Take on a New Challenge

If your racing schedule is starting to feel a little familiar, it might be time for a new test


Posted: 26 May 2011
by Bryce Dyer

Credit: Janos Schmidt/triathlon.org

One of the great dangers of spending so much time on triathlon is that there may come a point when you are not improving any more and that one season feels much like the other. Even though there are three sports involved it's a good idea to challenge yourself, to take a step outside your comfort zone.

Challenges galore

Thankfully, there are many options in triathlon. You can go long, go short, off-road or just go somewhere else to enjoy the sport. Age-grouping, at either European or World Championship events, is something to aim for. It will give you an incentive to train harder and the races will be like nothing else you've done, if only because the excitement surrounding a championship race is intoxicating.

Five-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave notes in his autobiography that "you have to be there, to taste the atmosphere, to appreciate what [a major championship] is all about". He should know.

And former British Olympic Association sports psychologist Brian Miller discusses in his book 'Gold Minds' the impact major championships have on athletes. He describes how major sporting events such as the Olympics "present many new challenges for athletes" and can help them "shine and glitter". What he means is that the challenge of stepping up to a higher level of competition can help motivate you to higher levels of performance and enjoyment.

Test yourself

If you don't fancy the intensity of such competitions, you can try testing yourself in more challenging events. The Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon offers one of the world's toughest swims, the Alpe d'Huez has its iconic mountainous bike leg and the Wimbleball 70.3 has a run section that is littered with hills.

Sometimes, just leaving your stopwatch behind and succeeding against the elements is all you need, irrespective of where you finish. At the 2005 Norseman triathlon in Norway, a heavy snowstorm hit during the run up the side of the mountain. Despite the appalling conditions, Swedish triathlete Bjorn Andersson finished in a record time of 10:30; the record still stands.

At the World Surf Lifesaving Championships held in Cornwall in 1994, the wave that hit the women's surf ski race capsized most of a heat and one woman received whiplash when she was launched into the air still attached to her equipment. Those who completed the course were greeted with a round of applause, wherever they placed.

Think distance

Such a sense of personal accomplishment can also be felt if you step up to a new distance, such as Ironman. Speaking about the beginnings of the event, Bob Babbitt, Ironman competitor and commentator, and triathlon proselytiser, says, "No one knew if they could swim 2.4 miles, ride 112 and run 26.2 back to back."

Former Ironman World Champion Karen Smyers has described her first experience of the Ironman as "walking the plank". The message is clear: think about pushing yourself, taking a chance on a new distance, just for the sake of it.

Location, location

If you're not ready to change your distance, think about changing your location. Budget airlines have made it much easier to take an overseas trip and be back at your desk (albeit a little tired) by Monday morning. This ability to travel adds a welcome element to sport.

Marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe put it well in her autobiography when she wrote that "as well as the medals and the titles, I also simply want to compete in different races and different places". 

Triathletes tend to be versatile, adventurous people and this means that other, seemingly unlikely sporting options, often appeal. They may provide the chance to learn skills or develop fitness that we can apply to our sport.

Surfing, for example, can offer cross-training benefits. Repeatedly paddling out through the waves uses similar muscle groups to swimming. Surfing can also help improve your times - once you know how to ride the waves to shore you can be among the first out of the water.

And it is worth looking beyond the physical benefits. Research published in the Journal of Sports and Tourism in 2009 suggested that surfing and other extreme sports involve a degree of danger or excitement that can improve self-confidence.

On the next page: Tackle new terrain or discover tried-and-tested techniques to relieve race day nerves.


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