Triathlon feels new and exciting again

Triathlete Sarah Groff shares her morning routine and go-to breakfast.

This year, I'm going about things differently.

From an outside perspective, it probably seems like not much has changed: I still look the same and act the same. I still swim, bike and run around foreign cities in my bathing suit. To me, however, 2013 marks the launch of Groffy 2.0, a more balanced, bolder version of the previous model.

At the end of last season, I took stock of what I'd achieved: In the course of a couple years, I'd transformed myself from a pretty good triathlete into an Olympian who'd just missed a medal. I had a smart coach who believed in me, inspiring training partners and incredible training camps in Australia and Switzerland. It seemed obvious I would continue along this path if I wanted further success in the sport.

But that wasn't enough. I needed a more balanced program if I wanted to continue to grow as an athlete. Spending the lion's share of the past few years living out of a suitcase exhausted me and demanded too much of my relationships. While Skype is amazing for staying in contact while on the road, it has its limitations, especially for canine-human interactions and quality time with a boyfriend. If I wanted to continue to be a thriving professional athlete, I realized an investment in my personal relationships would be key. I would have to replace the older model (the one who helped me succeed) with a more independent one.

Generally speaking, I'm a pretty tough individual.* In fact, I'm so stubborn I've raced and trained with fractures in my elbow and pelvis (with ill-advised medical clearance; I do not recommend this!) So what was it about spending January in New Hampshire that made me cower like an over-anxious Chihuahua?

If you've spent any time in New England in the winter, you'd be safe to assume the frigid climate this past January would've shaken me to the core. While I fully admit summer chasing has rendered me almost incapable of tolerating runs in double-hat-balaclava (aka a hat with a facemask) and triple-glove temperatures, something far more innocuous was my kryptonite: change.

But change is good. Doing new things can present challenges that help us discover more about ourselves. Change is also difficult, but I knew I'd be better off in the long run if I could embrace it. I needed to restructure my approach to my sport.

After having worked with a slightly eccentric Aussie coach, Darren Smith, I switched to an equally quirky Canadian-turned-Scot coach, Joel Filliol. Of course I was tempted to stick to the comfort of the familiar, rather than take a risk with a new coach and a new program. There were times I struggled with my decision, worrying I would become a worse athlete and have to abandon my big dreams. Did I make a mistake swapping a successful program for one that was unknown and required more autonomy? Could I still cut it?

Fortunately, not only can I still cut it in competition, I've noticed my whole perspective on my sport has changed. Now that I've taken one big risk, I'm more apt to take chances in my racing, and I'm developing into the aggressive racer I've always dreamed of being. And the best part? In spite of being a triathlete for years, the sport feels new and exciting again; I'm having more fun racing than a kid jumping in a bouncy castle.

I'll be spending this summer training and racing in Spain, but I'll only be out of the country for three months this year. Then I'll return to my house in New Hampshire, where my boyfriend and our dog will be waiting. I'm also fortunate to have my brother, sister-in-law and two adorable nieces nearby. Plus, autumn in New England is stunning, and I wouldn't miss it for anything!

Whether it's competing in your first triathlon or making a big career decision, don't let fear or insecurity impede you and keep you from trying something new. While accepting change may be harder than sticking to what's familiar, I've learned there's much more to gain than to lose. At first it might be scary, but chances are, you'll end up finding out something new about yourself -- and if you experience anything like what I have the past several months, you'll have a really good time in the process.

*Full disclosure: I melt at the sight of most critters and have been known to tear up at certain commercials. For the sake of my argument, however, let's overlook my softer side.

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