I was reading an athlete profile the other day. It told the story a woman who found her way to trail running and described the experience as “love at first summit.” That made me stop and think about my initial encounters with the sport.
Trail running was never like that for me. Neither was triathlon, actually. In both, my early experiences with them were the kind of fun that is more fun in hindsight. But during, it was a lot questioning life decisions and wondering if I’d make it through the damn thing in one piece. I was enjoying the process, sure, but I wasn’t head over heels enamored.
With cycling, I had to keep going out on the bike with people that would drop me over and over and over. Eventually, I started to keep up and I started to enjoy myself more. I would go out with friends running in the mountains and often pretended I had to stop to tie my shoe when I couldn’t climb as fast (true story), many, many times, before I started to enjoy myself. It’s never been this big fiery passionate relationship. It’s been a slow burn, that, more than anything, has led me to other stuff. The stuff that does fire me up inside. The stuff like getting more people into the outdoors, and feeling safe on a bike, or on the trails. The stuff like making sure women have equal opportunity in sport and, if not, fighting for it. The stuff like helping others realize that their body is an amazing tool, and they should use it to move, to train, and race!
I’m not saying this because one way or the other is right or wrong. There are so many ways to enjoy sport and the last thing I am wanting to do is judge which is right. But this made me pause extra hard because of a conversation I had with a friend last week.
Her and I were talking about life in general, and she was saying how it’s really great that I have been able to follow my passion in life. Her own son had gone to play professional sport for a few years after college, and recently has retired, transitioning back to real life. We chatted about how he’s struggling a little bit with the transition. And she said something along the lines of how it’s great I have been able to find my passion, and hopefully it will also give me purpose along the way, because that seems to be his missing link now that he’s retired.
That concept of purpose struck a chord. “Passion” is such a buzzword these days and it’s easy to see my lifestyle as “living my passion.” But quite honestly that has always felt a bit wrong to me. I hate to say it, but it almost can feel offensive at times! I’d hear someone allude to that and just think to myself: am I really PASSIONATE about…..triathlon?! Or ultrarunning?! Those things are not what I am all about. I do them, yes, but if they were to go away tomorrow, I’m actually 100% sure I’d be okay, and I’d find another way to exercise and be happy.
And so, I’ve always known that the answer to if I’m passionate about these sports is, perhaps surprisingly, not really. I love these sports and I invest a lot in them. And what I have come to realize is that they have lead me to my purpose. And my purpose is my passion —> not the sports themselves.
So why mention this now? Well, I’m racing again this weekend! And yes, for those counting, that is 2 Ironmans and an upcoming three day racing extravaganza in 4 weeks. It’s a lot of racing. It’s hard on my body. It’s hard on my mind too! People ask me all the time how I do it? Why do you do it? Some even suggest that it can’t be healthy (thanks, peanut gallery).
And I think what I’ve come to realize is that I do have this “superpower” because triathlon, to me, is:
You know what triathlon isn’t? It’s not something that defines the kind of person I am. And that’s all I keep close.
Some may think that this is why I’ll never be the best. But ya know what? I’m literally doing MY best. If that never matches up with THE best? Well, then it doesn’t. And that my friends, is sports. Some people win and some people lose, and in triathlon there’s a lot more losers than winners, that’s for sure. You can’t take that personally or it will simply drive you nuts.
And so that’s what I carry with me when I race a lot. I know that things might go really really poorly with some of the racing timelines. But most of the time time they go really well! And because my happiness, my passion and most importantly – my purpose – lies in other things, in the end, I’m good either way. The pressure that I see so many athletes putting on themselves, is off – I don’t carry that with me.
I love triathlon and ultra running and I love that they have allowed me to develop as a strong leader, communicator and coach. I love that they have lead me to things that light up my ambition, and fire up my motivation to do other really good work.
So, maybe, for some like myself, we shouldn’t look for that love at first summit. We should look for that slow burn. That’s how you know where you’ll stay. Happily.