Sunday, 12 October 2008

True competitors...

What an amazing week!! I doubt I've ever been exposed to such a depth of motivational and inspirational people in my entire life... and if you'll allow me a couple of days extra in order to go back to last Friday I could add Kelly Holmes to a very distinguished list...

It's almost like I'd planned it... this stage of the year is typically the most devoid of any significant motivation, the season is over and not only is training cut back to a minimum to allow my body to recover but even if I wanted to train my next event of any real meaning is months away. To make things worse the football season is in full swing and the nation is fixated on a bunch of overpaid, under trained celebs making hard work of a sporting contest against Borat and his mates. (note: before you think I'm some kind of tree hugging hippy who doesn't understand 'the beautiful game' a few years of working within football clubs at the highest levels of the sport was all I needed to see the light... think premier league internationals unable to hold a plank for as long as the average housewife) Then just when I'm starting to feel about as far removed from an ultra-endurance athlete with Hawaii potential as I possibly could... along pop a host of Olympians to show me the way!

Last Friday I was fortunate enough to attend a talk by Dame Kelly Holmes and plucked up the courage to shout something out during the post-talk Q & A session... how difficult had it been, in both her gold medal winning Olympic finals, to let the other women gain such a lead in the early part of the race? Her answer was that she'd prepared perfectly for both races and arrived in the blocks confident of being the fastest athlete in the field. She knew what she could run and that as long as she ran the fastest race she was capable of no one would touch her, she also knew that typically the others would go off too hard and fade dramatically in the final few hundred metres. All that was left to do was execute what she knew she was capable of... simple! But of course, if it was that easy we'd all pace every race to perfection and I'd have paid a little more attention to my heart rate monitor over the first 50k of the bike in Frankfurt a few months ago... note to self, on May 23rd 2009 - listen to Kelly!

Five days later I was back at Carnegie organising the University of Leeds biathlon (3k run, 200m swim) team in the annual Varsity match against 0ur arch rivals Leeds Met. The Met have a well established triathlon club run by my friend and coach Jack Maitland, this year was the second running of the event and the first as an official Varsity competition. Unfortunately the overall result was the same as last year in that we came a gallant second, but unlike last year we did post the fastest individual run and swim times and had people in the top three of both the men's and women's categories. What was so great about the day was the true competitive spirit shown by everyone involved... 100% effort (at the expense of any kind of pacing strategies, see above), 100% support, and every single person left the track or pool proud that they could not have given more and winning or losing was merely the under card to the main event of 'competing'.

Two days on and I found myself having lunch with several colleagues from the University in order to celebrate the performances of our students who had been involved at the absolute highest level of competition at this summer's Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games. In Rebbecca Gallantree, Alistair Brownlee and Claire Cashmore we had three fantastic ambassadors for the University and three great sources of inspiration for yours truly ;) Perhaps the most thought provoking part of the day however came from Al's younger brother Johnny who had travelled to Beijing as part of Team GB under the Olympic Ambition programme. We were chatting about the Olympic Triathlon and how it had felt watching his older brother racing... he said that although it was an amazing experience his love for competing had led to the almost uncontrollable urge chuck on a tri suit and join in with the swim start in the hope that no-one would notice he wasn't really meant to be there. What was so striking was the absolute honesty and belief with which he meant what he said... he really does love what he does so much that had he thought about it in advance and arrived at the event 'appropriately dressed' Jack may have been cheering on two Leeds triathletes instead of one!! The point I'm trying to make is that from the highest level down we all start out doing what we do because it's fun and we love it... unfortunately as the years advance we begin taking ourselves a little too seriously, and slowly but surely forget the real reason for being where we are... and more importantly, how we got there. I got to where I am in triathlon primarily because I love it so much, I love the training, the racing and the lifestyle... it's been a fine line though and has taken plenty of effort to keep that enjoyment as priority number one. If I'm ever going to reach my Hawaiian destination though it'll have to be the fun way, partly because by enjoying the journey the destination becomes far more attainable but mostly because that's why I started out in the first place.

Finally, to the subject of today's picture, the most striking example of the simple equation of FUN = SUCCESS and possibly the most talented female athlete that Britain has ever produced. Last night Hels and I stayed up way past our normal bedtime to watch Chrissie Wellington retain her Hawaii Ironman crown with relative ease despite an 11 minute stop to fix a puncture. Having raced (and won) her first Ironman event just over 13 months ago in Korea she is now undefeated in six races over the distance and is widely accepted as being unbeatable over one of the most physically challenging one-day sporting events in the history of the planet! An, albeit short, athletic career which has lead American magazine Sports Illustrated (prior to last night's victory) to describe her as the tenth toughest athlete on the planet, one place behind Ricky Hatton's Las Vegas conqueror Floyd Mayweather. Despite being at the top of such a challenging sport and training under possibly the most physically demanding coach in the world, Chrissie's ever-present smile is sure evidence that she's enjoying every heartbeat of this wonderful life... no doubt if there was a table for the most 'happy to be there' athlete in the world she'd be a close second to young Johnny... both of whom have the world at their feet... for a reason!

Anyway, apologies for going on a bit today but it's been a pretty special week. As Hels has already said, well done to our amazing friends who last night added to their already extensive tally of Ironman finishes in extremely tough conditions.

If we can follow the examples set by Kelly, Johnny, Chrissie et al. then this time next year there's a fighting chance we'll be following them over the most famous finish line in ultra-endurance sport...

Speak soon,


1 comment:

Jevon said...

great piece this week mate. enjoyed sharing sat night with you... J.