Over the last few years discussions about mental health have had a meteoric rise in popular media, not just in the number of headlines highlighting people sharing their experiences, but in the glamorous world of sport, and the idea of overcoming barriers to succeed. There has already been a huge amount of research regarding the positive impact of physical activity on health and wellbeing, and more recently the spotlight has shifted onto the benefits of taking part in something that is rich in its ability to generate endorphins!
As race season fast approaches it’s easy to get caught up in the negative spiral of I’m not fit enough! I’m not fast enough! Why are they improving more than I am? I’m injured again! And it is even easier to forget why we started. For most people you started because you needed or wanted a challenge, you had a weight loss goal, a time goal, or a complete or compete goal. But for some of us, we need something to take our mind away from other things - we need psychological first aid. This is the beauty of Triathlon and being part of a club which welcomes, celebrates, and embraces diversity of shape, size, speed, and fitness.
Have you ever noticed that the person who crosses the finish line last is the person who often gets the biggest cheer? Because that’s what happens at the club races we hold over the summer series. We all look in awe at the person who finishes first, has the fastest swim, bike or run split, stands on the podium and pushes themselves in ways you thought were not possible. That person - whilst often at the peak of their physical fitness - is no different to the person swimming their first 25m at a club session, or running their first mile without stopping, or receiving the biggest cheer for finishing their first race. Everyone is challenging themselves in different ways, everyone has an internal battle to be better than they were before.
For some of us it isn’t about being fast, to look fit, or to be the first across the line – sometimes it’s about empowering yourself, to prove that you are strong enough to get out and give it a tri, to be part of a group of like-minded people, to release you from the norm and the noise.
The façade of triathlon is a group of people who defy logic, have a strange way of spending weekends, and leave a wake of eau de chlorine for much of the winter, but the truth is we are all just a group of really brave people fighting a battle of physical and mental proportions, and pushing ourselves to be better than we were yesterday (with an arguably unhealthy obsession with Lycra). Whether your mile is 5 minutes or 15 minutes, never forget why you started. When you have a bad day, a bad session, or can’t hit your PB, think back to that brave person who had the courage to give it a try in the first place and embrace the fact that you can.
As a club, we embrace the rough and the smooth of taking part in sport. I am immensely proud to be part of a club that promotes a welcoming and encouraging atmosphere to every single person who joins a session, whether they are at the pinnacle of the sport or ‘tri-ing’ it for the first time. It’s mental health awareness week, and as a club we should do our part to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health. The ethos we have is a huge part of that.
Go forth and don lycra. Train because you can. And never forget why you started.