Monday, 16 November 2015

My triathlon challenge - what I've learned

As the end of 2015 is fast approaching, whilst many of us will be busy with Christmas preparations, it's also a time to reflect on the past year and to look forward to what the year ahead might hold.  It was about this time last year when I decided that in 2015 I would take on a challenge that was way outside my comfort zone - my first triathlon. You can read about what inspired me to take on that challenge by clicking here and here.

Well I did it and I loved it! In fact, I've since done another triathlon, an aquathlon (swim plus run) and my first ever 10k race.  If you're toying with the idea of taking on a physical challenge in 2016, my advice would be to go for it!

I'm certainly no expert, but here are some of the lessons I learned from my own triathlon challenge.

Don't underestimate yourself

Don't sell yourself short. You would be surprised what you can achieve if you put your mind to it and work hard. Before I started training, I hadn't done any proper exercise for a long time after being plagued by a knee injury for over 20 years.  I couldn't run more than a couple of hundred metres without having to stop for a breather and I had just taught myself to do a bit of front crawl. The only race I had ever won in my entire life was a three legged pub crawl at uni when I was dragged round the course by the rugby player I was attached to! But I worked hard and, little by little, I ran further and my swimming got better. When I eventually crossed the triathlon finish line, I felt a huge sense of achievement - the hours of training and all the hard work had finally paid off.

Pick something challenging but achievable

Choose a challenge that's outside your comfort zone but also be realistic about how much training is involved. There's no point signing up to an Ironman triathlon if you just don't have the time to commit to the hours and hours of training needed each week as you will be setting yourself up for disappointment. Consider your own lifestyle and other commitments, decide what time you will have available to train and choose your challenge accordingly.

Sign up for an event

Having a particular goal to aim for is a great way to focus your mind and stay motivated.  There's nothing quite like the date of an event looming to keep you motivated, whether through excitement or shear panic!

Join a club

It's easy to find reasons not to train, especially if you're mainly training on your own. Maybe it's cold or wet outside, maybe you're feeling a bit tired that day, or maybe there's a bottle of wine with your name on it. Whatever the reason for not wanting to put your trainers on, joining a club can really keep you motivated. It's great sharing your experiences with others and the camaraderie and encouragement you get will spur you on particularly if you're feeling low. Not only that, but you'll probably make a great bunch of friends too!

Get some coaching

In January I signed up for some swimming lessons to improve my front crawl technique. At the time I thought I would probably only do a term of lessons.  Almost a year on and I'm still going! The coaching is hard but fun, I've been pushed far more than I could ever have pushed myself and I have improved enormously in both technique and endurance. I never used to like swimming much when I was younger but I have definitely been converted. 

Enjoy it!

On the day, don't worry about how fast you are or what position you come in. Try to relax, enjoy the event and cross the finish line with a big smile on your face. And don't forget to ask someone to take lots of photos!

Finally, make sure you have another goal in mind

After the initial high of completing the challenge you have worked so hard for and focussed on for so long, it's very likely that your mood will take a nosedive and you will start to feel flat shortly afterwards. This is quite common. The solution is easy - sign up for another event as soon as you can.  This happened to me and that's exactly what I did to banish the post-triathlon blues. Two weeks after my first triathlon I was doing it all over again. And you know what? It worked!

So, if you're thinking of taking on a challenge in 2016, go for it! You won't regret it! Good luck!

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