Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The final countdown

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As I sit here and write, I can’t help thinking that in exactly one week’s time I will be in a slim metal tube, somewhere over Eastern Europe or Asia, trying not to inhale any germs from my fellow passengers as I make my way from London Heathrow to Beijing Capital International Airport en route to the biggest race of my life so far.

Having seemed like a long way off for the last few months, suddenly the race is frighteningly close.

The good news is that I feel in pretty good shape, despite the battering I’ve given my body this year – not that my training would come close to a ‘battering’ for more experience athletes, but for me in only my second year of triathlon it has been a real shock to the system.

Thanks to care and attention from Danny Clayton (@DC_InjuryClinic) and Victoria Haigh (@FitVic), my recent knee issues have not worsened and a slightly modified training program from Mark Shepherd (@Gobi_One) has minimised the risk of injury while trying not to lose too much speed.

And it seems to be working.  With new 5km, 10 mile TT and 25 mile TT Personal Bests all achieved in the last month, hopefully the signs are good for peaking at the right time.  It’s certainly a confidence boost to know that the times are there and that the body – apart from feeling tired – is willing to push that little harder.

Now let me put this firmly in context. These are Personal Bests, not records or gold medals or anything like that.  I am acutely aware that I don’t stand even an outside chance of winning a medal at the race in Beijing (you’ll notice I prefer not to call it the ‘World Championships’).  But to me that isn’t the point.  My goals for Beijing are twofold:  1) to perform at my best and hopefully score another PB; 2) to damn well enjoy it!

And this leads me to a less positive, but all-too-distracting, set of occurrences recently where I’ve encountered some surprising (to me) negativity about my wanting to get into the GB Age Group squad, secure sponsorship to fuel my ambitions and generally be an active member of the tri community on social media.

In my mind, I liken going to Beijing to what ironman distance athletes do when they pick a far-off destination for their one race of the year.  I don’t often see others criticising them for picking an exotic location, yet I’ve seen some quite vehement abuse in the last few weeks about age groupers going to China.  Now I’m the first to admit that there are some tossers in triathlon (at ALL distances!), but I honestly believe the majority of age groupers do it for entirely personal reasons, not to prove some sense of being ‘better’ than anyone else or any kind of ‘elite’ athlete.

For me personally, getting to China was the realisation of my big personal goal for 2011 – a frankly a bloody hard goal considering where I started from at the end of last season.  Yes, I’m extremely proud to have achieved my goal – and I might have shouted a little too loud about it – but I’ve never intended to hold myself up as some kind of ‘superior athlete’.  In fact, I hope that I’ve shown what an entirely ordinary person can do with a little determination.  I’d much rather that what I’ve done this year provides someone with inspiration rather than engender contempt.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings me to sponsorship.  I kind of get the theory that only the very best athletes ‘deserve’ to be sponsored. But that view also kind of misses the point.  Sponsorship, at the end of the day, is not unlike a business transaction.  Companies sponsor athletes not necessarily because they are the best, but because of what they can do for the sponsor.  Many amateur athletes have no interest in sponsorship, happy to do their own thing, in their own time, on their own dollar, so to speak.  And all power to them!

But as someone who wants to not only become the best athlete I can, but also somebody who would like to be an ambassador for what I truly believe is a fantastic sport, sponsorship has opened up opportunities to me that never would have been possible on my own.  I can only try to repay those people who have (literally) invested in my progress by trying to help them get noticed and build good relations with other athletes I encounter.

By blogging and playing an active role in social media, I realise that people like me make themselves targets.  And while I’m often the first to make fun of myself, I do take exception to those who openly criticise people’s goals.  Goals are entirely personal – whether it’s to finish your first sprint triathlon, meet a time target, get on the national age group team or earn your place at Kona.  No-one should ever criticise someone’s goals.  You may disagree with the goal, of course, but that’s why MY goals are mine, and YOURS and yours.

For me, I can’t wait for that starting klaxon on the morning of 11th September.  Then I can stop thinking and start racing!  And with any luck, I’ll remember to enjoy it too!

Peace. Out.

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Matt Fisher runs - so it's all his fault! He pretends to be a triathlete, but really he is a husband, father and company VP. But he has raced for the GB Age Group squad a few times and is a two-times qualifier for the IM70.3 world champs