Updated: Apr 21, 2022
Lee Satterfield Turner, Jim Satterfield, EJ Turner, Lee Ruetz, Coach Mark Turner, and Jackie Satterfield-Ruetz.
As Team MPI athletes and coaches, we know that the best we can do in training and race preparation is to focus on the three things where we can actually control effort: frequency, consistency, and self-awareness. Injuries happen, and while they are never an inevitable part of endurance sports training, they can be anticipated as a possible risk. In other words, they are not unexpected but can be avoided with the right training protocols. Simply losing interest and going through seasons of lowered motivation comes with the territory as well. This too can be anticipated, addressed, and, therefore, avoided. But what about the unexpected unavoidable?
The sudden severe illness of a child or other close family member? A natural disaster, like a 1,000-year flood? The death of a loved one? These are the unexpected and unavoidable events that will derail your training and preparation. They are accompanied by so many variables that are simply impossible to anticipate. Not the least of which is the emotional impact they bring to your life. The impact of the stress that accompanies these unexpected events cannot be overestimated. The most motivated and dedicated athletes can easily find themselves drained of energy in the midst of these situations.
Recently, I found myself faced with the death of my father-in-law, Lee Ruetz. Coming out of the holiday season with its commensurate impact on consistent training, I had just ramped up my training for the year when he died. Suddenly we were all confronted with an unavoidable situation that would significantly and immediately impact our lives: Long hours of preparations, sleepless nights, unexpected worries and concerns. All these things, and more, with all of the accompanying psychological and emotional toll they carry, can make hours and days shrink. Suddenly there is not enough time or energy to complete all of the normal day-to-day duties, the new and unexpected duties that must be fulfilled without delay, and training blocks as well. When the unexpected unavoidable hits, consistent training will simply be too difficult to maintain. Accepting this new and temporary reality as your new normal will be difficult but necessary.
This is where self-awareness should come into play. As hard as it will be, and it will be hard, the athlete simply must accept that this is an unavoidable setback in his or her training. Instead of fighting this setback, focus on the people in your life who need you now more than you need to complete your full training load. Pick your spots, and get in what you can. And most of all, give yourself some grace. Remember you are in the midst of an unexpected and unavoidable situation. Fretting and letting worry over lost training time consume you will do nothing to benefit you as an athlete.
So, what to do? When frequency and consistency are legitimately roadblocked by circumstances that cannot be avoided, the athlete must leverage that third pillar: self-awareness. Recognize that as much as we love the sport of triathlon, family and people matter more. In fact, the very thing that sets triathlon apart from many other sports, far more than the sport itself, is the closeness of our community. The support and encouragement that I and my family have received from my extended triathlon family eased the mental burden of this season of setback and has allowed me to come out of it with renewed energy and focus.
Leveraging self-awareness during such a season means accepting that while you might be an IRONMAN, you are not Superman or Superwoman. It can be hard for seasoned triathletes to accept that there are some things outside of their control that can impact their plans. However, accepting that reality, putting things in the proper perspective, and allowing yourself to reset with a fresh outlook is the both the best way to navigate through the emotional upheaval that accompanies the unexpected unavoidables as well as the best recipe to ensure future success.