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What I Learned When I Quit Triathlon

I quit triathlon in 2015. At the time, I had been pursuing the sport with every fiber of my being for exactly half my life. For 13 years, I had thrown everything I had into training, racing, traveling, and trying to be my best. My dream had been to become a professional triathlete and I had accomplished that dream. I raced professionally from 2012 to 2015. On the other side of achieving that dream was the cold reality that there were a lot people way better than me at the sport, and rent was still due on the first of the month.

Triathlon bike position
Triathlon bikes were blue back then

During the four years I raced pro from 2012 to 2015, many challenges in my personal and professional life hindered the amount of time and energy I could spend training and recovering. I didn't realize I was burning the candle at both ends quite so aggressively, but I was. Instead of doing one thing really well, I was doing two things moderately okay. And I was really tired! As an example, I distinctly remember one of many swim meet weekends. I coached at the meet early on Saturday morning, then when the morning session ended at 11:30 AM, I rushed home, hopped on my bike for an 80-mile ride, then rushed back to the swim meet for the afternoon session at 5:00 PM. Thank goodness I didn't get a flat tire.

Eventually, triathlon training reached a point when fitting in the training was more of a stressor than a stress relief. I knew I had to stop. I had been deeply in love with the sport since I was 13 years old, and once it stopped being fun, I was done. That fall of 2015, I called my coach, Kurt Perham, and told him I was done with triathlon. I had just finished riding my bike for three hours and hated every second. The first question Kurt asked was "how's the home life?" It wasn't good, and Kurt, being the fantastic human he is, knew that life always comes before sport. At the time I quit in 2015, I was 100% done and had no plans to race triathlon ever again. I was giving up on my pro dream and going another direction in life. In the process of walking away from professional triathlon, I learned a few things about myself.

5 Things I Learned by Quitting Triathlon

  1. Health and fitness are priorities for me. I lasted no more than two weeks of minimal working out before I had to start training again. It wasn’t for weight loss or even fitness, it was simply that I loved to run. Even with an incredibly busy work schedule at the time, I realized that my own health and fitness will ALWAYS be priorities. An early morning run doesn’t make time for itself. I have to make the commitment and it often means loss of sleep. Even if I needed to be at a swim meet by 7:30 AM, I was going to find time to fit my 13 miles in before I showed up. It's not a workout. It's a way of life.

  2. I love to race. I got back into running quickly, and I entered a few cross country meets and competed that fall of 2015. I found I loved racing simply for the sake of racing. I love to push my body and love to compete. By retiring from professional triathlon, I removed pressure and expectations. I raced for the pure love of racing and pushing myself as hard as I could. That’s fun.

  3. Food isn't scary. I struggled with eating, body image issues, and the idea of "race weight" during my time pursuing elite sports. One of the scariest things of "retirement" was not knowing what was going to happen to my body and my weight. Was I going to gain 50 lbs? Would I have to buy new pants? I chose to eat like a "normal" American because it didn't matter anymore. I bought donuts for breakfast because I had never done that before. I drank a soda at lunch because... why not? I had McDonald's, pizza, and salad. Please don't take anything I'm saying as dietary advice, because I have zero credentials in this space. But for me, eating whatever I wanted was one of the most psychologically freeing things I could do. I didn't gain weight. Of course, getting back into running helped, but I learned how to trust my appetite. I guess we all have one for a reason 🤷‍♂️. When I was hungry, I ate a lot. When I wasn't as hungry, I would have a salad for dinner and go to bed. It was a simpler and more sustainable way of life. I learned to be okay with myself and eating whatever I felt like.

  4. I love the sport. This has been true since the first triathlon I did at 13 years old. I love triathlon with a passion and am so grateful for the opportunity I have to coach and teach others about the sport for a living. Walking away from my own personal ambitions gave me more time to dedicate to my athletes and help them with their own personal pursuit of excellence. I believe triathlon is the greatest sport on the planet and I get so much joy from seeing my athletes succeed.

  5. Triathlon does not define me now. Whenever a large amount of the time you spend revolves around a given activity, it’s natural for that activity to become part of your identity. I very much so identified myself as a triathlete prior to the 2015 retirement. What I realized when I stopped training and racing is that yes, I compete in triathlon, but no, triathlon is not WHO I am. I’m perfectly fine not being a triathlete and don’t need the attention of being one to make me feel good. There are much bigger and deeper things that I believe in and find my identity in. Triathlon is part of that identity, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not all that important.

Running a half marathon
Will race for food


I first wrote this article back in 2015, shortly after I quit the sport, but it never made it to the light of day. The following snippet is from the last paragraph of that original article talking about my plans for the future.

I may jump in some local triathlons here and there but I definitely won’t be racing pro. I learned some great things racing as a (very) back of the pack pro the last few years. I got to travel and compete with some of the best in the world and those experiences undoubtedly make me a much, much better coach. I learned how hard you truly have to work to be the best. Being able to train and race with some high caliber athletes showed me the dedication and attention to details it requires to be really, really good. There are a lot of talented people out there but not many that have the right combination of confidence, work ethic, and attention to detail it requires to be great. I may take a shot at racing pro again sometime in the next few years if my schedule reaches a point where I can dedicate myself more to the training and recovery.

As I sat down to edit and update my blog so I could post it on our website, I realized that it didn't need much editing at all. The words I wrote back in 2015 are still true today and my viewpoint is the same as it was back then. I'm back racing pro now and quite proud to be a very average professional triathlete! Quitting triathlon was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I'm back now, training hard and racing faster than I was back then. Life is crazy, hard, and sometimes crazy hard. Everyone has their own path and I've learned to be content with mine and enjoy my own journey. I hope that everyone who reads this is able to do the same.

Catch ya on the road,

-Mark Saroni

Aero triathlon bike position
More aero with age

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2 comentários

Alex Sharp
Alex Sharp
02 de nov. de 2023

Incredible read! So cool to see how not letting triathlon to be your identity ultimately allowed you to reach new heights!! Very inspirational.

Mark Saroni
Mark Saroni
02 de nov. de 2023
Respondendo a

Thanks dude! This sport is too rad to give up on it 🤘

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