Self-made heroes of endurance sport
Endurance sport has taken over the amateur community with a storm. And for good cause. The health benefits of 150 min/week of moderate intensity exercise are well cited in scientific literature. Another benefit is the aspect of community development and building what I believe to be the foundations of strong social characteristics attached to participation in sport. Our societies need strong people to lead the way into a prosperous future. Sport has always been a catalyst for this sort of movement.
The exponential rise in the number of social running, cycling, crossfit, and other sport groups has been great to witness. We see people appreciating exercise for what it was originally designed for- to make you a better person physically, emotionally, and mentally. Like the people finishing an ultra-triathlon event, having never imagined it was possible to even run 5km. I have been coaching these sorts of people for four years now, and I can confidently state that sports, particularly endurance sports, will change you for the good.
It is no secret, scientifically speaking, that any exercise is better than none. Your window of opportunity for improvement is big when starting out with some form of training. Elite athletes on the other hand need to work extremely hard for a small gain in athletic performance. So, when our weekend warriors start becoming exponentially fitter and stronger with structured training, it is no surprise to start feeling a sense of pride in yourself. And this is good. Self-worth and acceptance in our modern society is such a hot topic at the moment, especially with the evolution of social media. But I have seen that this pride and self loathe can quickly turn into a sense of arrogance and self-made glory. I believe there is a fine balance that should be held between acknowledging and celebrating our personal victories, and thinking more of ourselves than what we really should. Don’t get me wrong- it is nice to finish these tough races. Celebrate them and feel proud about it. But we cannot start to entertain thoughts of being more than we actually are. Rather, dream of who you want to become and see this sporting achievement as a step in the right direction, not the final destination.
I would like to see our exercise groups and communities become more realistic of who they are and what they are about. If you are a group of professional athletes who are paid to train, then that is the level your group should function on. But if you are a group of people who work a full day, and exercise for enjoyment, or for the sake of self-improvement, function on that level. I believe that this sort of mindset will help your training group to grow, as well as to be inclusive of the right people. For myself and the athletes I coach, I always say “keep the main thing the main thing”. For our group it is about improving yourself as an athlete, as a person, and as a leader in your community. Results and podiums are nice, but this is not the main thing.
Finally, I think it is good to understand that exercise was always meant for health first. Competitive exercise (sport) has developed over the centuries largely due to the financial attractiveness it draws. Health benefits from exercise are massive and have a positive impact on longevity of life. This is especially true with regards to chronic diseases of lifestyle such as diabetes, hypertension, and depression. For this reason, I encourage anyone who participates in endurance sport to view your training firstly as a health benefit. This will take the pressure off of your shoulders when you cannot compete with your friend who just seems to take minutes off of their 5km time trial time every week. Your fitness journey is very unique to you, and celebrate that above all else.