Not so long ago I was flirting on and off with taking an old love affair of mine up to a new level of commitment. I’d Google it, and research what others were saying about it, all in my quest to decide if it was worth my time and effort. I’d look at the options, and pros and cons of such an undertaking. I’d ask my friends who had experienced it what they thought of the idea. Most of them expressed their enthusiasm to me and gave me their best tips. Some were more neutral and expressed concern for some of the risks involved. I even went as far as announcing to everyone as we gave personal updates around the table at a work meeting, that I was taking on this new challenge. If was as if by announcing it out loud to some colleagues that it would somehow cement my present ambiguity into a future of rock solid motivation. Well, that meeting was about six months ago. After retiring from professional racing, it was a slow realization that I just wasn’t willing to make the commitment to train for and compete in a marathon. While I still workout nearly every day and try to push the pain pace at least once per week, I have shifted my priorities now and it has been a slow process of letting go.
We always have the power of choice.
If you are an athlete with competitive goals you probably more willing to do things most of your non-competitive or recreational athlete friends are not, at least not on a regular, weekly basis.
When I was a competitive middle distance runner on the track, I was willing to push through pain in the legs and lungs that nothing else I’ve done since has really compared to. It was the only way to train my body and my brain to run a 1500m race as fast as possible.
As a cyclist training for mountain bike racing, I was willing to go for 3-4 hour rides in the pouring rain at a temperature of 5 degrees Celsius. Hands and feet frozen by the end, I enjoyed every hot shower of satisfaction knowing that I’d put in the work and was mentally tougher for it. On the trails I was willing to regularly push my comfort zones in order to come out the other side a more competent and confident rider each time I did.
As an Xterra triathlete and new mother of one and then two babies, then toddlers, then preschoolers, I was willing to put in 15-20 hours of consistent training per week despite the extra fatigue, and varying degrees of mom-guilt. I did it because it was a new and motivating challenge, and I wanted to prove to myself and others that motherhood doesn’t mean giving up your competitive goals, especially if you’re not ready to.
In post-retirement reflection, I can say I was willing in all of the above examples, I was choosing it daily even though I didn’t fully realize it at the time. I might have used the words, “have to” or “needing to” do such and such a workout or race.
In the sometimes all-consuming identity of being an athlete, it is easy to get stuck in the rut of “have to” or “need to” thinking. After 30 years of this athlete-centered thinking, it has taken time to unlearn this pattern of automatic craving to work towards a new race goal, the next hit of adrenaline on the schedule. To detach from the comfort and structure of the competitive athlete lifestyle, is to find freedom again in the choosing of new avenues to direct our finite amount of energy and time. There are many check points in the athletic journey where you can take time to answer the basic question – am I still willing to do what it takes on a daily basis to reach my goals? If yes, then keep going. If the honest answer eventually no, then be okay with that too, you are still you despite the status of your current relationship with your sport. Hang on for the right reasons. And if you choose to let go have patience with the process. And of course it never needs to be all or nothing or final, there are many shades of grey and like a good coffee the process needs time to percolate.
I was recently asked again by another friend if I wanted to train for a marathon with her, and being highly socially motivated I was tempted. But no thanks. At least not right now.