Its a tough concept to convince athletes… race within yourself, race within your skill level, your technical level, within your capacity. Race so that you do not compromise your health, you do not fuel performance at the cost of your emotional, mental and physical well-being, race so that you do not create unintended consequences. Race so that if you had to race again tomorrow… you could.

Its tough because when competing, its tough not to compete against others, to compete solely against yourself.

Its tough because those who push themselves to their limits, beyond their limits, those who manage to cross the finish line first, who manage to win their age category, perhaps manage to win the entire event are lifted up upon shoulders and are carried around, celebrated as king or queen. Who wouldn’t want to be that one?  Its good to be king or queen… who wouldn’t want to be king or queen for a moment? The want exists in all of us so when the opportunity arises, when the chance that we could be that one is before us… well, the temptation can simply be too much, and many will risk it all, they will gamble with their health to see how close they can come to being crowned.

That we have glorified winning and the winner is not the problem.

The problem is that we have glorified winning by any means possible that the temptation is now so great to be the winner that whatever short cut can be taken to be the one who crosses the finish line first, to be the one to stand on top of the podium, to be the one in the winners circle… is.

The problem with short cuts is that there is always a cost, a consequence, a debt that has to be repaid.

The problem is that the cost, the consequence, the debt are rarely if ever made public, promoted, advertised, identified thus it seems that there are no costs, no consequences, no debts that have to be repaid. And with that attitude in play… its a tough concept to convince athletes… race within yourself, race within your skill level, your technical level, the capacity you have built to this day.

Its a tough concept to convince athletes to train properly, starting from the basics, starting from their current capacity, their skill level, their technical appreciation and overall body awareness. Why?  Short cuts are available, are sold mainstream by industry giving us that opportunity to be in the casino, in on the gamble and… maybe just maybe… winning and becoming king or queen for a moment.

As a coach I train athletes in a philosophy which preaches healthy training and healthy racing: training which starts from their current level, training which focuses on skill acquisition and technique, training which respects the body and brain of the athlete, training which is sustainable.  I have athletes who have trained to compete as cyclists and who started to compete this year at the Kelso Mountain Bike [MTB] series. A couple of these athletes, after completing their own event, went to watch the finish line of the higher categories of competition and the athletes who were crossing that line. They ended up asking me the question: how do they do it?

Although the question the athletes posed was “how do they do it?”, what they were asking in full was… “how do they race with such disrespect for themselves… with such disrespect for their well-being, their health… when the costs and consequences of racing beyond their capabilities and capacity place them at such risk?”

Its a good question.

Its a question that requires the root of why we started to train, started to race in the first place to be revealed…

There are only two possible starting points:

  • One way is to start training and competing out of respect for ourselves, out of a need to regain our health, our well-being, out of a desire to live and to live well to the end of our days, out of respect for our family… to be around for them and around such that we are contributing to their lives, not sucking the life from theirs.
  • The other way is to train and race in order to attempt to fill a gap, a hole, an emptiness in our life… a void that we think can and will be filled by finish lines medals, podium positions, by becoming king or queen for a moment.

Ronnie Coleman trained as a bodybuilder and was crowned king – Mr Olympia – a total of 8 times.

His training, his competing came at a cost…

These bodybuilders also paid a price…
its just that their cost was more than Coleman’s.

But, but… how? Look how healthy they are!   Or are they?

We are sold…

Push, then push harder… to your max!
“No pain, no gain”
Hurt yourself… if you want success

We are sold that Hi Intensity Interval Training [HiiT] is the training short cut and racing beyond our capacities, beyond our capabilities is evidence of extreme health and wellness.

Yet no one reveals the costs & consequences to short cuts.

In triathlon, especially Ironman distance triathlons… self sacrifice to the point of total exhaustion, of imminent failure of body systems, of near death… is glorified.

1997 Ironman World Championships, Hawaii – pros Sian Welch & Wendy Ingraham

The media and the sport & fitness industries have turned sport into life and death dramas,  packaging participation in ‘epic’ events as evidence of vitality, courage, health, resilience, as the fountain of youth, as a cure-all for deep rooted unfulfillment, for dissatisfaction with life, for emptiness, loneliness, isolation, for depression.

The media and the sport & fitness industries have turned sport finish lines into Dorothy’s Emerald City… the answer to all, all you need is for the wizard to call out and state “You are an Ironman” and everything will be amazing, awesome, life like you have never lived is just on the other side of that finish line… all you have to do is get across it, no matter how, just get across it.

As a result, participation in everything deemed ‘epic’ (i.e. marathons, grandfondos, iron distance triathlons) has skyrocketed but no one stops to look around… are we actually healthier, are we actually happier, are we all of a sudden super successful in life, carried around on chairs like kings and queens?

We have an abundance of participant and finisher medals, we have tshirts and towels and headbands galore, we have finish line selfees, we have pages and pages of posts on Facebook, Instagram, we have Tweeted our thumbs raw… but do we have anything meaningful to show for all our ‘epicness’?

Epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and mental health are overwhelming us. Depression and anxiety are destined to be the top diagnoses in 2020. A generation has been raised by ‘technology’ yet is incapable of conversing, interacting, engaging in the real world, only in virtual worlds. Fitness facilities, health clubs, and gyms selling HiiT addictions dot every street corner while medical walk-in facilities offering band-aid antidotes to our addictions dot the opposing one.

What do we have to show for all this ‘epicness’?  Nothing.

So “how do they do it?”

They cross those finish lines, they lift those weights, they swim/bike/run those distances paying by credit, paying with their health, accepting consequences of deterioration of their emotional, mental, and physical well-being as a debt load.  You don’t see it because hospital beds, surgeries, post surgical rehab, hour after hour of suffering and pain in silence, or in the other cases when a casket is needed, funeral homes, cemeteries and cremation fail to make the top 10 list of sport event side effects.

They train and race in an attempt to satiate the insatiable human ego for victory, for popularity, for glory hoping that if they only push themselves a bit further and a bit further still… then they will drink and no longer thirst.