Shoulder Chimp

It’s 2016 (you may have noticed), and that can only mean one thing; it’s the Year of the Monkey. I’m well aware that it can mean lots of other things as well, but as they are probably happening to other people, they simply don’t count.

I’ve been playing around at Triathlon and it’s constituent sports for 3 years now, long enough for the initial rapid improvements to have started to taper down to something more predictable (i.e. not much, not very fast), and yet also long enough for me to know that I have actually found the sport I want to become good at.

I initially dove headlong on a whim, buying the cheapest road bike I could (I still highly rate the Decathlon B:Twins for beginners) and generally getting far too enthusiastic far too quickly. I’ve done this sort of thing before, and can count on the fingers of more hands than I currently possess the number of hobbies I have taken up, drained my wallet thereof, and subsequently abandoned when enthusiasm wanes, and prodigious talent fails to emerge after minimal effort and input from myself.

Now, previously I have only ever got to a level of performance and/or skill at one other activity, possibly the only other one that can give Triathlon a run for its one at disposing of your disposable income in rapid fashion, and that was Snowboarding. No pro, me, obviously, but I will always stand by the fact that I feel confident that you could pit me against any ‘recreational’ boarder on a real mountain and not find me wanting. It’s not a boast, but for a period in my early 30s I really felt like I had a connection to the sport, and a talent for it.

After returning from a week on the mountain during which I found the time to explore my past with some solo slope time, I came away reminded by the odd fleeting feeling of what it feels like to be a sportsperson, not merely someone who engages in a sport. This is something I have had only the most occasional flirt with in my current sport of choice. I once felt like I was a swimmer, not just someone swimming, and a couple of times I have come back from a ride and thought, “Hey, I’m a cyclist now!”, not just someone who had been out on a bike. I’m still waiting for the moment to come whilst running! I certainly have never finished a race and thought “I’m a pretty good triathlete you know!”, but the tantalising glimpses have been there or thereabouts enough times to get the feeling that, you know, they could be found, if I chose to reach for them.

Now, I’m a serial bottler. I freely admit that I have an imagination that leaps and bounds far beyond what my actual self can achieve and aspire to. I think of things I want to do, and I sabotage myself with doubts and fear. Better to quietly forget that dream, than fail to achieve it. Hence the Monkey. Or chimp, specifically, sat on my shoulder telling my I should probably temper my ambition, stick to being an enthusiastic participant, don’t bother with wanting to be any good and be happy to be staying fit, enjoying your new friends, and, well, disposing of your disposable income rapidly…

Admitting such things to yourself, well, to myself, has always been a difficult process. Making clear and measurable goals has never been my style, better to be on the train facing back and seeing what happened to transpire, than facing forward and seeing what’s on the horizon. So, consequently, admitting to anyone else that you have ambition to be not simply not better than I currently am, but actually good (within, say, the eyes of my peers) is a hard ask. You can’t take that back and pretend you never said it.

But, late last year, I started to say it, to a few friends here and there. And the response has never been less than positive. Of course, it helps that I deliberately chose people who have recently made the sorts of improvements that I want to emulate one day, so you would expect nothing less, but still, positive public affirmation that the biggest barrier to success starts with hurdling your self doubt and making a goal feels like a (small) weight lifted already.

So 2016, year of the Shoulder Chimp is well under way. Although I had the unwanted start of essentially a 7-8 week layoff of serious training due to my first ever sport related injury (any sport, any injury, barring broken arms as a child) I’ve kept the mental fires stoked, ticked my body over with what I could, and have come away from my first days off work in 6 months sufficiently happy to put this out there. I’m going to be training hard, participating openly competitively, and my goal is to move out of “participant in Triathlon” mode, into “I’m a Triathlete” mode.

I’ll be putting stuff up on here periodically, and here’s a thing – I would really, really, welcome your thoughts, even you, yes you pre-triathlon friends, and I’m asking you to not take the piss (too much), but see if you can’t be part of a thing and help me to achieve a goal or two.


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