My mom recently uploaded photos of me as a kid on Facebook and it got me thinking about my childhood in Ghana. As a kid, I wanted to run before I could walk. I said my first word at 7 months (it was “Al Pacino”), and I could read the alphabet at 8 months before I took my first steps.

I have always had encouraging parents; they provided just the right amount of guidance and never dissuaded me from doing what I loved. This trend followed all the way to university, I started my higher education at the age of 16 and by the age of 22, completed my PhD.

My athletic career hasn’t been too dissimilar; my first ever run was to train for the London Marathon. (As a friend questioned, “don’t you think it might be wise to start with a 10k run?”). Anything far from extreme was not an option, you aim to succeed (at whatever goal you set your sights on) or you just don’t bother at all. The same translated to triathlon. I learnt how to swim and bike in February of 2009 and completed my first triathlon in June 2009. I remember meeting my coach for the first time and being as excited as a kid, mentioning to her and knowing deep down inside, that all I wanted to do was be an Ironman. A year later, I competed in Nice and surprised myself with a decent performance.

As this season comes to an end, it has been mixed. Looking back, my performance and progress has been excellent, setting a strong PB at Placid across all legs of the sport and PBs in all the other distances as well as the training races I repeated from last year. So why the mixed feelings? Well, I set my expectations too high.

Triathletes typically have type A personalities (I’m guilty of this). We are competitive, aggressive and a little bit unhinged. We also think we are better than we are. (Sorry folks, it’s now out there!). So what expectations did I have? Rationally, none other than bettering myself. Emotionally, to beast it.

And where did this stem from? Well, I was influenced by the athletes around me. From their comments by the pool, from cycling behind the best cyclists and hearing stories of friends of friends who had great performances with no training (most of which is urban legend). That’s a dangerous thing. Despite my strong performances, I felt like I had made no progress. I lost track of my goal, my A-race, Placid.

Focus is all that I needed; after all, I am a relative newbie to the sport. And as a fresher, I need to build a strong endurance base and improve on my technique, especially on the bike. I need to learn to walk before I can run.

A typical example of this was learning to deconstruct my marathon. I have always been a strong runner, anything slower than a 6-minute mile was a snails pace, but for an Ironman, the risk of blowing up is too high. I had to re-teach myself to run at an 8-minute mile pace, that’s endurance heart rate zone 2, where your body burns fat. This took numerous sessions where I was paced by my coach. It was tough, but my goal was to build a strong foundation.

So, with two full seasons of triathlon racing, two Ironman and five half Ironman races under my belt, I have seen many athletes that I have trained with come and go. Some get bored with the sport (been there, done that) and a few fall out of love with it (it’s a huge time commitment). But I am still standing. And I look forward to the year ahead and the new challenges it will bring. As long as I focus on my goals, benchmark my previous performances and manage my expectations. After all, in the words of Al Pacino, “all I am is what I’m going after”.

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