Don't Be a Trucker Hat: Mental Longevity in Triathlon...Part I



ED. Ruth Brennan Morrey gave a brilliant talk at last year's MMA Party. We are posting it in two parts: Part I today. Part II on Tuesday.


By Ruth Brennan Morrey 


I am truly honored to be here tonight among such an accomplished group of athletes and remarkable human beings. Like many of you, when I started triathlon, I fell in love with it not just for the opportunity to challenge the mind/body, feed my own competitive nature, but because the MN triathlon community is truly unique and special. The athletes of MN have made me a better person and I admire the growth stories that reside here in this room.

Hugging Suzy Fox at the finish line in the pouring rain at Apple Duathlon in 2012 after a hard fought battle…or trying to gun down Kevin O’Connor in every stinking duathlon we are in together, and FAILING (by only a slight margin-until next time! ), or getting crushed in the pool by Dani V every day at masters practice, and meeting, sharing, and creating friendships with other MN triathletes are moments I have cherished since I began the sport in 2011.


Like many of you, too, I came from a collegiate sport background. I lived and breathed soccer through college and then post collegiately, distance running, and now I’ve been a professional triathlete for 5 years. I might choose tennis next.  Triathlon is truly a melting pot of many sports. The people in this room also tend to be high level former high school or collegiate athletes. Most here have been blessed by strong genetics and you have endured a lifelong passion to work hard for sport success. You have thrived on race day almost immediately in your triathlon careers. I remember...

Suzy Fox updating me in 2013 to watch out for a “new” female named Heather who crushes everyone in the water then rides away with lightning speed. Where did she come from? Or Dani Fischer…or Dani Vsctecka, Brian Sames, Sean Cooley, Gabi Bunton, or Hannah Grinaker, Nate Ansbaugh among many others who arise from college sports like swimming, baseball, soccer, track and field. They burst into the scene and they have well carried over their athletic gifts to dominate their new sport of triathlon. Your stories have been remarkable to watch unfold.

After being in the sport for only 7 years, I’ve observed a phenomenon that I think is worth mentioning to this high caliber group and is my topic of conversation tonight. It’s a big deal. It’s called The TRUCKER HAT Phenomenon. I made it up. You see, trucker hats provide me with endless parallels and metaphors to the troubles of triathlon. The trendy trucker hat (aka our INITIAL intrigue with triathlon) is RED HOT for a while, often happens in an instant, and after our first race as an amateur, we simply can’t get enough. We, former athletes, are quickly rewarded by triathlon success. The “trucker hat” makes us feel young and alive. How many of our bios say that we were immediately “HOOKED” on triathlon? But then like any trend, they have potential to fizzle out, become less popular, less desired, and although we once felt good wearing it, it just doesn’t fit right anymore. You see, a passing trend never gives us TRUE JOY. A solid foundation of triathlon needs to be based on an unshakable, unwavering goodness that simply cannot lead us off path when trials arise. Trials such as injury, a poor race performance, a bad season, overwhelming work/family demands, overtraining, a poor athlete/coach experience, or the aging process, to name a few.





If our focus is on the wrong stuff, the once desired trucker hat obsession now leads to personal dissatisfaction, low self-worth, low motivation, self/other comparisons, a massive self-absorbed nature, a ME ME ME mentality, and can easily lead to a premature triathlon death--quitting. Countless pros (and amateurs) say they don’t recognize themselves anymore when the once healthy obsession overtakes their life and becomes unhealthy. Many become so preoccupied with the “trucker hat” that we forget the main purpose of a simple hat in the first place—to block the sun, to protect your head, to keep us cool. With intense training and time demands that we all know so well, triathlon can take a mental toll after sacrificing family life, sleep, wellness, and life balance. We could easily let it consume us, instead of allowing our world to be synergized and our stress managed.

Having a background in sport psychology and counseling psychology certainly helped create my observation, but it was more my keen awareness from my own personal experience and the promise I made to myself 7 years ago. This promise stemmed from a premature departure from my world of distance running. The backstory: After my 4 year NCAA soccer eligibility expired, I took a marathon training class to stay in shape and needed to pass the class by running a marathon. I ran a 3:15 marathon, then got hungry and wanted to break 3:00 hrs, so I trained hard and ran a surprisingly 2:48:20 on my second attempt. I mistakenly qualified for the 2000 Olympic marathon Trials, and all of a sudden I was a distance runner, not a college soccer player that I previously identified with since age 6. I ran competitively for only 3 years. Of course, I didn’t win every race and I SURELY didn’t appreciate the critical process of development. I was young and naïve. I trained and competed to win each and every time I toed the line. That was my mission. Why? You have heard the Vince Lombardi statement: “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.” Which I now, whole heartedly disagree. The sole mission to win became exhausting. My interest in the sport shifted. I got injured a lot and I didn’t find any joy demolishing myself at the track anymore as there was no point. I wasn’t winning- third or fourth place wasn’t good enough for me. Track work hurt too much to NOT win, and the win reward was low anyway. What’s the point? I quit competitive running. For 10 years, I didn’t run a single 5k. It is truly bizarre for me to say now, but I didn’t miss it…when I once LOVED running, but I was running for the wrong reasons.

When the opportunity to try a triathlon came up, I was keenly aware of what happens when you place winning/results before process. When we put winning first, we never win, even when we DO win. Because now we need to win more to feel adequate self-worth, to feel accomplished, feel good enough, and to get the same attention. However, during that 10 years off, I grew in my faith, and my perspective about my athletic gifts shifted. I promised myself that I would only compete if I put my faith first, before my own glory, and be constantly aware of my own purpose in sport and use my gifts, talents, and sport experiences in an honoring way. Let me tell you folks. Its not easy. I get greedy. YES, I want to win every race just like the rest of them but my approach to my process is drastically different than before. I remind myself of my purpose daily. Through the great times, and through the hard times. I’m thankful every day that I can move my body, that I can constantly discover my inner strengths and my physical limits, and as a result, I can run with joy and swim with belief. I am more patient, I’m a student of the sport, I embrace the everyday grind, and I take MUCH better care of myself—emotionally, spiritually, and physically—than in my distance running days. Of course, when I don’t race well, I AM disappointed, but I am able to recover emotionally quite quickly, but I no longer tie my identity to a result. My foundation—my purpose—is solid. PURPOSE matters MOST in triathlon…before new race wheels, a new bike fit, or even having a high profile coach, because those things can only get us so far. WE NEED to learn how to appreciate OUR path, our own journey, and make it exactly what we want it to be like!! Our self-worth should be tied to WHO we are as people and our growth process, how we conduct ourselves in our sporting spotlights, how we help guide others using our platform. 

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