In every race there are only three prizes. One for first, one for second and one for third. So unless there are only three people racing, there’s no way everybody can get a prize. So if you don’t win, if you don’t podium, are you not successful?
As a professional athlete, it was something that was always in my mind. Am I successful? Am I successful to come fifth in an IRONMAN race, to come 4th, to come eight in a Championship race or to run a career personal best time ending up 6th place in the field? Was I a good athlete even though I only won one Challenge race? Do people perceive me as a successful athlete? Again, what is success?
As a coach I see athletes struggle with the same question. Of course, racing as a professional has its own dynamics and you strive to be the best athlete in the field. You want to make a living out of it, which is not easy in this sport. You do that by performing. To podium. To get a paycheck. Or to get that podium bonus by your sponsors. It is the ultimate implementation of being paid by performance. Something that will not work in a normal job or corporate company because there is simply no way that you can run a business by only paying people who have the best performance.
But success and/or performance is both subjective and objective. The objective side is the simple 1, 2, 3. The subjective side is more complicated. My career best performance only got me to sixth place. There were 5 girls better than me on the day that I had my best performance. My best performance is limited by myself. I’m no Chrissie Wellington or Daniela Ryf. I’m not a Xena, the Warrior Princess or Corinne, the Welsh Wizard. And that is ok. I strive to become as good or even better then they are, but I might not have the same talent physically or mentally. Or have the right background in sports to fall back on. And that is ok. I want to make myself better, stronger and faster. So ’till this date my career-best performance, even though I was not on the podium, is a success in my books. And one of my best performances.
Whether you are successful as an amateur athlete is something you don’t need to measure by other people. You have your limitations as do the others. You just don’t know them. Maybe you were racing people who used to race professional? Or still kind of are. Or don’t have that demanding job of 50 hours a week. Or maybe the person you just overtook is working 60 hours a week. Or maybe he or she is overtaking you because training for triathlon with a demanding job is a way to get their mind at ease. Or maybe you race against people with a family. With a newborn. With four kids. And they have to juggle everything around. For them, it might all be about balancing everything out.
As hard as it is, I want my athletes to look at their own performance. Making their own success. Like getting to that finish line of a full triathlon for the first time. In one piece. Finishing to grab a beer with the family after. For me as a coach, that makes me very happy and proud. I see that as a success. Or enjoy a 15 minute best time even though it wasn’t enough for the podium. You had a great performance, so don’t beat yourself up because someone else was better on the day. Celebrate your progression. As a coach, I see that progression and I see that as a success.
But success might also mean overcoming fear. Fear for a distance, or a certain race. I have experienced that. Challenge Almere last year was my fear race. My home race. The race where you want to have the best performance of your life. I feared the start line because I was afraid I’d fail. For my friends and family. I wanted to make them proud. What if I couldn’t? Last year I finally did it. And even though I didn’t win, I celebrated my very hard fought 2nd place like I did win. It was my succes of overcoming fear. Before the race. During the race. And even after the race, by celebrating my succes with the people that matter to me.
Success is not measured by podiums. Of course it looks great in the race report, but that doesn’t make success. A podium doesn’t always reflect a good performance. I landed on the podium of an IRONMAN once with a lousy performance. There were not many girls racing that day. And I got lucky. Was that success? It looked like it to the rest of the world, but to me, it has always been about performance. About getting the best out of myself. And on one day that might be a personal best time. The other it’s overcoming deep dark places during the race. You make your own succes. Not anyone else.