The Brave Athlete

Lesley Paterson was a good triathlete, and then not a triathlete at all, and then a really good triathlete. She and her husband, Simon Marshall, PhD, co-wrote an upcoming book called The Brave Athlete which explores themes that help explain Ms. Paterson’s second coming as an athlete. In keeping with her famously occasional salty language their upcoming book is sub-titled, “Calm the F*ck Down and Rise to the Occasion.”

What’s in the book, the pair promises, will explain how Ms. Paterson exploded into a second professional triathlon career that included a pair of Xterra World Championships, an ITU World Cross Championship, along with her very respectable 70.3 racing. Mr. Marshall’s PhD is in Exercise Psychology.

The book is not yet published and what I read were galleys. The last two chapters were not included in the advance version but the table of contents promises a last chapter called, “I Don’t Handle Pressure Well,” sub-titled, “How to cope with stress, anxiety, and expectations on race day.” I’m looking forward to this because I have seen a lot of athletes go right down the mental tubes because of the weight of expectations. The trick is to not have that weight. Easier said than done. I’ll be interested to see how Ms. Paterson threw that weight off her shoulders, or how she prevailed with the Albatross-of-Expectations attached to the neck as it is for so many (women especially in my experience).

The two write about the battle that goes on in the brain. "What if I get dropped? I have to race well for my coach. If I don’t get on the podium, this race will be for nothing. I look like an overstuffed sausage in this cycling kit. If I have a bad race, my sponsors will write me off…” This is the inner dialogue, or at least one side of the conversation, that so many athletes struggle with, especially after they begin to find success.

I was surprised that an entire chapter was devoted to social media. Yes, I make my living on the internet, but I spend almost no time on social media other than moderating our reader forum. A lot of people are much more engaged than I am and the book goes into some detail on how to balance, process, filter social media as a competing athlete. In truth, while the last chapter of the book is reserved for the question of how to deal with the expectations of others, that subject is sitting there as a backdrop throughout the entire book.

I’ve been reading a lot of salty books lately. My wife and I became “pescetarians” a couple of months ago, which is more or less vegetarianism-plus-fish. My wife came home with a cookbook: “Thug Kitchen: eat like you give a fuck,” sub-sub–titled, “it’s good shit.” And so it goes through the entire book. As I’m trying to strike “fuck” from my vocabulary I find that I can’t pick up a book with that word paraded in front of me.

But then I was raised on “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot.” Published in 1969 the author asks the reader, in such case the green engine light comes on only to warn the car’s owner of a particular non-car-life-threatening non-emergency, do you have a back seat in your VW? And a girlfriend? This is about the time interval required before you can commence driving your VW safely.

I’m successfully giving up red meat, pork, chicken and turkey and i’m trying to give up “fuck" but it keeps hanging on like the Angel of God to Jacob’s ankles. Ah, well, what the fuck.

I have a fondness for Scottish authors. "How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive’s,” author was John Muir, distantly related that John Muir, one of my very favorites, and Lesley Paterson describes herself as, "a little Scottish lassie.” Ms. Paterson made an appearance at one of our Slowtwitch Road Shows a couple of weeks ago and I could listen to her brogue for hours. I hope if The Brave Athlete makes it audiobook that she narrates it.

Plenty has been written about the psychology of and around triathlon. What I hope for this book is that Ms. Paterson gets personal in that final chapter. Her husband writes the intro and remarks that as Ms. Paterson was growing frustrated and weary with triathlon he was, "completing too many college degrees in sport psychology.” Okay, a little back door brag there! The Brave Athlete is high in scholarship and know-how from a practicing psychologist’s viewpoint, but I would have liked a little more raw transparency from Ms. Paterson herself (or about her, if it's to be written in her husband's voice). She successfully digested and processed the weight of expectations and the fear of inadequacies she felt as an athlete. When the book is finally published I’ll be interested in whether a more intimate look at that process made its way into print.

The book is scheduled to ship in late May; it’s available for preorder now.