By guest blogger, Professional Triathlete and Prolete Ryan Waddington.
Much ado is often made about the unique opportunity Triathlon provides. What other sport allows you to race alongside the best in the world? In my final race as an age group athlete, I had the privilege of running alongside Craig Alexander for a mile. It was the ITU long distance world championships in China and he caught me with a mile to go. I should clarify that he had a mile to go, I had about ten. Never one to let an opportunity go by, I couldn’t turn down the chance to run with him. It was an incredible experience and it does make Triathlon special. You really feel that you get to race against the best no matter who you are… but do you really? As I ventured into the professional ranks I discovered that it is a very different race.
So what sets the professional and age group race apart? There are many things you could identify, from professionals pacing off one another, to a less congested course, or the benefits of an earlier start. All of these are true and if you saw the footage from the recent Ironman Brazil you might write the professional cohort off as a bunch of rule breakers following the shocking display of drafting. Varying interpretations of the 12m-draft zone is a problem. Unfortunately, some professionals and age group athletes alike will always push the envelope, or blatantly break the rules. At least, the professionals are more closely monitored by race officials in most races around the globe. What I really want to single out for discussion is something you won’t identify from watching the race. This is the mentality that professionals race with.
Finishing is no longer a coveted achievement. You might ask what that has to do with anything. I’ve found that it has to do with everything. As an amateur I used to set my race schedule a year in advance. I always picked races that excited me; events that made me want to step across the finish line. I still have a large degree of this mentality as a professional but it isn’t shared by many. Performing well takes on a new level of importance: It becomes everything.
Professionals also share a great level of self-belief. We believe that on our day and with the right circumstances we are capable of something special. Knowing when you are going to have one of those days is much more of an unknown. Everyone races to win. Competitors are willing to race beyond their limits in the event that one of those days is in the making. As an age grouper, I always felt like I was racing an all-day time trial. Pacing was crucial. When you are a professional that goes out the window. If your race plan unravels at any stage you can step off the course and head to another event the following week. If finishing isn’t going to pay the bills then torturing the body and compromising recovery doesn’t make a lot of sense. This subtle difference in mindset is the biggest difference between the professional and age group race. By removing the need to finish and pitting competitive individuals against one another, you create a dynamic where people are racing on the limit all day. For many it won’t end well, but the possibility that it might, means that everyone is willing to risk it all.
Every time I line up I feel as though I’m in a Dirty Harry movie. You’ve gotta ask yourself one question, “Do I feel lucky?”
Follow Ryan’s journey via Twitter & Instagram @Waddington_R and checkout his website www.ryanwaddington.com