As in most years, 2017 brought good and bad races – but that’s sport. Without the ups you can’t have the downs. Reflection on my past performances and training is, for me, an important part of the process. Looking back on whether you’ve achieved your goals or not and what lessons you’re learned – I believe – helps you grow as an athlete. I learned this year that, more important than the results or medals, is how I feel about my performances. Did I push myself to the limit? Did I get the best out of myself on the day or did I quit and take it easy? I feel I’m finally viewing my goals and dreams for triathlon intrinsically rather than extrinsically.
Re-reading the journal I wrote at the start of 2017, I had set myself the goals of retaking the AG British Champion title and medalling at Worlds. But I also wanted 2017 to be a season which was well thought out and considered with no stupid mistakes.
Taking on board the lessons of previous years I decided if I wanted to get the best out of myself I couldn’t work full time. So I took a break from accountancy. I also knew that training full time was not engaging me enough. I like to have something to occupy my brain and considering I am training alone a lot, something that is social. Doing my yoga teacher training course over the summer, something completely different, fulfilled that remit perfectly.
In June, I won the British Championship AG title at Leeds, a title I won in 2014 and 2015 – but missed out on in 2016. As this was one of the main goals for the year, I should have been pleased. However, I didn’t feel very happy about my achievement and performance. It was almost more of a relief just not to fail. My view was that the only reason I had won was that better athletes hadn’t turned up on the day. Although I did race hard, I wasn’t at my fittest and I made a silly mistake in the swim.
I then threw myself into a big biking block to try and improve my weakness discipline. This was tough, largely un-enjoyable and also pretty soul destroying. A lot of long miles on my own. I did see some improvement – but not enough, I felt, to compensate for all that hard work. After all, I’m an amateur and I’m doing this for fun aren’t I? I knew that this attitude wasn’t helping me, and was actually impeding my enjoyment of the sport. Ultimately, if I wanted to perform to my best at the World Championships – I needed help.
That help came in the form of a sports physiologist, Dr Josephine Perry. What I learned from her and the work that I did to prepare myself mentally for the World Championships was one of the most important lessons and accomplishment of the year. I learned to connect back with not only what I loved about the sport in the first place, but also the act of competing. I also vowed to use this approach when racing. I learned that just as physical training is important so is the mental training side of things. It is possible, with time and effort, to train your brain. One doesn’t just have to leave it up to chance. And so Josephine and I worked together to ensure I felt I was perfectly prepared for the race and able to deal positively with whatever came up on race day. To dig deep and be proud of my performance and although fate threw me a curve ball, I did feel enormously proud of my performance and believe I showed true grit. Coming 11th in the World after being so sick the day before and crossing the line with nothing left in the tank was the best I could do on the day.
Winning a race, of course, is a lovely feeling but if you’re performing below par doing it, the feeling of accomplishment isn’t as much as if you came nowhere but you knew you’d pushed yourself hard – and not quit.
With a new coach for 2018 and renewed enthusiasm, I am looking forward to what 2018 will bring me. I’m usually a very goal orientated person. However, on the advice of my new coach, we won’t be setting any particular goals for 2018. It will be refreshing and strange for me to just train for a few months without having my sights on a particular event. But somehow I feel it will be incredibly liberating.