of questions about Ironman this weekend. (Also I asked a few people some questions about it too: like are you sure it isn’t a mass swim start?) One of the most common, though, was how did I think I was going to do? I was just doing it for fun, right? Just to finish? But, I’d definitely win my age group, right?

No, no, and no.

When I decided to do Ironman last fall and started training for real again, I was going to do it for real. Train for real, be serious about it, take things seriously. I don’t want to pay as much money as Ironman costs, go all the way to Canada, and spend all day racing without aiming to do it well. But, no, that doesn’t mean I’m the most serious or for real athlete there. I don’t expect to win my age group. That’s sort of the GOAL; winning would be winning. I expect that there will be a number of other people in my age group who didn’t accidentally drink and eat too much this weekend (or didn’t have their car break down on the way to a race last weekend, or didn’t go out the night before their last big workout, or screw up all the other things it’s possible to screw up). I know that my “serious” is not the same as other people’s “serious.”

What I don’t know is if my version of taking things seriously has set me up well enough, created a better balanced athlete, enabled me to deal with whatever comes my way, gotten me in the right spot for ME. I hope so. Because things are really about to get real. This week is serious.

4 thoughts on “How Serious Do You Have To Be To Be A Serious Athlete?

  1. Well, and I feel like this is the kind of thing you have to try to know. Like, your training and life balance DID get you in the right spot for you? Awesome, amazing, fantastic! It didn’t? Then which part do you want to change? The training or the life or the goal?

  2. Love your blog — I think this is a question we all ask ourselves. I’m serious about training and racing, but I like to live life a bit more widely. I think it will keep us in the sport longer. You’ll do great this weekend because you know how to roll with whatever comes your way. Most triathletes don’t do so well with that!!

  3. I think Cortney summed it up. There’s room to be serious and have fun, I don’t believe they are mutually exclusive categories.

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