Rocket wo/man - setting athletic goals when your priorities have shifted

I watched a terrible movie on Netflix last night. It was about Elton John, his life, his raw talent, his struggle with substance abuse, and finding love.

SARA GROSS - Ironman champion, PhD in Women's History

I watched a terrible movie on Netflix last night. It was about Elton John, his life, his raw talent, his struggle with substance abuse, and finding love. The film was full of cheesy musical interludes and lousy acting - a terrible combo, in my opinion - yet I was still captivated by the themes of Elton and his life.

I was captivated because these themes cut to the center of who we are as humans. If we can figure out our core talents and how we can best contribute to the world around us, and if we can learn to love and be loved, we will probably live a rich and meaningful life.

So what does this have to do with goal setting?

In recent years, my priorities, and thus my goals, have shifted enormously. Five years ago, I was a professional Ironman athlete, and now I'm a founder and CEO learning how to build a business and create a positive environment for 10+ employees.

The world around us has also changed. How we experience our work, home lives, travel, and the internet have shifted in many ways.

So before we set our athletic goals for 2022, it is essential to recognize where our goals fit in the bigger picture of our lives. If we can figure that out, the details will take care of themselves.

For many of us, unless we are Daniela Ryf or Jan Frodeno, sport is not an expression of pure talent or the arena in which we are making our most significant impact in the world. Our jobs, parenting, or volunteer work are the focal points of our contribution.

Sport is also not something we do to give and receive love. We may think we are in love with our bikes or our running shoes, but I'm pretty sure that feeling is fleeting, and if it's not, well, this blog can't help you.

On the flip side, it is sometimes tempting to think that pursuing sporting goals as an adult is a futile objective, and indeed, there are critical voices around us that say, "Triathlon?!?!? WHY would anyone do THAT?"

And, frankly, why would anyone do that? Since most of us aren't talented like Daniela and our bikes and wetsuits can't love us back, what's the point?

I can't answer this question for anyone but myself, but here goes.

As a former triathlete turned CrossFitter, sport plays a supporting role in all the other things I do. It allows me to use my other talents to their full potential because it keeps me feeling strong and mentally sharp. It allows me to have a healthy outlet for my emotional ups and downs, a place to let go of frustrations, forget the sadness and overcome fear. Sport keeps me centered and feeling good to bring the best version of myself to my most important relationships. And lastly, sport helps me connect to a community of people with whom I don't have to think about anything but how to get the best out of our physical selves.

In the Netflix movie of my life, physical training is a supporting but essential character who allows me to do the most important things to me: build my business and be the best parent and partner I can be. My athletic goals need to align with this reality.

So what does it mean to set athletic goals when a sport is not your main focus?

How training fits into my life looks very different now to when I was a full-time elite athlete training for Ironman. Now, I am only willing to make time for one, maybe two, hours of exercise a day. It took me a long time to accept this and accept my changing priorities.

Having only one hour to work with has clarified what I need to do and achieve the most significant gains. For example, as a former Ironman athlete, I have a solid aerobic base but am not particularly strong, so I work on lifting. As an aging athlete, I need HIITS training for hormonal balance. As someone who loves the outdoors, sometimes I need to rip up a good trail.

So my athletic goals for 2022 look something like this:

● Show up consistently
● Spend one hour each day focused on getting the most out of the workout
● Play outside at least four times a week
● Stay centered and within the moment while working out
● Help my training partners get the best out of themselves

These goals look very different from my goals as an elite athlete, which may have been things like:
● Win an Ironman
● Go sub-9h for Ironman
● Top-10 at the Ironman World Championships

My athletic goals now are not as specific as they used to be, but they are what I need to support my professional and personal goals. Many of us have experienced a shift in priorities over the last couple of years, and the main challenge is to accept that fact and lean into it.

Training has become a launchpad from which I can hurl myself into my other goals and priorities with confidence because down on earth, I will always have that hour to play, be outside, lift something heavy or jump and dance.

So before we set athletic goals for 2022, I would encourage everyone to take a moment to figure out where their priorities are in this new and changing world. If this conclusion were an unwelcome musical interlude in a bad movie, it would go like this:

".. I think it's gonna be a long, long time
'Til touchdown brings me round again to find
I'm not the (wo)man they think I am at home,
… I'm a Rocket Wo/Man.."


Sara Gross is a two-time Ironman Champion and holds a doctorate in women’s history. She founded Feisty Media, "a haven for the unapologetically fit and feisty" in 2017 as a way to celebrate fresh and empowered voices in triathlon and beyond. Sara lives in Victoria, BC with her daughter Rosalee.


Feisty Media is a progressive media company designed to serve the "unapologetically fit and feisty." Founded in 2017 by Ironman Champion Sara Gross, PhD, Feisty is now home to 8 podcasts, including the IronWomen podcast, Girls Gone Gravel and Hit Play Not Pause. Feisty educates and amuses the masses daily on Insta and TikTok as well as hosting several events such as the Women's Performance Summit and Feisty Menopause Summit. 

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