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Once in a Lifetime....

31 Dec 2015
by Topher Roberts

By Topher Roberts

My 2015 season took a back seat to life when, on March 27, 2015, I was   asked by management at my company if I would be willing to take a newly created position in our Shanghai office, and I said “yes.” I saw and still see the opportunity and chance to be an expat in China as an incredible life experience.  Going into it back in April, I did not realize how the move would affect my triathlon season.  I went
through some pretty dark moments this year in my triathlon life. 

Some of these dark moments occurred due to stresses at work, new time commitments at work (working almost a 2nd shift), training conditions in China, and simply I was living in CHINA.  Today, I realize it took me roughly 3-4 months to figure out that the importance of triathlon in my day-to-day life took a backseat when I said yes that afternoon back in March.

Pre-saying “yes”, going into the 2015 “Race Season,”  I had lofty goals of going sub 5:00:00 at 3 half iron events and breaking 1:30:00 at a half marathon. 

Now, post-saying “yes” on 3/27…how quickly things change:

Within 36 days of saying yes, I:

·  Had selected and leased an apartment in Shanghai at a complex with a 50m indoor pool

·  Had sold my car and was within 30 days of being free of my condo; 

·  Had reduced my possessions down to a small closet at my parents’ house, 2 bikes, a Wahoo Kickr, and 3 large suitcases from Costco;

·  Was on a plane to Shanghai.

Training to reach my goals became a chore. After all, I am now living in a city with 22 million people in a culture where the masses, per my Western perception, do not follow rules. At least now how I know them. For example:

1.   Unlike the USA, pedestrians do not have a right-a-way when walking or RUNNING in the cross walk when the green light walking person in the traffic light says, “it’s safe to walk.” Instead, right-a-way starts
with big trucks and works its way down to pedestrians.

2.   Watch out for electric scooters, they go wherever they like including sidewalks and they are SILENT.  I have ridden my bike outside once in 7 months, due to horror stories about scooters and cars wrecking group rides.

3.   The pool at my complex was closed starting May 1 (conveniently 2 days prior to my move-in date) until August 1. No big deal, there is an indoor 50 meter Olympic training pool 3 blocks from my apartment. The pool rivals the GA Tech pool in size/stadium seating, but there are no lanes. Also, people here love to breast stroke in not very straight lines and in designated “Fast Lanes.” It was however, great training for mass swim starts as I was always looking up to swim around people. To add insult to injury, just off of the pool deck are poker and game rooms where groups gather to play cards and smoke cigarettes…inevitably inhaled while swimming laps.

The real Nail in the Coffin: While training solo in Shanghai and going through the growing pains of a new work schedule and training environment, I watched my buddies and my friends back in Atlanta boasting about great training sessions and racing successes. I was struggling to run a 9 min mile (air quality is not great and smog levels are significantly higher than in Atlanta, with temperature and humidity levels similar to Atlanta) or push through a 4 hour trainer ride, while they were posting PRs and placing in

Finally, I realized my expectations from January 1, 2015, needed to change WHEN (the ah-hah moment)…One of my buddies pointed out that I had made a decision that was bigger than my extracurricular activities (i.e. triathlon) and as a result, I need to reprioritize my time and adjust my expectations when it came to commitment to training and race results. 

After stepping back and reevaluating where my focus needs to be and realizing I needed to use triathlon as a pressure release and worry less about my times, I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders. If work or “life in China” makes it too stressful to get a workout in, I am okay with it whereas in June, I would have emotionally buried myself in the basement and been mad that I wasn’t going to reach my pre-China triathlon goals.

My point after detail my adventures: Opportunities such as living in China, or any other country, don’t come often, so don’t miss out because you won’t hit your time…

Topher and friends in the water at 70.3 Zell am See Krupen

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