Getting Over the Addiction
by Russ Cox
I know this guy. About 10 years back he realized that he wasn't in the best of shape. In fact, looking in the mirror he could see a gradual decline into poor health and larger trouser sizes. At that point, fortunately, he had a moment’s revelation and just enough motivation to carry out a plan that changed his life: diet and exercise gave him the health and the waist measurement he desired. It wasn't enough. Fitness became an addiction and triathlon is a place where fitness addicts end up. It's a vicious circle that starts with a sprint tri and ends with an ironman, except it doesn't end; once the ironman is done, the question -- obsession -- becomes Kona. This guy gave up a good job, left friends and family behind, and traveled halfway around the world in pursuit of that obsession.
But there is a happy ending: after a couple of years entirely dedicated to training, with a couple of trips to Kona, I returned home. Addiction only carries you so far and with insufficient funds and an injury I needed to balance my life again. I won't deny it; were I able at that point in time I'd have continued my single-focused existence -- it was fun. Reflecting back now I'm glad I couldn't. Coming back to reality, the need to balance work, life and sport was probably the best thing to happen to me in the last few years. My results under the new regime don't quite live up to former peaks, but I've rediscovered old interests, built a new career and found what I really enjoy about training -- being fit. I don't regret any of the choices I've made, but I now recognize how important it is to have more than just triathlon.
Reintegrating myself with society has not always been easy -- old skills, such as time management, have had to be relearned. Initially I had to let go of the deeply rooted fear associated with not training. It instinctively felt wrong, like my fitness was spiraling down the drain whenever I opted to meet friends or, importantly, work. It's probably taken a couple of years to clear that from my system and to accept that in training terms I do what I can in the time I have available. Now I make good use of that time I have for training, but I also place a lot more importance on time with friends and family, especially during the off season. I know that there will be other chances to do that swim, bike or run, but some events you only get one shot at. When I was offered tickets to the Paralympic Games, of course I abandoned plans to run that day. I ran the next instead, so I ran less than I'd planned, but with my marathon seven months away I'm hardly stressed.
My advice is for those who perhaps find themselves slipping into addiction, turning down social invites for training sessions, and with triathlon increasingly taking over their lives. There is -- to an extent -- nothing wrong with that; training and fitness are important, they just don't need to come at the expense of everything else. Be aware of your priorities. I build my weekly routines to ensure there is plenty of time for friends and to partake in some of my other interests. Although triathlon -- through work and training -- remains the major component in my life, it's good to have more. I place a lot of value on the things that aren't triathlon related, they add balance to a life otherwise dominated by the sport.
Russ is a full-time triathlete and endurance coach who has raced and trained around the world. His Trains, Travels blog focuses on endurance triathlon training from an athlete's perspective, covering topics such as nutrition, training, psychological preparation and what to do during taper and recovery.