The weird world of the pros

I am going to be totally straight up and say that I don’t think that this is a lifestyle I would choose for myself. As clichéd as it sounds it is really just train, eat, sleep, repeat.


As a “pro” I spent two weeks doing hard training and one week tapering. It has made me realize how it is pretty much impossible for mere mortals to compete against professional athletes. There is no way that I could do three sessions a day as well as my usual “work” activities. The main thing is recovery time. Perhaps you are a superhuman and are really good at time management allowing you to do two sessions every day of the week. I still doubt that you would be able to do the quality of training that pro athletes do. You are allowed to disagree with me.

Another thing that I have realized is that my capacity for hard training has increased. At the beginning I really struggled trying to do so many quality sessions, but as time has gone on this has improved and I cope better and am able to do more intensity. But again, the main thing that has enabled this has been proper recovery.

I did some training with other South African pro athletes in Stellenbosch and I just can’t believe the amount of training that they do. Even in this “pro” block I was  not able to get in anywhere near the same amount. I honestly don’t know how they do it! I can only assume that after years of being a pro I, too, would be able to do this quantity of training. That, or I would end up an injured heap of skin and bone. Who knows?

My days were quite different. I would wake up late*, phaff a bit, have some breakfast and a coffee and head out for my first session of the day. This may be something like a speed run session or a hard bike with a short run off the bike (ROB).

*My options were:

  • set alarm and sleep around 8 hours, with a nap sometime in the day
  • don’t set alarm, sleep around 10 hours and don’t nap

I mostly went with option 2 as it is now pretty much winter which means it only gets light and warmer much later and I didn’t really see the point in setting an alarm if I didn’t have to.

That being said, when I had to do three sessions a day I did need to wake up early and get one done to increase recovery time between sessions.

I would get home around 12h00, shower and then it’s time for food. Food is another very important aspect of the professional triathlete’s lifestyle. No sugar, gluten, dairy or preservatives allowed. Some will even have you believe that no carbohydrates are allowed and that you should eat tablespoons of lard.

I am not one of these. I eat to fuel my body for the next session. I believe in chocolate milk for recovery and I believe in eating breakfast. I believe in being normal. So I just ate good quality foods. Chicken, sweet potato, oats, spinach, etc.

I found it quite hard to “diet” (remember I said I wanted to lose a bit of weight before the race) while training hard. It went okay for about 5 days, but then I started getting tired and I needed to eat more to get myself through the sessions. I have, however, lost some weight and have no doubt that I would get to my goal weight given some more time.

Next I would maybe answer emails and attend to some social media and then time is up. It’s time for the next session.

Most of my bike and run training I did by myself, roping in a friend every now and then when I could convince him, but I have had to swim with someone each session. This is the hardest discipline for me to do by myself and I find that I need to swim with someone to really be able to push myself to the limit. Never ever in my tri career have I swum 6/7 times a week, but this seems to be the norm for pro ITU athletes where the swim is so crucial. My costumes and towels were never dry and I took a whiff of chlorine with me wherever I went.

Up and down. And up and down. And up and down again
Up and down. And up and down. And up and down again

I know that most view the lifestyle of a professional triathlete as an ideal, involving training as much as you want to, lots of coffee stops and travelling to exotic locations, but I have found the reality to be quite different. I was generally so tired that I could barely make it up the stairs to the gym pool. Training sessions can either be awesome or a total chore. Sometimes I didn’t even know how I was going to start the next scheduled session. The person I was closest to was my coach. We spoke pretty much before and after every session. I spent loads of time uploading files and writing detailed comments for him to analyse. That being said, the feeling when training is going well is awesome!

The thing that I disliked the most was feeling so unproductive. I think it would affect everyone differently, but I had a Masters degree sitting on hold like a monstrous purple mass that was growing and growing while I did nothing about it all day.

I am sure that if you were part of a training group and spending a few months at a time in different countries instead of doing it alone from home then things might be different.

I don’t want to sound too negative about the whole thing. There are definitely some awesome things about being a pro athlete and it has been a very interesting experiment for me. When people oooh and aaah at the awesomeness of being an athlete I don’t think that they realise that being an athlete is actually a job and that athletes need to earn money by training hard and winning races. A lot of things need to come together for that to happen. An athlete relies on staying healthy and uninjured to be able to work. I am sure this is pretty stressful. At least if Joe Soap age-group athlete is injured he can still go to his day job and earn money. I definitely have a new respect for professional athletes.

But the long and the short of it is that I don’ think that I am wired to be a pro ITU athlete. An Xterra athlete might be a different story though… 🙂


** I wrote this before the race. Post race and I feel a little differently now that I know what all the hard work is for. The race was a very cool experience and something I am very glad that I got to be a part of! Blog post coming next week…


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