As we enter 2021, it seems easy to overlook the glimmer of hope that we often associate with the start of a new calendar year. This is the time that we (particularly in the northern hemisphere) often sit down and plan-out the year ahead. We start thinking about booking hotel rooms, searching for local ‘B races’ to support our overall goals, and engineering our training plans so we ‘peak’ for the summer.
Throughout 2020 the world threw multiple obstacles at our ability to train and race. Time and time again races were postponed and cancelled, sometimes at the last minute. However, it wasn’t just the availability of races (or lack thereof) which stopped many of us. Motivation fluctuated. Lockdowns prohibited many of us from being able to get outside for longer than one hour at a time. Swimming pools were closed. And perhaps more importantly, we have been looking after our immune systems and mental health. Stressing the body unduly for a race that wasn’t likely to happen didn’t seem like the most sensible or responsible thing for us to be doing.
There was a brief period when racing resumed for some of us. Event organisers put together socially-distant start lines. Aid stations were unmanned, or not available. Yet despite the availability of races, social media feeds seemed to be filled with statements about ‘not being fit enough to race’, or comments that reflected the number of times that an individual had made it into a swimming pool that season.
But do we have to be at peak fitness to race?
As triathletes there is something quite ritualistic about race day. Packing transition bags, making sure we have elastic laces on our running shoes, dragging out our favourite aero helmet preserved for race day… There is also something quite exciting – and stomach churning – about setting an alarm for 4AM and forcing down a bowl of oats in preparation for the day's efforts. It’s different from training. Regardless of the weather, aches, pains or an unexpected visit from the in-laws, we’re going to go and do ‘our thing’, and nothing will stop us.
We don’t have to be at peak fitness or fighting for a podium to enjoy this aspect of being a triathlete. The ability to race, challenge ourselves, and push the limits is something that we should savour. A local standard distance race will not offer the same spectacle or competition as an Ironman, yet the immediate preparation and race day excitement will be the same. You may also be surprised who turns up. I have seen age group Kona athletes rock up to local sprint derbies just because they want to race.
Our 2021 goals may not be as race- or even triathlon-focused as in ‘normal years’, but just because we may not be able to enter or complete the ‘dream race’ that we signed up for (or have a deferred place for) doesn’t mean we have to stop.
So for 2021, let's race. Training for such events doesn’t have to compromise immune systems. Perhaps thousands of swim strokes with resistance bands indoors to ‘replicate’ the swim portion of an Ironman is a step too far, but we can still complete the bike and run, right?
This kind of "racing" may not include international travel or Ironman, but we can still set some goals and get competitive on a slightly smaller stage. Off-road or trail routes, 10k targets and virtual races are all possible alternatives. Supporting grassroots events can never be a bad thing!
If organised events are cancelled, then let's do our own. Set a date and a time, get up early and smash those goals, whatever they are. Personally, I encourage any excuse to put on an MX race suit and Rep the X!
Cat Hine is an MX Endurance Race Team ambassador.