I first wrote this blog for 220 Magazine, but thought i would share it with those not fortunate enough to be able to get their hands on copies of this wonderful publication
So yes…..i wanted to say a few words about ‘stripping down’. Although naked triathlon might appeal to the liberal few who like to let it all hang out, I am not talking birthday suit sport. Instead I am referring to the need to sometimes strip ourselves of the gadgets, gizmos, widgets and paraphernalia that dominate our sport and get back to basics. Sport for sports sake. A return to the ‘raw’ as it were.
One of the reasons I felt I needed to take a break from full time training and racing, was that I felt I had lost a bit of the love. Instead of feeling like I wanted to ride my bike, I felt I ‘had’ to ride my bike. Instead of wanting to go out and power up a hill, I felt I ‘had’ to power up a hill. It is a subtle, but important distinction. Sport had become incredibly ‘structured’. I was obsessed with the minutiae: accounting for every second, every calorie, every breath, every repeat, every rest interval, every wobbly single leg squat. I wasn’t even seeing the scenery, hearing the birds, or chatting to my friends. And I sweated the small stuff … the really small stuff that I wouldn’t have given a thought to when I first started. What tyres are faster? What depth rims on my wheels? What pedals are best? Is someone else using go-faster drinks bottles? How many vents does my helmet have? What colour should my laces be? Is my rear hydration system floppy or aero?
Don’t get me wrong, to some extent I believe this myopic focus to be necessary. Attention to the detail of, and 100% commitment to, each aspect of training (sessions, rest, recovery, nutrition, sleep, massage, equipment and so forth) was fundamental to my success. But this structure, this regimen, this intense, intense focus can also be incredibly demanding and yes, somewhat, draining.
I want to get back to basics, just a little bit. When I did my first ironman in 2007 I borrowed my teammates trishorts (still have them), I didn’t have a swimskin – I simply wore my swimsuit over the top of my race kit; I had a road bike, I had training wheels, I asked an age group athlete friend about nutrition and she lent me some of her drink. And before Kona six weeks later, I bought my race top and shoes in race week, my pedal broke and I fixed it with industrial glue, I stayed in a two bed apartment up a 20% degree slope which I biked every day with my shopping on my back, sleeping on a single bed that was like a trampoline, sharing a room with a Spanish guy I had never met. I hadn’t had a bike fit, my sunglasses were £20 from a petrol station, I got about 2hours shut-eye the night before the race because the next door neighbours were having a full volume, ear blasting, sleep depriving domestic. And I won.
And in Nepal I spent hundreds of hours straddling prem (nepali for ‘boyfriend’ who came in a delightful shade of blue and black, with a sturdy frame and the obligatory knobbly bits). Of course I was sport junkie who wanted to keep fit, race the boys and get high on endorphins, but there was so much more. Biking gave me the chance to spend time with the local nepalis, learn about their culture, visit remote places and see sights that took my gasping bike breath away. Clothing comprised a baggy, shapeless t-shirt in a delightful shade of canary yellow, a pair of equally baggy shorts over cycling shorts, and running shoes. I was yet to experience the cleat. The pre training snack was two cups of sweet, spicy, milky chiyya accompanied by a deep fried donut, minus the jam but complete with parasites and other unsanitary freeloaders. Mechanical problems were generally resolved with duct tape and ingenuity. We went up, we went down. We went up again, and down. We stopped when we needed to. We laughed, we cried, we smiled and the thought of a log book, or an interval, or a heart rate, or a watt, a hill repeat or a protein bar didn’t cross our minds. It was old school: sport at its rawest and most fun.
Of course, monitors, gadgets, gizmos and all the all-singing all dancing ‘new school’ equipment can enable an athlete (including me) to get stronger and go faster. For mathematical aficionados it can be a fantasy of figures. For professional athletes, sponsor investment and a market for these products is what enable us to make our passion our career. But the use of technology should never detract from the most important underlying recipe for success: dedication, perseverance, self-awareness and hard bloody work. This philosophy certainly didn’t do Dave Scott and Mark Allen any harm. They weren’t sat in front of computer screens, downloading data or monitoring beats per minute (although granted, they were probably not staying with random Spanish men sleeping on trampoline beds either). They trained hard, they developed the necessary intuition and ability to read themselves and their bodies, and Dave tells me he hardly even wore a watch. But their times are still benchmarks for athletes today.
This year has, in part, been all about stripping off. Riding when I feel like it, swimming if the water calls my name, running on road, off road and yes, even on a treadmill if I get an urge for that ‘data dose’. I have attempted cross country skiing, roller blading (inability to defy gravity clearly apparent with both of these activities), kayaking, outrigger canoeing, paddleboarding, and even perfected my yogic downward dog (this is best done when not literally stripped bare). It has been unstructured, unplanned and a yes, liberatingly fun. Someone asked me a few weeks ago “Chrissie, if you are not racing what is your goal for this year?’. My goal? “It is to revel in sport for sports sake and really take the time to enjoy the moment”. For an obsessive compulsive that is a huge challenge and so, to me, is a worthy a goal as any.
So maybe next time you go out for a session take the heart rate monitor off, find a trail you have never run before, see the flowers, smell the summer air, feel the sun on your shoulders, listen to your breath, hear the sound of your heart and run wild. I assure you, stripping will never have felt so good.