Usually at this time of year I like to write a blog post that rallies my troops into action for the season ahead. 2016 is upon us and for many it will be the exciting start of the build up to your chosen races this year. Hopefully 2015 was a good one for you but even if it wasn’t there will be plenty of lessons you can take forwards so you can become and even better triathlete in the year ahead.
My message each year is usually a reflection of what I’m feeling as a coach, thinking back on the year just passed with a particular emphasis on the experiences we can all learn from. You all know by now the emphasis I place on developing mental toughness in training. This year is no different so I wanted to talk about one of the most extraordinary examples of mental toughness I’ve ever seen which I hope will be a huge inspiration for all of you for the season ahead.
One of my athletes that I’ve coached for several years – Simon Whittock, who was in the prime of his triathlon life was hit with the devastating news that he had a brain tumour back in May this year. The tumour proved to be primary, malignant and highly aggressive. This is a man with a wife and two children with an athletic dream of qualifying for Kona. One minute Simon was in the prime of his life training hard and excited about the races ahead and then the next minute he was in hospital facing the biggest battle of his life.
Life can sometimes be extremely cruel to some very good people and those that know Simon know what an amazing man he is, even before the tumour. He’s is a terrific team member too, always supportive and encouraging of others all matched with a smile and sense of humour that can brighten even the dullest of days. A hugely popular man who I consider it a privilege to have coached for so long.
When people look for inspiration in life its the Simon Whittock’s of the world I look at. This is because after his diagnosis I was witness to one of the most extraordinary examples of mental toughness I have ever witnessed. To say he has faced up to his challenge with incredible courage and dignity would be an understatement. From somewhere he has been able to summon up an inner strength to face this battle on a daily basis and keep moving forwards. Being so close to him and his family I have seen at first hand what they have gone through. What has amazed me the most is the positive mindset he was able to engage as an athlete has just been re-directed into his battle with his illness.
Since his diagnosis he has never stopped training, sure he has trained less and at a much lower intensity but he has used any opportunity possible to get a swim, bike or run in. He has also in that time ran a 3:53 marathon, completed several 3-hour turbo trainer sessions (see recent image below of Simon in his “pain cave”) and attended my swim squads. All this has been completed whilst going through 2 courses of chemotherapy & radiotherapy and fully committing to a ketogenic diet.
Tomorrow we sit down together to discuss his fitness goals for the year ahead, despite being told only two weeks ago that the tumour is back. He has never given up hope despite overwhelming odds and I know he will keep moving forwards whilst inspiring so may of us at the same time, because that’s just simply Simon.
Along with Simon I’ve seen many other clients face huge battles this year, everyone has their own private story that only a coach gets a window into. Sometimes these things happen to people you least expect because they look so strong and tough on the outside. Their fortitude doesn’t waiver despite what’s thrown at them and they keep moving forwards, however slowly. As a coach I can’t but help admire this resolve and it makes me proud to know the kind of people we have in our squads.
Why did I write about this? It’s simple, because it puts our troubles well and truly into perspective both as people and as athletes. Is it really so bad when you get an injury, you get a cold, you have a bad race or training session or you have to miss a bit of training time? I don’t think so, it could always be a lot worse. So no matter what your ups and downs might be in the year ahead its up to you to decide how you deal with each obstacle you face, either choose to be positive about it and find the right way or face the downward spiral of negativity. The best people and athletes always manage to find a way around their situation.
As a coach and as a former athlete I continually look for sources of inspiration round me that help motivate me, sometimes they come in the most unlikeliest of forms. A lot of people find their inspiration in the great athletes of our time but sometimes I think this is sometimes slightly misplaced. We can all marvel in awe at an athletic performance but what about the person inside? Do they give something back to their sport? Are they good people? Are they supportive of other people? Do they use their success to help create a better community? This for me is my true definition of someone who is inspirational. Their athletic talent is just that, but what it can give them a bigger more visible platform to inspire a wider audience, its up to the person inside them to discover how to use it best.
Finding your inner strength can come in many forms, Simon for me is just a shining example of someone who has inspired me greatly this year. Other things that have inspired me have been my athletes, my family, my friends, films I’ve watched, books I’ve read, other coaches the list goes on. These are the people I draw my inner strength from when the going gets tough.
So my message for 2016 is to remember how lucky you are (in fact pinch yourself everyday!) to be out there pursuing your athletic goals and dreams. There are people out there who would give their left arm to be able to do what you do so revel in each and every moment, especially when the going gets tough. Just think of this as a reminder that you are well and truly alive and well. Also remember the reason you do this is to stay fit and healthy whilst having fun at the same time. When the fun is lost and it all becomes too serious and overwhelming then you seriously need to take a step back and re evaluate what you are doing. Training and racing should be a rich source of happiness that enhances your life and well-being.
My question to you is who will you draw your inner strength from when times get tough out there? There are many shining examples of these people all around us who can help show you a better way, just choose them wisely and for the right reasons, then tuck them away and be ready to bring them out like shining gold dust when you need them most. It will all add to your mental armoury and drive your physical performance.
I’m sure everyone out there knows someone with their own stories and life battles, you owe it all to these people to go out there and be the very best athletes you can be.
So this year remember these 4 golden rules below:
1 – Have fun
2 – Work hard
3 – Smile frequently
4 – Remember to give something back to your sport and others
Then I’m sure you will be in your way to a hugely rewarding 2016.
Very best wishes