Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Chrissie Wellington


Superwomen Wellington ...with her Superman. Picture from Everyman Tri


There must be a collective sigh of relief amongst Professional male triathletes that Chrissie Wellington has announced her retirement from the sport of Ironman racing.

I say this in jest but only half jest as she has dominated the sport like no other female athlete and shows that endurance sports can be an equaling  force to the usual unequal results between men and women.

I have mixed feelings.She has been part of the Ironman landscape since I came into this sport and  she was at the 2007 Aviva 70.3 ,(only my second half) then an unknown just  after winning her first Ironman event ,IM Korea 2007  .She went on to win her first World Championships later in October 2007.  She holds the fastest time for the distance in Roth in 2010 at 8.18 h .

I read her book , A life without Limits as I lay in hospital in March this year . Memorable for all the wrong reasons.She is one of my heroes no doubt for her tenacity  and determination. On the other hand , the feelings are mixed for the fact she is retiring . She has conquered all she has seen and there is just no spark to train for another Ironman.She has more challenges that get the stomach juices flowing , Ironman and the Endurance lifestyle isn't one of them.

One of the better interviews on her retirement at Ironman.com:
“I remember saying to Brett (Sutton, her coach from 2007 to 2008) when I first started, “I want to achieve success in five years. I don’t’ want to be in the sport for a very long time. For me it wasn’t a lifestyle choice … No disrespect to anyone who views it as such, but for me it was how good can I be at this sport and I answered that question.”

In a way I understand that . It takes a lot out of you and it surely isn't necessarily all good as she points out particularly for a obsessive triathlete chasing perfection. for the back of the pack age groupers who have jobs and families , the contrast isn't so stark , it isn't all or nothing and so it is a lifestyle choice without the commitment to making a living and winning races. 

But is makes everything seem relative. For a smart cookie like Chrissie to step away from the sport at this time must say a lot about how much it does take and the sacrifices to be on top ,both mental and physical. ( Another study points to the dangers of endurance events on the heart Endurance athletes may be harming hearts )In my own way I have felt that acutely this year , the commitment to training and balancing all life's pressures and results and outcomes suffering for it has made it difficult to sustain the commitment to training and more importantly the enjoyment.After all I am not earning a living from racing. I don't podium and people still ask why do you do it.Even this morning . there is no easy answer and ultimately distilled down to the essence , I still have not run the perfect race and I still want  to .Those emotions overwrite all the other sensible feelings of slowing down and taking a break

But as I have learnt  there is a fine balance between OCD behavior that is destructive and counter productive and the wholesome balanced life we all wish for.

Chrissie Wellington has obviously decided , that balance is a life without Ironman racing .Five years dominating the sport is sufficient and time to move on.I wish her well but I am sad to see her leave .It was fun , inspiring and she was all I would like to be.

Her parting comments on the perfect race sums up the whole ethos of endurance racing and Ironman
It was perfect in it’s imperfection. You never get a perfect race. Even something small can affect your predetermined plan. I think the only measure of perfection, in our sport, is the way you overcome the things that are thrown at you. For me I believe I did that as perfectly as I could in Kona in 2011. Could I go faster? Yes, I think I and other women can go faster. But I don’t want to internalize other people’s version of perfection – as soon as you go 8:50, then you start thinking “can I go 8:48?”
It is overcoming all that is thrown at you. that is what it is about and if you can face that and make a good fist of it , that is all anyone can expect .So as in racing , that is what its about in life.

I do wonder what happens to champions when they retire. Is there a proverbial elephant graveyard of Ironman champions . They never die they just fade away to appear each October on the beach sands of dig me beach or Kailua Bay or along Ali'i Drive in Kailua-Kona.