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The highs and lows of life as a pro.
I’m writing this from a little coffee place on the beach in Fuerteventura. The sun is shining. The sea is blue. The coffee is good. Training is done for the day. Life as a pro is easy right?
As pros, we share the best bits of our lives on social media; the sunshine; the beautiful views; the fun training with friends; the race-wins; the treats at the end of hard sessions. To most of you sitting at your desks at work our lives look incredible. We’re doing what many of you dream of doing all day every day. I know when I was starting to take triathlon semi-seriously, and struggling with my PhD, quite often I would look out of the window and dream of what it would be like to be a pro.
Don’t get me wrong. Most of the time I love it. I’m getting paid to do something that is essentially a hobby and I feel immensely privileged to have this opportunity. But last week, when I gave a talk to some medical students at the university, one of my closest friends suggested that perhaps I put too glamorous a coat on my life as a full-time athlete. I didn’t tell them how hard I worked and that sometimes, when I’m so tired from training that I am virtually on all fours going up the stairs, going back to work as a doctor seems like an easy alternative. James has seen me battle through the best of times and worst of times as a pro. He’s seen the euphoric highs when the hard work pays off with a big win. And he’s seen the lows. The winter mornings when I drag myself out for a long ride in the rain; the uncertainty of injury; the times I turn down dinner invitations because I need to get to bed early enough to make the 5.30 am swim session; the tedium; the loneliness; the repetition; the lack of mental stimulation. We went on a training camp together last year and at the end he said “Goss – I absolutely loved it but I’m bloody glad I’m going back to work’. Most things are fun in moderation. But when you’re doing the same thing, day in, day out, without respite, it becomes more challenging to keep the fun. The novelty of eating, sleeping and training starts to wear off and you have to be more inventive to keep things interesting. Right now I’m on the Team-Erdinger training camp. It’s a great way to kick-start the new-year and I definitely fly home fitter than when I arrived. But it’s also the one camp of the year that feels like work rather than holiday. The place we stay is full of the best triathletes in the world and it seems as though everyone is always training. It’s hard to relax here. And it’s hard to have easy days. And for me personally, as the only Brit on the team, meal times are hard work when I understand nothing of what my German team mates are saying!
The main reason I’ve got good at triathlon is because I love the sport. I thrive on the hard work and challenge and am hugely grateful for the opportunities it’s brought me. And most of the time I love the training. But I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed everything about the lifestyle. Sometimes I’m lonely. Sometimes I find it boring. And sometimes I miss using my brain to do something useful.
Anyone can be a full-time athlete for a week or two. Perhaps even a couple of months. But not everyone could do it full-time and stay motivated through good times and bad. As an athlete I’m not accountable to anyone. My time is my own. No one tells me what to do and when to do it. If I don’t get out there and do the work there are no consequences to anyone other than me. Most of the time finding motivation is easy but there are days when I struggle. And it’s these sessions, the times when you really don’t want to be out there, metaphorically chopping wood, that make the difference between average and good, between good and excellent. Champions are made a bit by talent but mainly by consistency, patience and perseverance.
If you see a snapshot of my life it looks incredible. And to all extent and purposes it is. The experiences I’m having right now are once in a lifetime opportunities that I wouldn’t miss for the world. But those friends who are close enough to see the whole picture also see the less glamorous side. They see the cold lonely mid-week days on the bike that I really don’t want to do. They see the self-motivation that’s needed to push myself day in day out. They see the early nights and early mornings; the café stops replaced by solo brick runs. And they see me occasionally look at them enviously when they’re heading into work after swimming, while I’m heading off for a hard 5 hours training on my own.
Life as a pro athlete is immense, intense, exhausting, exhilarating, exciting, tedious, daunting and absolutely incredible. It’s a special time of my life and I’m relishing every moment. But it’s not all glory and glamour – there’s a ton of hard work that goes on behind the scenes!