Triathlon almost put me off training for good. Until I remembered what ‘play’ really means.
After the triathlon training ended in late summer 2014, I thought of quitting. The swimming during the Hyde Park event was difficult – although I finished the race – and my legs didn’t quite recover from the training until mid-autumn.
Then, only three weeks ago, I was informed by a fellow competitor, who has been competing in sprint events for the last 15 years, that the Serpentine lake was exceptionally cold in June 2014 – four competitors got fished out during her wave at around 3 pm. I barely made it through myself during my wave at 5 pm, without gasping and doing back strokes. “Trust me,” she insisted, “I am Canadian and I know the water was cold that day”.
I also heard of squad members who didn’t bother to take their bicycles out of the boxes since autumn. My interest in swimming returned only after a family holiday in October 2014 on an island where we grew up as children. I swam, biked and ran in that true Polynesian spirit – not the Kona one – that is, to chill out and bond with my family. I hope the appreciation of ‘play’ and ‘rest’ as a glue that binds us as a people remains in that culture for a long time yet – before that capitalist concept of ‘time is money’ gets to that island.
Play and catharsis
Sutton-Smith (1959) observed that the kissing games such as the musical chair and spin the bottle, that offer uncertain outcomes for the winners and losers, act as a buffer that insulates teenagers from hurtful experience such as rejection.
Applying that anthropological frame to Polynesian leisure activities such as diving, sailing, surfing – and yes, that primitive form of triathlon – I came to realise that these are means of catharsis to a people getting to terms with nature. Those leisure activities are modelled on work activities. Life dependent on the whims of seas and monsoons are wrought with uncertainties. One day you come home with a big catch, the next day the waves are the death of you. And with that realisation, why not chill out.
Perhaps I make a poor competitor in the Western sense because I use the Polynesian point of reference in which you play with Nature to pay respect to her might, not to show how good I am at conquering her.
Be a good sport
It wasn’t just the holiday that resurrected my appreciation towards triathlon. My squaddies have been great to me. Triathlon is a test not just to your character but your level of tolerance for others – your squaddies, your families and your friends. The races and training come first. To be in the 10%, that is a given.
There are three things that I have learned from the triathlon training last year:
1. Don’t judge your coaches
Different coaches have different approach in building your talent. Do not assess the methods but rather, appreciate the outcome. I sank like a rock at the start of my training. Now I could do a scrappy 1000m, if I am in the mood. I use the Nichiren’s “mentor-disciple” concept in which you and your mentor can swap with each other depending on circumstances, and that you have to respect those who provide you with knowledge.
2. Don’t judge your squaddies
If everyone were the same as you, then the world would be a dull, monotonous place. If someone grates on you, remember: like anthropology, triathlon is about coping with discomfort and getting on with the programme. Competitive squad members? This is triathlon. Accept it. However, don’t carry the attitude outside training, and towards the same club members. Be mindful of social contexts. Those who slay together, play together – and that is the rule. If you can’t deal with people and have to throw your weight about each time to assert your confidence, then do a more solitary sport, like North Pole exploration.
3. Don’t judge yourself
Not an Age Grouper material? Who cares. If you care so much, then you have to ask yourself why you do triathlon. To be in the 10%? Fair enough. But don’t be an arse when your outcomes don’t meet your expectations. If you find yourself inundated by training as well as work demands, remember, you signed up to triathlon. Live up to the standard you impose on yourself. Others might follow you. At the running specialist store where I part-time at, there is this one lady who has to move with a support frame to keep up with our community runs. She joined the shop’s running group in January last year, and walked the ‘run’ each time. When she did the Westminster 1 Mile competition in 2014, she walked that race, too.
“Everyone left me behind when it started,” she said. “The press was around me, taking pictures, which I found annoying”. I pointed out: “But you did the race.” “Everyone raced ahead and I was left on my own,” she said, “but it was my race”.
So, next time you sign up for an event, ask yourself: are you doing it for social approval, or is that your race?
Salina majored in Linguistics and Anthropology at undergrad and postgrad levels. Her focus is on the anthropology of games and play, and sports as social inclusion.