This month I completed my first ever Olympic triathlon. Six weeks of literal blood, sweat and tears spent in preparation for what ended up being a three-and-a-half-hour grind on the course. Training sessions entailed plenty of rainy swims, humid runs and muddy bike rides, constructing the overall “suck” that comes with anything hard. But before this starts reading as a humble-brag piece, let me say this: some days it really kicked my ass, and on those days I questioned my why with every stroke, step and RPM.
The drive to overcome challenges isn’t bound to triathlon training, of course, or any other physical feat for that matter. It’s the human condition. And it persists whether you find yourself at the starting line or starting your day with a big meeting at work.
As an athlete - professional, sponsored, weekend warrior or otherwise – you usually see the physical evidence first in the form of blistered feet, banged up knees and sunburnt skin. But on and off the course, often the greatest challenges aren’t that visible. These challenges show up as the will to shift your mindset on a bad day, the relentless mantra of yes, I can, the planning of proper nutrition, and the prioritization of true rest and full recovery. These are the challenges that permeate everything.
All together it can be a whole lot to balance, but nothing quite compares to the feeling of accomplishment in seeing your hard work and dedication pay off. Quite simply, it’s when we challenge ourselves that we learn the most. So in the spirit of learning, after three seasons of triathlon, here are three things I’ve learned… the hard way.
1. Better done than perfect.
Nobody (well, most people) don’t see the grueling training sessions. They don’t see the ugly-cry in the car before getting into open water (just me?), or the hours of research and preparation you put into your presentation before the big meeting. They see the impressive output, the undisputable badassery on your Instagram story, the articulate delivery of your work. So do your grind, clock your miles. It won’t be your best every time, but it will serve.
2. Lean on your edge, but strategically and compassionately.
Can’t fathom the idea of running one mile? Don’t go out for a 5k! Jog for a few minutes, then walk. See how you feel and keep building incrementally. Just because you’ve never done it before doesn’t mean you can’t. It just has to be right-sized. The same goes at work – if there’s a big project up for grabs that you’re not quite ready to spearhead, see if you can run point on one part of it. You’ll learn a ton and build your confidence.
3. There’s no right way, but there is a wrong way.
Be smart enough to call it when you really need to. This looks different for everyone, so take advice from those who came before you with a grain of salt. Fueling and resting, just like managing your time and projects, are particular to the individual. Find what works best for you and communicate with the important players in your life to make sure you’re not operating in a silo.
I spent six long weeks this summer learning these lessons. I know it doesn’t really sound like a long time, but every stroke, step and RPM was practice for overcoming challenges in other areas of my life. Again, it goes without saying that this type of drive isn’t bound to triathlon training. But if you choose to challenge yourself in a way that works for you, what you find just might surprise you. Our learnings as we go build confidence in our ability to harness the power within and overcome any challenge that comes our way.