One of the reasons I love sport and physical challenges is the way it acts as an analogue for the way we approach so many areas of our lives. I can obsess about talking over why I have decided to approach physical activity in a particular way before realising it says much more about my broader personality. With that in mind, I have been thinking a lot recently about whether to stay in my comfort zone or to push myself regarding triathlons.
I wrote a post a few months ago about completing my first triathlon after having a baby. I decided that I simply wanted to complete one, regardless of length or the time it took me, and when I did I felt elated. That was in December, and since then I completed another of the same distance in January, and another of a similar distance last weekend. (These were “super sprints”: 250 m swim, 7-10 km bike, 2-3 km run). In the one I just completed I got a PB, including the events I had done pre-baby! I felt great at the end of the race, and didn’t feel sore at all the next day.
Now, one of my frustrations with the sport of triathlon is that there are no ‘in between’ distances, to step up to the next distance means doubling what you did before. So for my next race, should I repeat the same distance again or should I step up to the next one (the “sprint” distance: 750 m swim, 20 km bike, 5 km run)? Should I stay firmly within my comfort zone but try to go faster or should I see what I’m capable of in the further distance? I have done this distance before, a few years ago, so I know that I am capable of doing it. But can I do it well, or will I just have to switch to survival mode to get it done?
This got me thinking of goal setting in general, and whether it is better to set yourself smaller goals that you know you can achieve, or grander ones that introduce that feeling of doubt in your abilities. Two quotes spring to mind when I think about this:
“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” Michelangelo
“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford
I love the Michelangelo quote, as it really sums up how limiting it can be to stay within your comfort zone. Applying the quote directly to my triathlon: How could I fall short if I choose the longer distance?
My worst discipline is running, it’s always in that final leg that I struggle. I hear so many people at the start line panicking about the swim and saying that once that part is over they’ll be able to relax. For me it’s the opposite. I have a lingering dread the whole race knowing that the run is still ahead of me. During my recent event one decision I made was to leave everything on the course, in every leg. So often I have been worried about going out too hard in the bike leg and saving ‘something’ for the run. This reminds me of being told that most people who have died of thirst in deserts are found with water still in their bottles. They’re saving it for the future instead of using it when they need it. I know, of course, that there’s a fine line between squandering something too early instead of waiting for when it’s needed and one of the great things about hindsight is knowing when that applies and when it doesn’t. In the moment you have to make the decision.
So what’s the worst that can happen*? I have to walk on the run. If I truly have nothing left I know what my strategy will be. And that’s ok.
What’s the worst that can happen if I pick the shorter distance? That I won’t be as fast as I was in the recent event? Or that I could have gone further but will have to live with the not knowing? For me, the missed opportunity to find out what I’m really capable of would be worse than a disappointing race.
So, as you can probably work out I have entered the longer distance. I have just under three weeks before I take part in the race so I will let you know how I get on. Has there been an occasion where you set the bar too low for yourself and felt dissatisfied with achieving your goal or do you have an example where you went so far out of your comfort zone that you regretted it? Maybe only let me know about the latter in three weeks time…
*I no longer regard finishing DFL as something to be scared of, following my friend’s recent epic windsurfing race.