I’ve been thinking for a while about how to frame this first post so I’m going to go in a few different directions. First, a mini-rant/coming-to-terms, followed by some excuse-making, and ending it with a more hopeful look into how I want this blog to look going forward. My apologies upfront for some of the randomness of this post – it’s been a while since I’ve put finger to keyboard to get out some of my thoughts.
Rant(ish): As a professional triathlete, your job is much more than just the swim, bike, run. You have a responsibility to the companies and individuals you represent to be a strong, moral, outspoken individual whether you are in contract with them or not. There are a lot of different techniques that people use to frame their self as a professional athlete. Most commonly, you see the athletes who like to “let their results speak for them.” “I ride this bike and use this wetsuit and am on the podium 6 times a year so you should use the same gear as me.” “I give thanks to my sponsors when I win with their gear and everyone can see how much I love to use it so they should, too.” (Apologies for my over-simplified pokes at plugs) While this tactic generates positive content for a company, it’s difficult to quantify from both the athlete and the investing company’s views. How many people read a post written by their favorite athlete and then turn around and buy the bike they ride? Do they do it immediately after they read the post or does it take several posts for that seed to be planted? And what actually makes them pull that trigger? Did they do a lot of research and compare their options after first seeing you using that product or did they decide to buy it right at your first exclamation? And how can that company really know that your posts are the reason they have a bump in sales? There’s no real way to be sure. Even tagging a specific discount code to an ambassador can only quantify so much.
Furthermore, representing a sponsor goes far beyond just how you use their product. You have to consider how you conduct yourself publicly and online. It is often the things you don’t think about that can get you into trouble, too. When I ran for a NCAA cross country team, this was something my coach always made very clear to us. When you are heading to meet with your team gear on, it’s easy to remember to be respectful to other teams, officials, or supporters. But when it’s a Friday night and your friend from Psychology is throwing a raging party, it’s easy to let your guard down for the sake of a good time. But when you decide to get completely plastered and some obscene picture makes it’s rounds on Facebook, then, yes… that reflects poorly on you and carries over to your team. People looking at that picture would identify you as the being that athlete on the college team, which eventually reflects poorly on the University as well. Though you aren’t an employee of the school, you have to act as if you are – because they can yank your scholarship right up from under your feet if you give them good enough reason to. The same goes for being a professional athlete. Just look at a some recent professional athletes who made some poor decisions and whose sponsors have completely abandoned them – Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, and most recently Maria Sharapova to name a few.
On a more positive note, let’s look at someone I can admire for how well he conducts himself publicly, Andy Potts. I remember the first time I participated in a race with him; he literally stood outside the VIP tent just waiting for people to come talk to him. He is a very well liked triathlete who many admire and respect and he KNOWS this. But instead of sitting inside the VIP tent with his family or friends, eating a post-race meal, only to emerge when it was his time to go up on the podium, he took the time to talk to Joe Triathlete because he knows how much it means to them and how positively that reflects on him as an individual and a brand. You can ask most anyone who has met Andy and they’ll tell you “Oh, he’s such a nice guy!” He’s a nice guy who knows exactly what he’s doing. Big sponsors stick with him year in and year out because he can create content that people will read and get behind because they think Andy is a good guy.
Excuses: Admittedly, I don’t do a very good job of promoting my sponsors. And frankly, like a lot of professional athletes, it doesn’t come naturally for me to want to self-promote. I’m generally an introverted individual who prides herself in her quiet, hard work. I like my results to speak for me because I’m not extrinsically motivated. I don’t need to show others how hard I’m working to feel good about what I’m doing. So when I accomplish a new high in training, the first thing I’m thinking isn’t to give a shout out to company XYZ for helping me get there. I might go home and text my coach about the workout and how happy I am about it, but that’s about it. I’ll then go to bed and get up the next morning with a new confidence that I can quietly carry into my next workouts going forwards. Most other professional triathletes – or even high-achieving athletes can attest to having similar attitudes.
Among other reasons I’ve done a poor job of it since becoming a professional athlete has to do with my injury streak. Injury is nothing unusual in triathlon and running. But I’ve had an unusually high number of them considering how smart I am about my run training (cautiously increasing mileage and intensity, rarely running over 35 miles a week, always wearing new shoes, spending time in therapy and on tools such as the alter-g, etc.). When I actually look back, I can’t say I’ve had more than 6 months of healthy run training without needing to take 1 month+ off of running in 7 years. Put into perspective, it’s remarkable how well I’ve been able to maintain my run speed given how little consistency I’ve had.
I’ve done this blogging thing several times over and I’ll do a good job of consistently writing until something happens that halts my improvement as an athlete. Most of the time it has had something to do with injury – so I go quiet for a while and come back months later with a post about my next “comeback” from injury. I can’t guarantee that this time around my creative juices will be flowing and I’ll have many more novel ideas to post about during my periods of non-racing. But I can promise a more genuine and open discussion on my part about the ups and downs of my triathlon career.
Another part of my hesitancy in writing a blog has to do with finding my voice – an idea encouraged by my coach. You see a lot of generic triathlon blogs out there. “This is my race report and here are some pictures of me riding my bike (insert link to bike website), oh look how pretty the swim start its blah blah blah.” Seriously, how many times have you read that? A triathlete I admire for putting together thorough and informative blogs is Cody Beals. He goes beyond just the surface of explaining what happened in the race but is honest about his decision-making process in the race. He’s open about the struggles he faces now and from the past and outlines how he got over it, or continues to be proactive about it. He has a lot of followers and is affectionately known as “the people’s pro.” Cody has found a voice for himself online and uses it effectively.
Hope: I can’t say I know what my voice is yet – or what direction I really want to go with this blog, but I figure this is a start. Being open and honest in both good times and bad times is crucial to what I'm trying to achieve here. Welcome to my blog and a little peek inside the mind of this triathlete.