July 24, 2018
In his fascinating blog article, Ben Greenfield asked his readers, “Why do you really do triathlons?” His belief is that we are all driven by rational and irrational motivators. The rational motivators are the obvious ones, “Improve your health. Less stress. Good role model. Balanced lifestyle. Clothes fit better. More energy.” Greenfield suggests that while the rational motivators are relevant it is actually the irrational motivators, which get us out the door day after day. He suggests that we are all really doing triathlons to “prove something to ourselves” that we are “looking to conquer our personal Mt Everest” and we burn to exude that “I really am that good, that fit, that motivated, that focused.”
When I first read this I immediately recognized this in myself. The desire to prove to the world that I was disciplined, the need to look skinny and fit and driven were huge irrational motivators. Irrational since I realized that nobody really cared whether I was skinny or fit or driven but me. This “raging inferno” burning inside me was and still is very powerful
It turns out as Greenfield predicts; I am not alone. Researching for my book “Ironwomen,” I asked 40 female participants (all IRONMAN Switzerland or UK finishers) in a survey about what motivated them to take on their IRONMAN challenge. Here are two of their responses. Simone, “I read that ironman distance triathletes are highly insecure, always seeking approval. I asked fellow ironman triathletes, they all agreed; we are just continually striving to be better individuals.” Kelly responded, “I needed a big challenge. I’d done marathons before and a friend of mine advised me to step into triathlon. Almost everybody thought I was nuts when I said I wanted to do an IRONMAN…that challenged me even more.” In response to the Greenfield blog, people wrote: “I take all of the anxiety and feelings of “not being good enough” that I have heard through my life and put all that effort into these types of races. It sounds crazy but it’s the truth.” Another wrote, “I wanted a sport in which I was finally better than my husband. He’s an incredible runner a good biker, and a poor swimmer. But after hard training, I put all three sports together and I have him beat! Is that superficial enough for you?” A third admitted, “I want bragging rights. I want to be the best. I want other people to wish they could do it just like me. That’s it. Plain and Simple – pure vanity”.
The reason we should be in touch with these irrational motivators is exactly because they are so powerful. I think the trick is to harness this power and convert it into training energy. We have all faced the “I really don’t want to go out” demon. Sometimes even a few days before I have a long bike ride, this demon starts whining and the head conversation begins. What if we use Greenfield’s irrational motivators and channel this power to quash the demon. We confront the lazy demon in our mind with our (arguably distorted) mind.
The conversation on a cold wet morning whilst lying in bed before my 100 km ride might go like this. “ I could postpone the ride a few days. I could do a double spin session? If I eat less I will not have to go so far.” The irrational kick back is then, “how are you going to appear to the world as disciplined, skinny and fit if your midriff is not tight, if your arms are not a little sculptured and the neighbours do not see you puffing up the final hill twice this week?” The demon responds, “well I could just go 50 km ride today instead of 100km” To which you dig deep and respond hitting those irrational nerve edges, “then on Friday you will still have to go long and all the carbs you ate yesterday in preparation will sit on your hips alongside the carbs you will eat on Thursday for Friday. And on Friday you should be doing the sprints which you know you hate but love, once you are done and if you miss those you will just be so annoyed at yourself that you were indeed weak and lost control.” “So give yourself the gift of both the 100km ride and the Friday sprints.” “Be disciplined, skinny and fit, sweat your drive, walk your own talk.”
Now consider your own irrational motivators. Pursuing Greenfield’s line of enquiry it would go like this. Why do you really do triathlons? Your answer might be something like, “I am a competitive person.” Then pursue this, “Why are you a competitive person?” “Because I like to beat others.” “Why do you like to beat others?” And so on. These are all good questions to ponder on a long bike ride or up and down the pool. It is ok to admit that it is your way of dealing with your life. It is crucial to keeping asking yourself why. Push yourself. Once you have opened up this little door in your head you have gained a great and powerful tool to tackle those training blues and also in understanding yourself. Physical strength gained from triathlon is only half the reward of this endurance sport, The mental strength gained is the other half. Mental dominance will help you through many a long endurance event and also through some of life’s challenges. The ability to rely on yourself because you can literally read your own mind is enormously empowering. I opened my book with the quote from Bianca from South Africa, she said, “I recently had to speak in public. It was sprung as a surprise on me. At first I panicked. Then I reminded myself “you are an Ironman”. Whenever I am scared, I picture the mass swim start, and remind myself that if I can do that, I can do anything.” So, why do you do triathlon?
Article written by: Tiffany Jolowicz, IRONMAN triathlete and author of “IRONWOMEN” Iron wish, Iron will, Ironwomen. An inspiring insight into why and how women do long distance triathlons.
If you like what you have read, check out Tiffany Jolowicz’s book “IRONWOMEN” on amazon.