This year feels like a punch to the gut and few well-placed kicks while I’m down. I haven’t been my best self lately and the perfectionist in me is learning to live with that.
Checking your social feeds for the ten thousandth time since March, you’d get the impression that everyone is making the most of <<THESE UNUSUAL TIMES>>. Social media has devolved into a mire of toxic positivity during the pandemic. Here’s me being real.
After a banner year in 2018 followed by an up-and-down 2019, this was supposed to be my year. Of course, everyone will earnestly feed you that line.
When the pandemic struck, I was as concerned as the next person, but I also recognized an opportunity. I was confident in my play. I would take some downtime and unwind some hard-earned fitness to set myself up for a ferocious back half of the season. What’s delaying gratification for a few months after two decades in endurance sports?
I not only underestimated the scope of the pandemic, but also the effect it would have on me. The nervous energy and feverish productivity of spring gradually gave way to despondency, indecisiveness and apathy.
As one by one races were canceled, I began to lose sight of my grand plan. Missing out on defending my title at IRONMAN Mont Tremblant sent me into a funk. I flipflopped between days of listless unproductivity and days of guilt-ridden overreaching, halfheartedly pursuing a different strategy every week.
As a pro triathlete, it can feel like your career is only as valued as your past 6 to 18 months. I’ve certainly wondered if other athletes are washed up or burnt out if they haven’t done anything notable and recent.
It’s been 13 months since I’ve had a performance that makes me proud. It’s been 24 months since I’ve put in a training block unencumbered by injury, illness, distraction or undermotivation. Within the next 5 months, every single one of my sponsor contracts is up for renewal. I’m painfully aware of these numbers every day.
I speculated that the pandemic would lead to unprecedented attrition in the pro ranks. I figured many athletes would struggle to make ends meet, fail to adapt to changing circumstances, and burn themselves out trying to make up for lost time. I never suspected that it could be me.
Pro triathlon wasn’t exactly the career path I set out upon. It almost feels like some captivating side quest that I stumbled upon seven years ago. Even so, insidious thoughts of calling it quits snuck up on me.
Am I allowed to admit that I considered throwing in the towel this year? And does that mark me as a liability to those supporting my career? I felt ashamed admitting this to myself, let alone in public.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was squandering the opportunity that a long hiatus from racing presented. I wasn’t leveling up my fitness, I wasn’t recovering deeply and I wasn’t improving my mental health. All around me, others seemed to be navigating these times with adroitness I was lacking.
An insightful reminder from a pro who is winning 2020 helped shift my perspective. Tamara Jewett is a rising star in long course triathlon, but her trajectory hasn’t exactly been straightforward.
“Low key years can be incredibly valuable. There are many different approaches that can contribute to success down the road. It’s not easy to see clearly in every moment what will end up being incredibly useful later.” – Tamara Jewett
Photo: Sarah Purdy
After a predictably tough day at the Canadian Pro Triathlon Championship, I unplugged from the sport for a couple weeks. I didn’t exactly rest. I threw myself into yardwork, busting concrete, moving earth and laying stone until my hands were rougher than my feet for a change. I raged against 2020 and all that could have been.
I also hefted some heavy thoughts and, through a haze of dust and weariness, found a ray of clarity.
I had to lose racing to truly appreciate it. I still crave the cathartic cycle of building, tapering, performing and recovering. I had to try on life after triathlon to renew my gratitude for a path every bit as demanding as it is rewarding.
I’ve been stuck at home for months, but it’s only brought me closer to my partner. I’m mostly healthy, which I no longer take for granted. My income has taken a major hit, but my sponsors have stood by me and I planned for the volatility of this career.
This year crystalized my resolve that my best is yet to come, even if it feels far away at times. I’m also not ready to write off 2020 yet.