What’s more important than triathlon?

In this blog Hannah Johnston, a valued member of our Tri Training Harder community, explains how her life was immediately turned upside-down last year and her transition back to a new normality in recent months. Hannah was an elite level triathlete in 2015 and has been involved with Tri Training Harder in various capacities over the last five years. Hannah currently operates the social media side of the business so head over to Facebook and say hello!

How would you react if you could no longer complete your triathlon training? I’m sure most people reading this blog will have experienced times of illness and injury and know the frustration when they can’t complete their usual training week or racing schedule. It’s frustrating to watch your training buddies head out on their usual Saturday ride whilst you’re at home on the sofa with a newspaper. It’s not nice to be limited to stretching and physio exercises on the sidelines whilst your friends are running laps of the track. You can almost feel as though your fitness is slipping away as you see each session turn red on TrainingPeaks. It hurts to be the supporter at a race that you were meant to be competing at, watching the other athletes and wondering where you would have placed against them.

Watching others run is difficult if you’re no longer able to join in 

Triathletes tend to be the worst patients. We love our sport and hate being separated from it. We are terrible at rushing back into training after illness or injury – so eager to get back into things, but always too soon. Your body needs more time than you think to recover; once the symptoms have gone you are still fighting to get over the illness or injury and rushing back into things can mean you end up going backwards. Colds can easily turn into more systemic infections or chronic fatigue if you continue to train through them and don’t allow yourself the recovery time your body needs.

At times, triathletes can get so caught up in their training, it seems like nothing else in the world matters more. Getting up early to get to the pool before work, fitting in sessions during lunch breaks, spending hours on the bike at the weekends, using all spare time to check Strava/upload training sessions/analyse your data/clean your bike/browse Wiggle. Sound familiar? It’s easy to get sucked into the triathlon bubble where your thoughts are along the lines of: ‘what will make me faster?’, ‘how can I fit in more training sessions?’, ‘which piece of new kit do I need next?’, ‘how many races can I squeeze in this season?’ and ‘can I beat *insert name of training partner here*’.

But when that training is taken away from you - which could be for a whole range of reasons not limited to injury and illness - it becomes clearer that there is more to life than riding your bike. What else in the world matters to you? Family, friends, loved ones, children, your health, your work, other hobbies, holidays, relaxing, reading. Be grateful that you have these things in your life. When you are forced to take a break, you suddenly have so much extra time on your hands and it is your choice what to do with it. This is where things can go either way; some people will get sucked into the negative thinking of not being able to train and it completely takes over their lives; other people are able to switch their energies to focus on alternative projects and still succeed. Be kind to yourself. To avoid getting into a negative cycle of missing training, being frustrated, getting upset about it and hindering your recovery, use your extra time in a positive way.

What did you do with your spare time before triathlon? Did you play a more active role in your children’s lives? Did you enjoy reading books? Did you get pleasure from going on a family hike? Are you able to continue exercising by turning to a different sport? Have a think about other things you can get enjoyment from.

Being able to train and compete in triathlons is truly a gift, not a given. Be grateful that you are able to run through the park, feel the wind in your hair and have the buzz of endorphins afterwards. At times, training can feel like a chore, especially on cold, dark winter nights in the UK. But after you’ve been forced to take a break, going for that little jog in the rain after work can be so exciting. You’ll never see training as something you ‘have’ to do again – it’ll be something you ‘want’ to do.

This blog comes from experience, as I used to be an elite triathlete and last year I was so excited about the upcoming race season. I’d had the perfect preparation of training full-time in Portugal for the previous three months and was hitting numbers in my training sessions that I had only ever dreamed about. But unfortunately, as I crossed the finish line at the European Champs in Geneva last July, I became extremely unwell and have not been able to train since.

It seems quite ironic that I am writing a blog on how to deal with being unable to train, because sometimes it feels like I am really not coping well at all. I struggle watching my friends, work colleagues and fiancé train and being left home alone. I get upset not knowing if and when I will ever be on my bike again. It is hard to listen to the stories of the fun they had out training that day. Meal times are difficult when they can eat for England and I can only take a small portion. I even miss being in lycra (who would’ve thought it!).

But I’ve found ways of dealing with this negativity and turning into positive thoughts. I’m slowly accepting that this is my life for now, and finding enjoyment from other things such as yoga, going for coffee, reading a good book, getting back in touch with old friends, learning a new language and taking on a new project whilst working from home. If and when I return to triathlon, I won’t complain about how hard my session is, I’ll never moan about the early mornings and I’ll never swim/bike/run without a huge smile on my face!

Enjoying a café stop. It helps when the coffee is so good in Portugal!

Basically, the point I’m trying to get across is that there is more to life than triathlon. Keep your family, your values and your health close to your heart. Never take the ability to train for granted. Don’t moan about your training when you are able to do it – there are people out there who would love to be able to do your session. See the bigger picture. Make sure triathlon doesn’t take over your life. Have balance. Be a person before an athlete. You never know when this could be taken away from you.