ActiveRoot Ambassador Kirsty O'Brien Reflects on her 2019 Season
Active Root Ambassador Kirsty O'Brien reviews her triathlon season and gives her reflections upon how to measure a season's success.
Since my last race of the season I have been trying to reflect and learn from it. It is hard to know how to measure success. Is it in results? Is it in small victories? Is it in level of enjoyment? I have always said that a happy Kirsty is a fast Kirsty, but that has not been entirely true this season. I have been happy, I have been enjoying racing, but due to a long term injury I have been falling short of my expectations in the fast part. I think this season a happy Kirsty is a ‘managing to shuffle along’ Kirsty. But it has definitely been a lesson in not measuring success in terms of podium positions and personal bests, but in small victories and level of perseverance (even if that small victory is just getting to the finish line with less snot on your face than normal). When we only focus on times and where we are on that podium we miss what is important – the mishaps and stories of each race that keep us coming back for more, and the people we share these races with that make it so special.
I can’t actually believe the season is over so quickly when I have really been waiting for it to start. Every race I kept telling myself – ‘get through this one, and we will have the legs sorted for the next one.’ So I never felt like I really got going. But that is not to say that I have not loved every race and have not loved sharing the experiences with my friends and family. Triathlon is such a close knit world, and the people I race with are amazing, determined, stubborn and unbelievably kind people. Sometimes it is worth racing just for the pre-race banter when we are nervously setting up our transition spots. One of my favourite moments of the season was setting up with ‘the Lorna’s’ from Ayrodynamic Tri club before Knockburn and going through a cycling kit fashion show to decide our bike outfits – it was like doing a triathlon with Carrie form Sex and the City!
Overall, the season has been rough for me. In the interest of full disclosure, I have hamstring tendonopathy in both legs and issues with my deep gluteal muscles in the left leg. It has made running very painful for around 9 months now, and it flared up badly at the end of the season. I think I was too cold when racing the Scottish Middle Distance Nationals for my already unhappy legs, and the run was too much for them that day. Sheer stubbornness got me to the end of that race (as my Hubby says, I had my ‘don’t even try to mess with me’ face on when I ran past him and he suggested I should stop). A high five from my favourite racing buddy Debs ensured I held on to that ‘let’s do this shit’ mentality until the end. However, the flare up in my injury from this race led to me pulling out of the Scottish Cross Tri National Champs the following weekend (and therefore missing the opportunity to try and defend my title), and racing in a lot of pain at the Scottish Standard Distance Tri Champs to end off the season.
So now the season has ended, how do I feel? The same way I always feel – I love this sport and I can’t wait for next season so I can go back for more.
If I measured success in personal bests and progress I would be pretty down about this season. If I compared my running this year to where it was last year, it could be a pretty dark place to go to. A fellow competitor asked me at the end of my last race what had happened to me this season as I hadn’t been racing that well. I never really responded at the time, but I suppose my answer is I realised I am not the super human I sometimes like to think I am. My body sent me signs at the start of this year that things were not quite right, and I ignored them at first. As I said in my last blog – training became my stressor. I tried to solve the problem with training more and ignored the signs I was training too much.
Once I relaxed again and started giving my body a break, I did start training better. I was more relaxed and found the love for it again. But physically, the damage was done.
However, this was the turning point for me. I remembered how much I love Triathlon, and it is that love for what I am doing that has got me though some of the really tough times in training and racing throughout the season. Mentally, I went to some pretty dark places during some of my races this season. The pain was getting the better of me, and I questioned what the hell I was doing. Why am I running around in Lycra in the pissing rain when my legs are screaming at me to stop and I am running so awkwardly I look more like I am doing some sort of a weird robot dance on rollerskates?
I am not going to pretend that I have not been disappointed with some of my performances this season. I don’t measure my performance in the race by times, podium positions, or who beat who on the day. A good performance for me is when I feel like I have given everything that I could on the day, and I have done justice to the training I put in for that race. There have been a few races where I have not felt like this. Where I have been frustrated that I could not perform on the day how I know I can perform, even when I am a bit injured. When I have had to take the foot off the gas in the race, not because I wasn’t fit enough, but because my legs would just not do what I wanted them to do, and what I know they can do. When I was screaming ‘shut up legs’ and my legs were responding with ‘naw wee one, lie down on the ground and assume the foetal position until somebody with a large carrot cake comes and finds you.’
But I have learned a lot about myself this year. I am a lot tougher than I thought I was. In most races I have had to fight against the urge to quit. When my injury was affecting both my bike and my run in the last couple of races, my body and mind has been screaming at me to stop, and I have been tempted to give in. But each time, I have managed to somehow find a happy place again and just keep going. Strangely, that has sometimes involved me getting a One Direction song stuck in my head and part of the battle has been to not sing aloud and loose my credibility as a rock chick. Other times it has involved me imagining the large bit of cake and gin I am going to treat myself to once the race is over. But in every case, I have learned that I am a lot happier when I remember the race is not just about me. I race with so many amazing people, and there are so many people that devote time to me directly, and time to the sport just because they love it. I am privileged to be able to race, and I always try to remember that.
Season Summary:So what now? Well I actually shocked everyone who knows me and took a full week off from training. I have a rehab program that I understand and believe in that I have recently started and I hope that, in a few months time, I may be injury free again and running pain free. I will certainly never take pain free running for granted again. I would love to do the cross country season with my Cambuslang Harrier buddies, but I will need to wait and see what my legs say about that. Whatever happens, I know I will be back on that start line next year – if nothing else, I will try and bring some banter.
Scottish Duathlon National Championships
3rd Woman overall and 3rd Senrior woman.
Lochore Meadows Standard Distance Triathlon
1st woman overall.
Scottish Sprint Distance Triathlon National Championships
Another 3rd Woman overall and 3rd Senior woman for me.
Scottish Aquathlon National ChampionshipsI won my first ever Aquathlon medal, coming 2nd woman overall and 2nd senior woman.
Scottish Middle Distance Triathlon National Championships (also the British Middle Distance Age Group Championships)In the near apocalyptic conditions on the day, I was aiming just to finish this race. Was happy with 2nd woman overall and 2nd senior woman in the Scottish championship, and 2nd also in the 35-39 age category in the British championship.
Scottish Standard Distance Triathlon National Championships
An incredibly tough day out there for me – was just relieved to hold on for 3rd woman overall and 3rd senior woman