Let’s give ourselves permission to redefine what it means to be a triathlete this off-season, writes Kelly O'Mara.

If you run, you’re a runner. That’s all it takes: a few laps around the park a couple times each week. If you ride a bike, is something you need to call an exterminator about.

But if you…what…you’re a triathlete? If you triathlon? Our identities as triathletes are closely tied to racing. Too closely sometimes. You can swim and bike and run all you want for fun, but until you complete an actual triathlon, with a start and finish line, it’s often hard for you to consider yourself a triathlete. (And let’s not even start with the triathlon snobs who act as if you’re not a “real” triathlete until you’ve done some arbitrary number of races of some arbitrarily designated length.)

These definitions are all a little silly. There’s no reason your identity as an athlete needs to be tied up with an entry fee. Who is any race director to say who or what you are? Are you not an Ironman if you simply complete the distance by yourself for fun, without Mike Reilly there making a big deal about it?

If what makes a triathlete a triathlete is the race season so many triathletes struggle with identity crises during the off-season. If we’re mountain biking or doing yoga, are we still triathletes?

It shouldn’t have to be said, but: yes.

You don’t suddenly stop being a triathlete in December, and you don’t stop being a triathlete simply because you aren’t actively preparing for a race. And don’t worry, we aren’t going to take away your triathlete card if you try another sport or two.

I’ve got to admit something: I love triathlon, but sometimes I get a little sick of triathlon races. Sometimes I wish there was a way to be a triathlete without always needing to have another triathlon on the calendar. I wish I didn’t have to feel weird when I don’t have a good enough answer to the oft-asked, “So, what do you have coming up next?” Sometimes I want to try an obstacle-course race or a ski race or a swim race. But I don’t consider myself a swimmer or skier or an obstacle-course racer. I consider myself a triathlete.

So this off-season, let’s give ourselves permission to redefine what it means to be a triathlete. You’re a triathlete—go make it mean whatever you want.