Do you believe in life after elite sports?

I wrote this post just after hearing “Believe” of Cher on the radio, which explains at least partly the title. So yeah it is a bit of a clickbait, but there is a very real and interesting question behind that.

For the purpose of being clear, I want to first define what elite sports means for me, since a lot of people have asked me if I was still racing and stuff. Yes, I still do, but only for fun. I still train a lot, like approximately 80% of last years training hours, because it’s what I enjoy the most and I race a bit here and there, in national, regional, popular cross-country skiing races, whenever and wherever I want. In other words, sport isn’t my first priority anymore, studying is (although occasionally sport is gonna take that first spot back, some things just never change). So to simplify, for me, elite sports means a pursuit of some goals in a specific sport and going all in to reach those goals, these goals usually being trying to get (close) to the world elite. You can agree or not with that definition, I don’t really care, but let’s pretend that’s it for the purpose of this post. So by this definition, what I do now is definitely not elite sports. I still don’t know how to describe it, amateur makes me sound like a tourist and it’s still more than a hobby. So far the best I’ve come up is “hobbyracer”, feel free to let me know if you have anything better.

Going all out in the first uphill after being handed the relay in first position: bad idea I regretted later in the race

When I took the decision to retire from elite sports, there were a few things I was really scared of. One of which was to loose interest in cross-country skiing and biathlon, because my performance would get worse. The topic was addressed in my sport psychology class, and not going to lie, it scared me to death (yeah, it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it still scared me). So basically it’s common for former athletes to feel a bit helpless to see themselves getting worse at something they’ve always been good at. Even though my overtraining somewhat prepared me for that, already in April, I knew on what I wanted to work on this season and what I could improve: strength and classic. So far, I’ve crushed every single one of my previous strength records and I’ve definitely gotten better both technically and at going fast in classic. So all good on that side. Even though in terms of hours (and also quality, let’s face it), I’ve trained less than last year, I can still be happy about the progress I’ve made. I’m actually really proud of myself for having set myself those new goals, it’s really made the switch easier (not even sorry about the bragging). Sure, sometimes it might be frustrating to look for my name more at the end of the result list in national races, but at that moment I have to remember that it’s not with my training hours I could be hoping for more and anyway, if my name was higher on that list, I’d probably still be doing biathlon at an elite level.

Don’t get me wrong though, it’s been a long time since I last enjoyed racing this much, I guess the lack of pressure just brings me back to why I started racing in the first place: It’s just so much fun. I don’t have those SMART (you know, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic & Timely) goals for this season and my race plan has been defined mostly at the last minute, depending on how I feel, what I want to do and what other things I have planned. So at the start of the race, I have no pressure and during the race I actually manage to focus a lot better on what I’m doing, and on asking myself why am I doing this and why am I making me suffer like this. Then at the finish line, no matter the result, I’m happy and can’t wait to do it again soon.

Picture: Urs Steger / © 2019 All rights reserved.

The second thing I was scared of was if I was gonna find something that I was as passionate about as I’ve been about biathlon. Something that gives life a purpose. I eventually realized that in my situation, that was a really dumb fear (maybe even dumber than my fear of fire), because (since it seems I haven’t made it clear enough on this blog) I love training and being outdoors. Since April I’ve done so many things I’ve enjoyed so much that I probably wouldn’t have done if I were still doing biathlon: trekking in Lapland, getting more involved in the athletes council for the youth Olympic games in Lausanne (which was absolutely fantastic!), partying at the lake during the summer, … Sure, sometimes I do miss the very particular atmosphere of elite sports, but actually a lot less than I expected. The only thing I really miss, is the people.

Maybe the most surprising thing has been how I have been a lot less sick this year than the previous winters (please appreciate the irony of me writing this with a sore throat and a little runny nose), even though I’ve been a lot less careful about it and spent a lot more time in crowded places (uni, I’m looking right at ya, last year I got a huge cold just after the first day of the semester). It may be coincidence or it also may be that stressing for races and the travelling do take a small toll on your health.

This winter has made me realize that there’s one thing we definitely don’t appreciate enough as elite athletes: races are cancelled very rarely and race tracks are usually in good conditions. This winter for sure is particularly warm and I have a bit of bias since I spent the last two at 1400-1600m in the Alps and this one I’ve been mostly at 1000-1400m in the Jura mountains, but boy do I miss not cancelled races and race tracks not full of stones. I wish I could have raced more, but it’s funny how once something isn’t your number one priority anymore, life kind of gets in the way (also cancelled races…). And this reminded me, I gotta go sign up for a few races!

So to come back to my original question, yes, there definitely is life after elite sports, but it’s up to us to find what makes it good.

50 shades of pine, because with what else would you end this post?

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