When Triathlon Becomes An Unhealthy Compulsion

How do you know when your commitment has become an unhealthy compulsion?

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Tenacity is an admirable trait when it comes to chasing your triathlon goals, but how do you know when your commitment has become an unhealthy compulsion?

To be sure, balancing three athletic disciplines requires dedication. When you’re so focused on fitting it all in—or chasing your next PR—it can be easy to become consumed by the challenges (and rewards) the sport presents. While commitment is a good thing, compulsion is not. An addiction to training can have detrimental consequences for your relationships, finances, and physical and mental well-being.

“It’s very unhealthy when you find yourself spending an excessive number of hours alone, sacrificing family or social get-togethers to squeeze in that extra hour or extra interval,” says Gloria Petruzzelli, a clinical sports psychologist and Ironman athlete. “Also, triathlon is not a cheap sport, so many ‘addicts’ find themselves compulsively buying the latest gadget, bike or helmet, and it can really start to hamper finances.”

Persistent injuries are perhaps the most visible sign that you’re overdoing it. Chronic physical ailments and persistent illnesses are a sign you’re over-stressing your body with too much training.

“Addiction in this sense can be defined as engaging in an activity that can be pleasurable or start off pleasurable, then shift into becoming compulsive and noticeably interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work, relationships or health,” Petruzzelli says.

So how do you ensure your training doesn’t morph from healthy outlet or goal to addictive/compulsive behavior? Take an honest look at your training behaviors and consider if you’re embracing healthy coping skills in all areas of your life, advises Petruzzelli.

“Having a healthy way to cope with stress and negative emotions, other than using training, is the No. 1 key to having a healthy balance—some triathletes use their training as a ‘cure-all’ to deal with their emotions and life stress, and that’s not healthy,” she adds.

Setting boundaries on training and having people outside of the triathlon world in your life can help keep you in check if that healthy balance gets off kilter. While we all neglect certain things during hard training cycles—who hasn’t let the laundry pile up or the grass get overgrown?—there’s a point of diminishing returns for both your quality of life and your training.

Petruzzelli suggests asking yourself the questions below, adapted from a compulsive exercise assessment developed by researchers in the UK. While all triathletes will recognize aspects of themselves in these statements, if you strongly agree more often than you disagree, your triathlon compulsion may be outweighing your commitment.

1. Whether it is in or out of my control, I feel extremely guilty when I miss or skip a training session.

2. If I can’t fit a training session in on certain days, I will inevitably feel anxious, low, irritable or depressed.

3. My friends and family tell me they miss hanging out with me because I’m always training.

4. If I miss a training session, I always work to make up the volume or time the next session.

5. My entire day is planned around when I have time to train and for how long.

6. I feel guilty if I use spare time to relax.

7. I hate recovery days.

Take the full 24-question quiz here


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