Happy new year to you all! Hope you celebrated in style and are looking forward to an amazing 2014, full of challenges, goals, fun and laughter.

In response to some requests on Twitter, I thought i would republish my ‘A to a Q’ I received for my column in 220 Magazine  – all about body confidence ….

I am new to the Triathlon scene and what bothers me more than the actual race is the worry of not being comfortable within myself when wearing my Tri suit. This is not vanity, otherwise I’d be fussing over what colour, or what make the ‘cool’ kids on the scene are wearing. No, this is more about wanting to change my mind set to see a Tri suit as a necessary tool to race in and not feel self conscious about how I look in it (or worry about what other people may think), as at the end of the day, if you’re not confident in how you feel when standing on the start line, how can you have the confidence to perform? Dave

Thanks so much for this (brave) question. You’re definitely not alone and many athletes, and people generally, are dealing with same concerns and fears.  Even professional triathletes, with their toned and honed physiques, sometimes feel imperfect, inadequate, insecure and anxious.

I speak from personal experience. For some of my young adult years I hated my external body. I compared myself, self depreciatively, to others. I would stand in front of the mirror, my mind full of criticism at the image that stared back. Even when I was a pro I used to look around at my peers and worry that they looked so much stronger, more toned, or fitter than me!

But, really, our bodies are not the external form, but the internal – the muscles, bones, blood, tendons and, of course, the mind. Our focus should be less about what our bodies look like, and more on what we can do with them each and every day. Our bodies and minds enable us to achieve great things – to work, travel, write, paint, and yes, do triathlons too. That holistic perspective is what has enabled me to slowly develop an appreciation for the mirrored image. Whether I fit into a small/medium/large items of lycra or am 9st1lb or 9st7lb is irrelevant: it’s whether those pounds are serving my goals that truly matters. I’ve seen enough six packs walking an ironman marathon to know that toned ab muscles don’t always lead to better race performances.

It’s not a beauty contest that you’re entering. It’s a test of mind. The focus must be on training that brain so that it is capable of withstanding self-doubt, wobbles in self-esteem, adversity and discomfort. Developing that inner confidence to wear your tri suit with pride is part of this amazing journey. It’s part of the triathlon challenge. One we all take. As you say, its not about vanity – its about having the self-assurance to a) set a goal and b) go out there and get it in clothes that you can be both physically and emotionally comfortable in.

Never forget that you’re doing something that so many would not dare to do Dave …. That is, enter triathlons. This, in itself, means you have courage and confidence. – The next step is to try to view your body less as an external ‘visual’ image and more as an amazing vehicle that will help you achieve this amazing sporting goal. And like cars, these triathlon vehicles come in all shapes and sizes: from the trucks that go all day to the speedier racing variety, and everything in between. We are all individuals. Even at pro level we’re built differently, so try not to compare yourself to your peers. There is no one ideal triathlete shape or size; what’s more if you wait until you are a target shape to do anything you could be waiting forever. The time is now!

Of course, through triathlon your body shape may alter but it is the internal changes that are key: the development of strength in mind and body, power, and the happiness and enjoyment that comes from training and racing. You will continually develop self-confidence and self-belief through challenging yourself, testing your limits and achieving your goals. It may also come from joining a club and leaning on those around you for support and encouragement. When I have self confidence wobbles I remind myself that I am not alone in having these feelings and, plus, no one is looking at me in the same way as I look at myself.  I also recall the inspirational people I’ve met through the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Children with no legs, yet whose bravery, confidence and determination is limitless. I also remind myself that my body is a unique combination of my mother and father – to criticise my body is to criticise them – and that is something I would never do.

I bet my bottom (or any) dollar that come race day you’ll be more focused on your last minute preparation and your race plan than you’ll be on the reflection in the mirror. And what’s more, at mile 5 on the run, everyone is in the same boat. Cameras will capture hilarious facial expressions, bloated bellies that look like you have swallowed 10 pints, sweat, blood and other bodily fluids, mad hair ….. this is part of the sport that we all love to do!

Dave, I have seen people that are 80lbs and those that are 250lbs complete an ironman. We must celebrate our individuality, and be grateful for the amazing opportunity we have to do this sport, to be healthy and be active, to train and to race, to be with friends, visit new places and challenge ourselves and our limits, mentally and physically. Whether or not we have a spare few pounds around our waist should not define us, or our emotions. So please – BE KIND TO YOURSELF.  With your body  – the body you have clothed in lycra right now – you can achieve great things, inside and out of sport. So wear that tri suit with pride and confidence, and go get your goals!

This was first published in http://www.220triathlon.com/