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Does it sometimes feel like a constant uphill battle?
Are you chronically dissatisfied with your performance or progress?
Do you compare yourself to other triathletes or fit people and feel like you don’t measure up?
Are you constantly nagged by the question of whether you are doing enough?
Does your stress level shoot off the chart as race day approaches, and you feel like a bundle of fears and nerves at the starting line?
Whether you are a beginning triathlete or a seasoned triathlete, there is much to gain by approaching the sport of triathlon from a place of peace.
Imagine being a triathlete who is:
- Undisturbed by conditions and circumstances
- Free from the burden to earn worth and identity through performance
- Confident in their ability to meet the challenge at hand
- Open to experiencing the joy and peace of the moment
- Skilled at tapping their inner resilience to endure
- Able to move beyond self-focus to aid the success of others
The Peaceful Warrior
I recommend you consider seeing the movie, Peaceful Warrior.
The film takes place at U.C. Berkeley, and features a troubled but talented gymnast (Dan) who meets a spiritual guide (Socrates). The central concept of Socrates’ wisdom is that one must live entirely in the present moment.
Dan gradually learns to appreciate every moment, to view the journey toward a goal as more meaningful and significant than the attainment, and to pay attention to that which he is doing – thus increasing his gymnastic prowess. It is all put to the test when Dan suffers a severe injury that could threaten his future gymnastic career. Dan further learns that the biggest obstacle he must overcome is himself – his fear, his ego, and his inability to trust.
Some of the memorable quotes from the movie include:
“There is never nothing going on. There are no ordinary moments.”
“I want you to stop gathering information from the outside and start gathering it from the inside.”
“Where are you? Here. What time is it? Now. Who are you? This moment!”
“Take out the trash from what’s inside your head.”
So, what would it mean for you to be a peaceful triathlete? How could this help you succeed in being the best triathlete you can be? What follows are some discoveries I have made along the way, which I hope aid you in becoming a peaceful triathlete.
Being A Peaceful Triathlete Means…
One of the biggest issues (especially for the new triathlete) is self-doubt and wondering if you are truly capable of doing triathlons. For the more experienced triathlete, perhaps it’s questioning if you are ready to take the next step and do a half Ironman or the full Ironman.
“Believing it’s in you” is the confidence that you indeed have what it takes to accomplish your triathlon goals and desires. It is believing that the raw materials are already present inside you, and your triathlon training is about awakening, stimulating, and developing those capacities to full potential.
Think about it, it has obviously been well-proven that human beings are capable of successfully enduring challenges such as the Ironman triathlon and beyond. When it comes down to it, the problem is you doubting if YOU can do it.
The fact is that YOU can build a high level of fitness capable of doing significant endurance events. YOU are capable of learning new skills involved in swimming, biking, and running. YOU can overcome challenges, obstacles, and setbacks. YOU have the physical and psychological capacity to do triathlons. It may currently be in an undeveloped or untapped state, but it is there to be discovered and nurtured.
This is more than just “positive thinking.” From my point of view, it’s a radical change in how you think about yourself. It means that you never again ask, “Can I?” The only question is, “Will I?” “Will I train my capacity to its full potential?” Maybe you will choose not to. That’s okay; nobody said your goal and mission has to be challenging yourself to the furthest limits of your physical endurance. But either way, it’s a decision that you make for yourself.
Practically, the way of the peaceful triathlete is to stop applying mental energy to what you haven’t done so far or can’t conceive doing in the distant future, and instead applying mental energy to the steps you can take right now to begin developing your potential as a triathlete.
Examples of destructive mental energy would be:
“I could never be that thin.”
“I’ve never been a good swimmer.”
“Doing an Ironman would be impossible for me.”
“I’m just not a disciplined person.”
“I’ve never really excelled in sports.”
“I haven’t ridden a bike in years.”
“I’ve never done anything that demanding before.”
Examples of useful mental energy would be:
“Right now I will purchase and begin reading a book about training for my first triathlon.”
“Today is a new opportunity for fulfilling my potential as a strong and fit person.”
“I can lose five pounds this week.”
“I will walk thirty minutes today.”
“Today I am signing up to be in that Ironman training group.”
“Today I will register for that triathlon training camp.”
“This week, I am going to replace sodas with water.”
Doing it for an audience of one
I know what you might be thinking after my first point. “Come on Jim, surely you’re not saying that every person has the same potential! Are you saying that any cyclist can be Lance Armstrong?”
So, why do you feel the need to drag other people into it? What does it matter to you what your potential may or may not be compared to others? We’re not talking about Lance Armstrong, we are talking about YOU. What is to you what potential others have? We’re talking about YOUR potential.
The peaceful triathlete isn’t consumed with comparing themselves with others, as if their entire worth and identity is based on outdoing someone, whether it’s in the looks or performance department. If you haven’t figured it out yet, there will always be people who achieve more than you and people who achieve less than you. The secret is not caring either way.
Let me give you an example. The other day, I was doing a swim session in the p
ool at the YMCA. A few minutes into it, another guy showed up and began swimming in the lane next to me. It didn’t take long before I noticed that he was swimming faster than I was, and he passed me… and he passed me again… and again. So, while I’m swimming along I mentally begin berating myself that I am way too slow of a swimmer. Instead of focusing on proper technique, which is what I was supposed to be doing in this session, I was burdened by my slow swimming in comparison to the guy in the lane next to me.
So I did what any reasonable (and self-conscious) person would do, I sped up my pace so he wouldn’t pass me as often. I also decided to lengthen my swim session in hopes he would stop sooner. That way I could show him that though I might not swim as fast, I could swim further. Do you see how insane this is?
The peaceful triathlete instead follows the plan to develop his or her potential regardless of what others are doing or how they might compare to others in any given moment. It’s not about others or you in comparison to others; it’s about being the best YOU can be, and desire to become. In essence it’s about training and competing in triathlons for an audience of one: the person in the mirror! Meaning, it’s about drawing forth YOUR full potential and fulfilling YOUR desires and goals.
For some people of faith, that “audience of one” may be God, believing that God created us with these capacities and potential to nurture. Either way, there is peace in realizing that the sport of triathlon doesn’t have to include the burden of outperforming others or the constant concern of how you stack up compared to others.
The way of the peaceful triathlete is to find joy in all the diverse aspects of training and competing in triathlons. A peaceful triathlete sets their own goals that are satisfying, which may include achieving and improving your personal best. Who am I to say that “just finishing” isn’t a worthy goal or desire? Some people are not driven by the need to attain a certain performance level; just doing it is satisfying.
Staying connected to the present moment
Whether it’s the arena of sports or the arts or other areas, people speak of finding and operating within “a flow,” where exceptional performance seems to happen effortlessly. It’s common for a person who experiences this to talk about how they became oblivious to everything and everyone around them, and just “did it without even thinking about it.”
Obviously, the sport of triathlon involves being alert and paying attention to many things. For example, you have to be alert and pay attention when you are training on your bike out on the roads. To learn and become more efficient in your swimming technique, you have to apply mental attention to what you are doing and how you are doing it. So, staying connected to the present moment is not synonymous with completely checking out of real-time conscious awareness. I learned this lesson the hard way one time while biking when I lost focus and accidentally went off the side of the road into a small ravine.
For the peaceful triathlete, staying connected to the present moment involves “taking out the trash from what’s inside your head.” It doesn’t matter what you did in your last triathlon, it doesn’t matter what could happen at some point doing the present triathlon, all that matters in the moment at the starting line of your triathlon is that there is a body of water before you, and swimming 0.6 or 1.2 or 2.4 miles is an expression of your physical, mental, and spiritual potential.
Staying connected to the present moment is also being aware and paying attention to the inner energy field of your body. As you swim or bike or run, your body’s physiological systems are working in concert like a symphony orchestra. Power is being generated through your core, while muscles, joints, and ligaments work together to perform your swim stroke, or biking cadence, or running groove. Your lungs are processing oxygen. Body awareness keeps you present, and anchors you in the present moment.
Within that present moment you can also access what you know is ultimately true of you. Conditions and circumstances don’t define you; they just provide an opportunity and context for you to express who you truly are. Being ALL of you is a skill we learn with practice. It involves learning how to call forth all that is true of us in the midst of challenging and demanding situations. As Lance Armstrong said, “Life, to me, is a series of false limits and my challenge as an athlete is to explore those limits.” Staying connected to the present moment is being aware of the potential within you to keep going, to overcome obstacles, and to be patient with yourself.
While I’m training or competing in triathlons, sometimes it helps me to stay connected with the present moment by talking to myself aloud or in my head. For example, I will express gratitude to my body – my muscles, lungs, joints – for the way they are holding up and performing. I will also acknowledge my inner peace, joy, and resilience that is never threatened or diminished by the conditions and circumstances unfolding around me. What many people would view as “problems” or “setbacks” or “disappointments,” I view as new opportunities to realize my potential and become what I desire.
Whatever your triathlon goals and dreams are, may you accomplish them with peace, joy, and fulfillment! The good news is that this isn’t left to chance; you determine this for yourself.
I’m over 40 years old, but I don’t give up easily. It wasn’t too long ago that I was exploring the idea of doing my first triathlon. If I can do it, you can too! I'm proof that with a little determination and training, you can get a great deal of fulfillment participating in marathons, triathlons… even ultramarathons.