Remember to Have Fun

Emerging from the sixty days of darkness here at Slowtwitch’s Tundra Division outpost, we’ve managed to gain almost an hour of sunlight in the evenings in February. (Just in time for us to lost all of our morning light with daylight savings right around the corner, because we can’t ever have nice things.) That means that we’re on the progress train towards outdoor racing season for most of us endurance athletes, with spring events on the horizon and plans towards larger summer events coming into full view.

For me, that means a steady hand towards my first real triathlons in five years. The largest of those, assuming I can keep this body in need of a warranty replacement running, will see me back at IRONMAN Lake Placid to see if I can’t bring my finish batting average above the Mendoza line. And that assumption is a big one — this summer will mark ten years since I put wedge fractures into multiple vertebrae and scrambled my brain.

There are also the standard challenges that any of us face when undertaking long distance events. Work and life have a funny way of getting in the way of training at times. (This website’s thirst for fresh content is eating into my riding time, for instance.) But there’s also things that bring me joy outside of sport — travel as a family, or watching our daughter enjoy her time as a swimmer and ski racer.

It’s that last part that, I think, needs to be more of our emphasis going forward as a sport. I was reminded of this while watching Ivy’s ski race this weekend where, despite a wide range of abilities and speed, every kid ended the day with a smile on their face. Meanwhile, we do, as an industry, an awfully good job of talking about how hard our sport is. Here’s just a collection of current copy running across various brand sites:

“Go all in.”
“Your PR sidekick.”
“The toughest single day endurance challenge on the planet.”
“…the smart solutions you need to win triathlon races.”
“…designed for setting PRs, racing against the clock, and efficiency during the toughest multi-sport events.”

You notice what word isn’t mentioned once? Fun. In fact, the only major bike-related brand that leads with fun is Zwift (“Indoor cycling made fun”).

How have we gotten this so wrong?

For the vast majority of us, triathlon isn’t our careers. It’s how we’re choosing to spend our free time. It’s supposed to be what we do for fun. And rather than focusing on the enjoyment, the pleasure of doing the damn thing, we’re instead attaching ourselves, and our value in the sport, to outcomes. To results.

There has to be more emphasis on the fun side of things. The enjoyment of getting on your bike, wherever you might choose to do it. The way that a run at a casual, cruising pace in the morning can clear your head. And yes, sometimes there’s results that come along with it; I had so much fun taking a different route up the mountain this weekend that I didn’t realize I’d climbed it quite quickly. (I may wind up becoming a SkiMo athlete at the end of this.) But the result part was secondary. The joy was in the cold temperatures, the bluebird sky, the other people to say hello to on the way up and down, and even the way Gatorade tastes better as it gets ever closer to being a slushie. It was a perfect way to spend a morning.

We have to highlight fun more often. There are, in my opinion, two benefits to this. The first is that it might actually lead to better results-based outcomes; I’ve always thought that the best training plan for an individual is one where that person is enjoying their activity time, as the workouts will actually get done. But the second might tie back to growing the sport as a whole. If you’re an average runner, for instance, and you look at the marketing around bikes at the moment…it sure doesn’t seem like that’s a really welcoming, fun experience, now does it? We’re just talking to those of us who already fell into the sport in one way or another.

Let’s go out and have fun. We just may surprise ourselves — as athletes, and as an industry.