If we took a poll of endurance athletes asking “Why do you participate in sport?”, I think one of the top answers would be the community and friendships built through the hours spent exercising together. The “Type 2” fun, as some would call it, resulting from crazy adventures, getting caught in the rain, lost on a ride, or training for new personal bests and other delightfully difficult pursuits is something that is only understood by the endurance community bubble.
While each vein of endurance sport (running, cycling, triathlon, etc.) has its own unique subculture, in general the environment is friendly, supportive, and encouraging. Most athletes enjoy teaching new members of the sport and watching them fall in love with long distance adventures. If you run, bike, swim, or do all three, no one will argue that you are a runner, cyclist, swimmer, or triathlete. There are no speed or skill requirements to belong.
What about the other side of endurance culture? There are certainly aspects of running, triathlon, and cycling that suck the joy out of sport and sometimes we forget that this is something we do for fun.
Particularly in this age of fast information and social media, it can be difficult to avoid comparison to other athletes. When we scroll through Instagram, we only see those big workouts, long runs/bikes, and race wins. What we don’t see is the recovery, the easy days, the workouts that don’t go well, the failed experiments, or the rest days. People don’t post rest days on Strava- but perhaps they should. Strava can be particularly problematic in perpetuating poor training and comparison. To the outsider, it may seem like someone is crushing every workout and achieving all kinds of amazing feats, when in reality they are on the brink of burnout and injury. Or maybe they are training more because of a struggle in their personal life. That’s why it’s important to remember this perspective is just that-- an outsider’s.
Races can be both a fun, supportive environment and a battlefield where we go to war not only with other people, but with ourselves. It is easy to get swept up in the “big” achievements such as personal bests, Boston Qualifiers, or completion of a new distance, but racing is only sustainable if we learn to find success across every finish line.
“Race weight” and other discussions about an athlete’s body are quite common and can be quite damaging. Eating disorders and unhealthy relationships with food are prevalent in the endurance community, under the guise that either “lighter is faster” or that food is “earned” through training. It’s important to pay attention to the language used when speaking about your body and the food that you eat. If you criticize your body, those around you will, too. Call your training partners out when they speak negatively about themselves. The only way to change this paradigm is to create more examples of proper fueling and positive body relationships within our local circles.
Some tips to help you improve your relationship with endurance sports and competition:
Strava is not the place to garner training tips. You don’t need to be working the same or harder than the competition and/or your training partners, you most likely need to work smarter.
Don’t forget the little things. Training is the foundation of success, but it could go to waste without proper attention to mindset, nutrition, and recovery.
Speak positively about yourself as an athlete. Avoid phrases like “I’ve only run ___”, “I’m not fast”, “I’m sorry for slowing you down”, etc. Emphasize accomplishments instead of those things you haven’t done yet.
When training with others, be clear about the goal of the workout. If it is intended to be easy, make sure that it is easy for everyone. If the goal is to complete intervals, adhere to the workout instead of racing each other.
If you are part of a running or triathlon club, make sure the group workouts fit into your training schedule. It is easy to overtrain just because it’s fun to be with friends out on the roads!
Break larger goals into smaller goals. This helps you feel successful and motivated, instead of ruminating on not achieving the “big” goals.
Keep going, you got this!
Kacy Seynders, PT, DPT