When SiS asked me to write about my biggest achievements this year, at first I scoffed, I hadn’t got any, at least in the quantitative sense. But for the vast majority of us doing sport, the world championship criteria aren’t quite on our radar, so surely there is more to this play than the strive for excellence, the good, better and best?
What about all those qualitative, subjective measures that can’t be measured in watts, kilograms, beats per minute or even trophies?
Gambling has hit the headlines over the past few months, an often hidden addiction, but nonetheless, with devastating consequences. Posters remind us, that when the fun stops, stop. Three years ago, I did just that, somehow my addiction to swim-bike-run was no longer enjoyable, my body was in bits, and my mind was miserable. Losing my identity was hard, sport was everything which defined me, and when I came back to the sport a year later, it was difficult to see that toeing non-elite start lines wasn’t a failing in myself. This year I didn’t end up chasing a pro license for 70.3 like I thought I might. This year was clearly not a year of athletic excellence for myself, which hadn’t gone entirely unnoticed, with the occasional message asking if I even ran anymore(!) ((no I don’t, I just jog))
But damn, despite all this I have had so much fun. Training like an elite has taught me so much about the science of sport, my body, my boundaries. But also training like an elite is often so concretely structured, a fine balance, with little room for spontaneous fun to sneak in. This year I’ve had the freedom to race whatever takes my fancy in a whimsical fashion, I’ve thrown out the rule book out and done what I darn liked. Four of my pals bundled into a minivan around southern France this summer, with a very rudimentary grip of the language and raced six days on the trot, without a clue what was going on the whole time but powered through by England’s success in the football and a penchant for wine and baguettes. I raced in Paris on a test course for the 2024 Olympics, and I pedaled my bike up the notorious Alpe d’Huez with a flat front wheel in the hardest race of my life. In August, I travelled round SE Asia just because I could, no longer restricted to a two week off season in October or a destination designed for cycling bikes. I came back and raced some more, heading to Jersey to do a swim-bike-run-swim-bike-run and to the Lake District to do a swim-run event, with the night-before preparation becoming one of the highlights of my racing calendar.
I’m no longer embarrassed by my performances, no longer feel the need to excuse myself with the clause ‘when I used to be better…’ This year I’ve even embraced racing some cyclo-cross and remembered all the joy that being a complete novice can bring, the learning curve steep but balanced by the ease of progression! And achievements don’t always have to be sporting – I passed my fourth year of medical school, and that deserved a pat on the back!
Transitioning back to sport again without defining myself as an athlete has been difficult at times, and I’m about to embark on another challenge: the working world. Barring disaster, come August 2019 I’ll be a fully-fledged doctor, coming to a hospital somewhere near someone, in an area of the country which is yet to be determined. The transition of a retiring athlete is becoming increasingly recognised as a tumultuous period, but not so much is focused on the many talented athletes every year who graduate from University without making in on to funding by their NGB, and who whilst talented, don’t quite have the what or want to go full time with their sport. What happens to all of those? The many also-goods who disappear off in to the world of work? It’s a huge step-up, and the world of work can be so rewarding too but balancing it with sport isn’t always the easiest of tasks, especially when you’re a newbie on the block. Sometimes, just showing up can really be enough, but even that can be challenging, particularly for young grads who get bundled off up and down the country each week for new projects. You shouldn’t have to make a decision between a career and sport in the same way you shouldn’t have to make a call between your degree and your training, but sometimes it’s hard not to feel that way.
To keep on going even when it feels like you’re pedaling backwards, just like the heap of adolescent girls who are oh-so-hard to retain in competitive sport, you need a sense of enjoyment and love for the sport, that goes far beyond any quantitative measurement ever could to keep us coming back when the juggling act gets tough. And sometimes acknowledging it’s tough is enough, for sure Lucy Gossage is a dazzler, showing the balancing act is not impossible, killing long course events as a professional whilst working as a doctor, but it’s definitely not the norm, and it sure takes a superhuman effort. So with New Year’s Resolutions and 2019 creeping ever closer, what’s next for me? It’s difficult to know what the future holds, except for brightly lit hospital corridors and frustratingly disorganised work rotas, but for now I’m making the most of Yorkshire, the place I’ve been lucky enough to call home for the last six years. Yorkshire three peaks, I’m looking at you, with wide eyes and unprepared legs… but if it doesn’t challenge you… you know the rest!
Over and out 2018, time to see what the New Year brings!