Chiselled abs. A tanned torso. Boundless energy. Fitting those new jeans. These are just a few of the more popular benefits of doing triathlon. But guess what? There are side benefits you may not have even considered—the hugely important, and oft-overlooked, mental aspects.
The grey matter adaptations that develop through your triathlon journey will almost certainly outlast the physical adaptations. Here is a look at some of them:
More bang for your buck: Training for a triathlon sharpens your focus and improves productivity. Canadian professional triathlete Jeff Symonds says that making a commitment to a healthy lifestyle greatly increases his productivity. “When I am training, eating and sleeping well I find I have more energy and focus during the day,” he says. Age-group athletes the world over are testament to this—people who hold down full-time jobs while parenting and training for a triathlon. These athletes find a way to get their training in by breaking down each day into increments and maximizing their time. Plus, post-workout, you’ll feel refreshed and able to tackle your daily duties with renewed zest.
The feel-good factor: Most athletes don’t need data to understand that exercise has a way of lifting the spirits. Endorphin release in the brain and a sense of invigoration both stem from a body in motion. Add to that a good dose of fresh air and your mood will undoubtedly prosper. As two-time IRONMAN 70.3 world champion Melissa Hauschildt says, “forget the science for a moment. Being fit just feels really good.” Symonds adds, “training puts me in a positive mood such that I am ready to make big things happen.”
Blasting barriers to success: Here’s a little secret you may not want to hear. As we age most of us are guilty of self-imposing physical and psychological barriers to our own potential. Doubts begin to creep in and negative thoughts gain traction. Cue the sport of triathlon. Training for and finishing a triathlon makes us tackle these barriers head on, leading to a renewed realization that with determination and focus, anything really is possible. One of my favorite crowd placards at IRONMAN Canada a few years back read, “Chuck Norris never did an IRONMAN.” It gave me a much needed chuckle while I contemplated my chaffing thighs, blistered toes, sunburned shoulders and the last half of the marathon. According to Symonds, when you hit the finish line of an IRONMAN race, there is nothing in the world that doesn’t seem possible: “The rush of accomplishment not only makes you feel like you can do more, but makes you aspire and want to do more!”
Reslove at the ready: Learning to adapt to stress and fatigue during training and racing strengthens your resolve in daily, real world situations. Pro triathlete Melanie McQuaid says that even though the sport is strenuous, it helps to reduce stress. “I look at it as a chance to push the reset button on my thoughts. I think this is a great way to get your head away from work, family and life stress in order to come back to it with better perspective.” Symonds says that no matter how he feels before, everything is clearer after a training session. “Training kick-starts me back to a positive mindset,” he says.
Maximum motivation: We all know those people who start the year with renewed fitness zest only to fall off the horse soon thereafter. The good thing about triathlon is that by having three disciplines, the common curses of boredom and burnout are far less likely. Don’t feel like running today? Don’t. Go for a bike ride. The weather’s good? Perfect! Go for an open-water swim. Having a training plan is key for many athletes, but allowing flexibility within workouts is critical for maintaining motivation.
Skyrocketing self-confidence: One sure-fire way of improving self-confidence is by embracing a quest or personal challenge. Finishing a triathlon is a great example. McQuaid says that racing is a great way to go through the process of setting a goal, making a plan and seeing it through to completion. “This three-step approach to racing can be applied to any challenge in life,” she adds. “Accomplishing the goal of finishing a triathlon should instill a sense of confidence that any challenge can be broken down and overcome in the same way.” Symonds adds that adversity and rough patches in training and racing helps us find the toughness and courage needed to push through. “If we do this, the feeling of accomplishment and self-confidence is amazing.”
Relish in those PR’s and the feeling of fitting into those new jeans. Soak up the accolades and compliments when they come. Share the joys of being fit. But don’t forget the great gifts this sport has for us beyond just a great body—you may not fit those jeans forever.