Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Triathletes are busy people. Most are juggling careers, families, friends, and other hobbies and commitments all while still making time to train daily. A solid foundation of purpose for each race goal helps athletes be able to prioritize the process and finish with a sense of accomplishment, no matter the outcome.
This purpose is often referred to as the ‘why’—ie. What is your ‘why’ or why are you doing this?
Why A Why?
Knowing ‘why’ will serve as your point of reference for all your actions and decisions as you work towards your larger goal and allow you to measure your progress. It will help you prioritize your goal as a form of honoring and caring for yourself and your needs. It will provide a daily foundation of focus and accountability, whether you’re highly motivated any any given day or not.
Where Do I Start?
Lots of us have been told we need to know our ‘why’—Why are we doing this? Why do we train and race? But what does that actually mean and how do you figure out your deeper motivation.
To fully understand why you set and prepare for a goal you must seek to know yourself first. To know yourself is to understand your strengths and weaknesses, passions and fears, your desires and dreams. It means being aware of your likes and dislikes, quirks, and your tolerances and limitations. Knowing yourself means knowing your purpose in life—your overarching ‘why.’ This is crucial to recognizing smaller ones along the way. This can be done through therapy, reading, listening to podcasts, journalling, mediation, and other forms of self-reflection.
When you know who you are, including your current life purpose, you can more easily see how your goals add value to your life. You will have more confidence that you truly have the time, energy, and interest in your specific triathlon goal. This leads to daily accountability to oneself, ability to prioritize the goal, a full and real understanding of the purpose. You will have a higher chance at eventual success or a willingness to learn from failure and try again.
The Dos and Don’ts of Establishing a Why for Triathletes
Do make it simple and clear.
Consider how you can contribute to others.
A solid why: My goal is to finish the local 5K to the best of my ability, so that I can inspire my kids to set and reach hard goals.
Do start from a place of abundance, not scarcity.
Believe you have the tools and skills in you in order to achieve your goals. You don’t have to prove anything.
A shaky why: I will compete in Ironman in order to prove to myself and others that I am strong.
Improve it: I will use my strength and determination to compete in Ironman to inspire others.
Do have a clear understanding of how this goal will affect you, even if the ‘why’ is solely to encourage or support others.
A solid why: I will train to do my best so that I can fully support my best friend in finishing her first half-marathon.
Don’t make it a secondary reason, such as a distraction from something else that you need to focus on, or a bi-product of a different goal.
A shaky why: I will train for and race a half-Ironman in order to lose weight.
Improve it: I will focus on nutrition and reaching my goal weight first so that I can prioritize the half-Ironman training experience.
Don’t get distracted or heavily influenced by social media or your friends and/or family when establishing your goals and finding your purpose.
Immersion into a goal that you don’t believe in will have a strong counter-effect. Search deep within yourself through reading, therapy, and meditation in order to know that you are following your passion.
A shaky why: I will do Ironman since my best friend is and I don’t want to miss out.
Improve it: I will set my own race goals, so that I am following my own interests. If I can share the experience with friends then I will consider that a bonus.
Do re-evaluate along the way to make sure you still want to accomplish the goal.
A solid why: I will complete in a triathlon so that I can accomplish a goal that I want to do right now.
Take the time to do some soul-searching to ensure that you are fully embracing the purpose for your goals. Know you, know why, and your training and racing experience will be taken to a whole new level.
Miranda Bush is a USAT Level I coach and ACE certified Health Coach. She is the owner and head coach of MB Coaching and the Zone Racing Team. You can follow Coach Miranda on Facebook and @zonecoachm on Instagram.