When I first got into triathlon, I used to watch Ironman and ITU races on TV and wonder what life was like for those athletes. I believed that professional triathletes just drank coffee, went to photo shoots and were flooded with constant offers of chique new gear. Who wouldn’t think how awesome it would be to be able to train every single day, race in amazing locations around the world and have sponsor logos plastered all over your tri-suit?
Nowadays I know better and people often ask me what it feels like to be one of them. Four times this week, to be precise. This high frequency has compelled me to put together nine facts about my life as a pro. I have learned firsthand that life as a professional triathlete is incredibly tough and for every moment of glory there are 100 more moments of pain. But for every moment of pain there has always been a friend to motivate me or make me laugh to get me through the session. The writer Kurt Vonnegut said it best when he said, “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning to do afterward!”
1 My life as a professional triathlete requires me to be at work 24 hours a day – I eat, sleep and breathe triathlon. This obsessive nature can make you go crazy at times. The very first thought that runs through my mind when I wake up in the morning is how low my resting heart rate is today. I also have to admit that I get more satisfaction from not gaining weight by not eating dessert, than I would otherwise get out of eating a delicious dessert.
2 Doing anything physical other than my training is completely off the cards. If I am standing, I would prefer to sit and if I am sitting, I would much prefer to be lying down. You cannot train optimally without a sufficient amount of rest between sessions. I however sometimes have trouble convincing friends that my afternoon nap is part of my job.
3 The so-called “social athlete” doesn’t exist in professional triathlon. When you’re not training you’re too tired to do anything else. I read a lot but my literary collection has gone from John Grisham and Jodi Picoult novels to swimming, running and cycling biomechanics and also sport psychology research material. Dating is difficult due to the ridiculous hours that I train and most guys get disappointed when they realise that you do not actually wear a swimsuit 24 hours a day! Late nights with friends are a rarity with me getting to bed earlier than most 80 year olds, most days of the week and I even go training on my days off. As my triathlete friends say, “If we had something better to do, we would honestly be doing it!”
4 During 2012 I flew 30 times and competed on five continents. However I very seldom get to experience those amazing locations and most flights require me to burst into tears to get the person behind the counter to allow me to take my bike on the flight. Going to a race in a foreign city very often involves seeing the race course, the inside of my hotel room and negotiating the confusing foreign airport and public transport systems with a heavy bike and bag full of race clothing and nutrition.
5 Living out of a suitcase for nine months of a year has taught me to live simplistically. When heading on a training camp for four months, I need to make sure all my belongings, including a bike and race wheels, do not weight more than 25kg. This has forced me to commit many fashion crimes when trying to match my luminous orange running shoes to my outfit on the odd post-race team dinner.
6 Before I start a race, my motivation to race fast is to have food to eat and funds to travel to the next race location where I have the honour of being as stressed about earning prize money as this one. My livelihood depends on my performance and unfortunately it’s the one occupation where you can’t relieve that stress with alcohol or comfort eating – it’s not too good for performance!
7 The thirty playlist titles on my iTunes are labelled: Run mix 1 – 10, Bike mix 1 – 10 and Race music 1 – 10.
8 Where I use to log onto Yahoo and CNN to read up on the latest news in the world, my main source is now triathlon.org and various other triathlon websites.
9 I spend a considerable amount of time away from my family and friends and any special family occasions have to coincide with my racing and training schedule, otherwise I unfortunately cannot attend them.
But all jokes aside (all of it has been in case you didn’t notice), I absolutely love what I do! Being able to pursue a career as a professional triathlete is an immense privilege. I never forget that, even when everything goes wrong and I have to fight like hell to get my A-Game back.
Triathlon has given me the opportunity to do what I enjoy doing most: get the absolute best out of myself and make my family, friends and my country proud. The satisfaction I get after a great result after months, years and decades of personal sacrifice and hard work, makes it all worth it! But it still gives me the right to complain sometimes.
Originally published in the May/June 2013 issue.