Ask, Ask, Ask – The Endless Pursuit of Knowledge

We’ve all been there: our first triathlon. For some, it has become a far off memory, for others, it was recent enough that recounting the experience still spikes the heart rate without moving a muscle. In so many different circumstances every triathlete has delved into the unknown on that triathlon debut and never looked back. Some think they have an idea of what their first event will entail (I doubt many of those are correct) but most of us get to the event clueless, excited and terrified. If you were lucky like me, you popped your triathlon cherry at a small, local, club event. At the time it was all still very overwhelming with the labyrinth that was the transition, having to ride with soggy shoes – not to mention, swimming without a lane rope! But in hindsight, the extremely relaxed and supportive nature of the Maitland Tri club was a smooth entry into this sport when I look at some bigger and more competition-spirited events I took part in, further down the track. I had swum and run competitively as a kid and knew how to ride a bike. But since that first morning, stumbling through the 200m/8km/2km course around the Maitland cricket oval, I began to learn (and still, continue to learn) the complexities of triathlon beyond the singular three sports that combine to make up our event.

I have been thinking back to that day and the huge culmination of knowledge I’ve amassed in the preceding 16 years of immersion in the triathlon world. I have pondered about what would be the best piece of advice I would give myself if I fell off the back of my chair into a time warp and landed poolside on that late summer morning. After sifting through ‘the tips and tricks of the trade’, I now know that might have assisted the young me in that 15-minute race. The one perfect pearl of wisdom is – ask more questions. Flash yourself back to your very first tri – what was the main source of the nerves and anxiety? You might think “the pain”, “the open water”, “the distance” or any combination of the standard tri-virgin worries. But the common theme behind all of these worries is the unknown – not knowing how much it will hurt, how you will handle the open water or how you will manage to get through a 40km cycle. Now, take those sources of stress and anxiety, and ask yourself – if someone had walked up to you an hour before your event and assured you that your fears were overcomeable and provided a few pointers on how to overcome those challenges, would your stress levels decrease? Would some confidence grow?

Of course, we don’t all have triathlon guardian angels who appear while we’re waiting in the portaloo line – teeth chattering with nerves – and provide us with the precise wisdom we are needing (nor is there a time warp behind my seat – the proof is in the head bruise). Fortunately, there is an ingenious way to source the information and the peace of mind a newbie athlete is after – by asking. It just so happens that triathlon is ripe with triathletes – the perfect bunch of knowledge filled grapes waiting to be plucked and squeezed of all their experience. And triathletes, in my opinion, are the most willing to help, share and teach, as most of us can still recall being the bewildered newbie.

Now fast-forward through that first event, the second, the tenth, and the fiftieth. The anxiety and stresses have gone (or changed, at least) and you pretty much know what to expect. But does every race go exactly the same for you now? Is every result you produce the same as the last and the best you’re capable of producing? But how do you improve? Train of course – improve weaknesses, amplify strengths, broaden the vocabulary that is your physical range. We can all improve – no one is perfect – and there are people who possess deep wells of knowledge about the areas we can improve on, and who can be easily tapped, simply by asking. We are part of a rapidly growing sport. Expanding in width and compounding in depth – the knowledge reservoir is accessible.

Have a coach? Point of contact numero uno. Qualified coaches (in Australia anyway) are trained to certain standards, which means a particular amount of knowledge must be reached to claim a particular level (of which there are several). A coaches job should be to provide you with the tools to reach your athletic goals, as well as show you how to use them. This process is driven by the athlete indicating the holes in their knowledge by asking questions about everything. An extra dimension of fulfilment can be found in both training and racing when an athlete has a bit more understanding of why they’re doing what they’re doing, rather than blindly charging towards a goal, which could already be sapping masses of time, energy and cash. Of course, as no athlete is destined for perfection, nor is any coach. The best thing about the Australian triathlon coaching system is that all coaches are encouraged to network, and just as every athlete has weaknesses to work on, so do coaches. By athletes asking questions, this forces coaches to address knowledge deficits and to reach out to fellow tri coaches, nutrition specialists, body movement specialists, physiologists, psychologists and even coaches of unrelated sports – everyone benefits thanks to curiosity and knowledge sharing.

No coach? No problemo! Along with the relative youth of the national (and worldwide, for that matter) triathlon community comes a collective tendency to forward the sport by knowledge sharing in much less formal arenas than coach-athlete relationships. Local clubs and social training groups, online forums and social media based groups can be goldmines of experienced and wise tri-folk. There’s very little chance of asking a triathlon related question amongst even the most casual triathlete groups and not getting a reply that doesn’t at least point you in the right direction of resolving your query. Of course, it goes without saying that even in the most helpful crowds, not all answers and advice will hit the nail on the head, in the most appropriate way for you. But, if your continuous improvement is high on your priority list, then keep asking and growing your knowledge base until the right answer is struck.

The longer I spend in this sport, the more I realise how little about it I know. I ask questions to find one percent improvements. Eventually, I’ll find 100 good answers, and my performance might double. Many triathletes are out there searching for watts, but the real power is knowledge


Brendan Sexton

As a youngster, Brendan’s life ambition was to be the fifth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. That didn’t quite pan out. But triathlon did. A decade on, he’s still at it.
Follow Brendan
Twitter: @kung_fu_sexton

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