What do you do? What is your profession?
At the moment I am a full time triathlete.
I have a Bachelor's Degree in Education
How long have you been a triathlete?
For 10 years
Do you think your previous studies helped you to mentally prepare for competing?
Knowledge gives you freedom, and with freedom one can observe, put into perspective and, above all, understand any complicated situation and be able to face it.
Have you been an athlete your whole life or did you have an epiphany of some sort that got you into it?
I was a swimmer from the age of 8 until I turned 19. During that time I also practiced track and field, football... At 19 I got bored of so much swimming and, encouraged by a triathlete friend of mine, I took up triathlon and got sucked into it.
What do you do when you are not training or running?
Triathlon is a sport that leaves very little time to do anything else, because you have to train in three different disciplines and make sure you get enough rest. However, I still find time to read, spend time with friends, go to the movies every once in a while, see my family... Sometimes I also work as a coach.
What was the worst moment of your career?
My first Ironman, I was 5th 36km into the marathon and then I started cramping through my entire body because of a bad hydration strategy. It was my first IM, I was 6km away from the finish line, but I just couldn't run anymore. People I had run past before started overtaking me and I had no idea what position I was in. I kept running doing 6 minute kilometres.
How did you get over this?
My mind kept telling me: “you can do it!”, but my body couldn't keep up. That's when I thought “it is what it is, you have to push through”. I tried not to think about the pain and started to think about the moment as something beautiful and unique. I was able to see what's essential and at the same time the hardest part to see about pain: its beauty.
Tell us about the main two differences between mental and physical strength
Both rely on each other; if one of them fails we lose balance. What I mean to say is that physical strength is easier to see and that is why it is easier to train. If one person is able to swim10x1000/45” at 3' per kilometre, we can safely say that person is physically strong, but mental strength cannot be seen and evaluated as easily, that is why it is harder to train.
Let's just say that the flower is the physical strength and the roots are the mental strength. For instance, when we see a rose that shines bright red we will run to get it because we will think it is the rose with the most physical strength. But if we were able to see beyond that beauty, we'd be able to see that the strongest roots are not always the ones that support the prettiest flower. This is why the strongest physically isn't always the one that wins, the one that wins is the one that best utilizes the physical strength they have.
When you feel like you can't go any further, when you just want to give up, what goes through your mind? What does your body do and how does your mind bring it back?
Sometimes you can come back from that, but some other times you can't. I usually say that pain is physical and not mental, because that's the way it feels to me. But the truth is that the mind can manage this physical pain. That’s why when someone is mentally strong they are able to endure more physical pain; they are able to make sense of that suffering. This has to be trained, but lying in bed doing mental exercises is not the way to go about it. You have to train hard physically and be able to normalise pain.
How do you usually feel before a race?
Above all, HAPPY. It's the time to unpack everything I've been working on, I feel motivated and ready to give it my all. But on top of that there are many different feelings, fear is one of them. Fear of failing, fear of pain, fear of not achieving the goals I set for myself.
In triathlon, is it necessary to have inner strength? To be made of iron?
What is truly necessary is to have an unconditional love for the sport; it has to be about passion. If that's not the case it is very hard to last in this sport.
- PERU ALFARO