Michael Jordan said that part of being a professional athlete is doing what you love, even when you don’t love doing it. So why not live up to the converse – being an amateur athlete is about doing what you love, only when you love doing it! I love to run, bike, swim, climb, and surf, but I don’t like training. Training feels like work, but sports for me are for fun and fitness. Once you set goals for your sports, it becomes like a job, complete with the guilt that goes along with feeling like you’re not working hard enough. I think most athletes I know who compete have this sort of goal-oriented mindset – they want to hit a particular time, or qualify for a major race, or place in their age group. The language of fitness and competition is filled with words about fulfilling your goals, losing X amount of weight, or completing a given distance.
All of that is fabulous if these are the things that motivate you.. But I’d like to propose an alternative way of approaching sports – that of the Lazy Athlete. A Lazy Athlete is one who doesn’t care about times, competition, training, metrics (other than for curiosity), or goals, but does sports purely for the fun of it. Naturally, this rules you out of some of the longer races like marathons, half-Ironmans, and the like, but the up side is that you don’t really have to train! I participate in a host of events each year, from half-marathons to cycling events to olympic and sprint triathlons, but have never really trained in the sense of having a schedule and goals. I try to maintain a good mix of running, cycling, and swimming, and try not to have too many consecutive days of not exercising. If I have a longer-distance run coming up, I’ll throw in a couple of 10-12 mile runs, but other than that I won’t think much more about it. I listen to my body – if I don’t feel like doing a long run, I don’t do it.
Does this limit me from competing at my potential? Absolutely! But so much is gained in exchange – total freedom from guilt, complete relaxation on race-day, and most importantly, the feeling like I could maintain this routine for many decades. For me, exercise is like brushing your teeth – it’s mandatory, and something you need to get used to doing every single day…for your entire life. Lazy Athletes have sublime patience, because we have many years to compete in the events we want. Instead of having a particular time goal, my objective is to participate in races in interesting and beautiful places around the world. The fitness industry seems to be particularly geared to setting goals, but there is a real freedom when you get rid of goals and just do stuff for the hell of it.
I have deep admiration for professional athletes and dedicated amateurs who devote countless lonely hours of hard work to their sport. But for those who think this is the only way you can compete in races, I say be Lazy! Sure you won’t win your age group, but think about all you get in return!