I don’t know. Everything. Nothing. It means whatever you want it to mean.
My non-triathlon friends keep asking me what that really means. It just means it’s time to move up and move on. It means I’ll race in the pro field next year, with prize money on the line. It doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily earn any of that money. Upgrading to elite/pro is just a choice, another category in the effort to be as good as you can. Everything can be different from before, or nothing can.
There’s been a lot of talk in some circles about how triathlon really needs three categories: age group/amateur, elite amateur, and actually goddamn professional. I heard Sarah (Groff) True talk one time about how the difference between being a real professional and not is partially about making money, but mostly it’s about your mindset. (She also talked about it some in the comments on this post I wrote on TRS Tri.)
In 2009, I started racing elite the first time. Not because I thought I was ever going to be a real professional. I wasn’t good enough and I definitely didn’t have the right mindset. I did it because I had qualified once and I was sick of winning my age group all the time and I wanted to move up and on.
It went badly. Really badly. So badly I instead quit the sport for a few years.
I don’t really think that was the fault of me “going pro.” I think it had more to do with my mind at the time and my preparation and my working 60 hours/week and my getting injured constantly. Which was maybe why I was never going to be really professional in the first place, because I hadn’t set myself up to be. But it was something I needed to work through.
I don’t regret it either. I never would be where or who I am now if I hadn’t done all the random things between then and now. You are a product of all your experiences. And mine have brought me to here, stronger in some ways and more reckless in others. But definitely a better athlete than I ever would have been otherwise.
This year — as I’ve said before — was the first time I really went into a year with the belief that this was part of a larger plan. It was to see if I could sustain the training, if I was actually any good, if I could believe in myself and build a base and do all those things that are necessary to really be a professional about things when and if the time came. I raced age group because it was the only category I was qualified to race in, and because I was an age grouper. I belonged in the age group field. They wouldn’t have given me an elite license if I had wanted one, and I didn’t want one. I wanted to make sure first.
And now I’m sure. I guess. Maybe.
I was reading this story about how the best performance-enhancing drug for top athletes is “belief” and I keep worrying that belief can just disappear, that if I really believed I’d have an easier time selling myself — which I hate and am sick of, that doubt will worm its way in eventually, that I’ll stop believing I can continue to get better, that I’ll stop believing I can do any of this, that I’ll just stop believing, period.
I want to be a real professional about things this time around. And I know what I want that to look like. But part of what I want it to look like is to tell you that professional athletes don’t know what they’re doing either, that they wonder if they’ll be good enough too (or maybe the rest of them don’t and that’s why I’ll never be one), that it’s a long process sometimes of trial and error and error and error. And the only difference really is the belief underneath it all. That’s what it means to race pro next year. To do all the things I know and think and hope I need to do to be as good as I can be, and to believe that those things will ultimately make the difference. Belief is what it means.