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Trust your abilities: Tips for work from my first triathlon

By Marissa Rodriguez, Consultant, Accenture Digital, New York


I sprinted across the finish line with every last bit of energy I had in my entire body—it was the most accomplished feeling in the entire world. I had just completed my first Olympic distance triathlon in New York City and now officially had the bragging rights to call myself a triathlete.

Competing in triathlons has been one of my life’s greatest pleasures and proudest achievements. It certainly is one of the hardest things I have ever done, both physically and mentally. But these experiences and hardships are what  motivate me to rely on my instincts, trust in my abilities and take on new endeavors and challenges in both life and in the office.

To be honest, when I signed up for my first triathlon I had literally no clue what I was getting into. A senior colleague asked me if I would be

"Everything I had worked for would be tested at this very moment, and I needed to trust in myself."

interested in participating in the upcoming New York City triathlon. My immediate response, without even giving it much thought, was, “Yes!” My inner superwoman, can-do attitude, I’m on top of the world mentality took over in a manner of seconds.

How hard could it really be? I grew up playing sports competitively since the age of 5. I played varsity soccer, basketball and track in high school and was a walk-on athlete for the Rutgers University women’s soccer team. So I have done my fair share of grueling suicide sprints, hill runs, multi-stage fitness tests, lifting sessions, etc. I was just thinking, “Easy peasy, I got this!” All I needed was a bike, sneakers, bathing suit and a pair of goggles. Well, how embarrassingly wrong I was.

Combining my being really naïve about what it takes to compete in triathlons with my unstoppable attitude, I began my three-month journey to train and prepare for the competition. I didn’t sign up for any formal coaching or specific triathlon programs, but I read blogs, bought a book and conducted “interviews” with people who I knew previously competed in triathlons. I was looking for answers to my basic question: “I just signed up for my first triathlon, now what?”

I gathered a wealth of information and put together my personally designed regimen. I dedicated my early mornings and weekends to training. I was up every morning by 5:15 to be in the pool by 5:45. Whether in the pool, on the bike or on the pavement, I quickly became acquainted with failure. It was frustrating when I didn’t meet my targeted time or have enough power to get up the hill–but I learned to push through and keep going.

Fast forward to race day. I was naturally nervous and excited all at once. Every year thousands of people compete from all over the world. When I arrived to check my bike in, I scoped out the competition and quickly learned how sophisticated the sport really is. Everyone had these lightweight fancy bikes with cool aerobars (aerodynamic handlebars)–while here I was with my dad’s early 1980s vintage Peugeot Carbolite 103 bike that was heavyweight and completely the wrong fit. Any seasoned triathlete would look at this bike and laugh in my face! But to me, who didn’t know the difference in quality, it was like any other bike with two wheels and would get the job done.

Competing in triathlons has been one of my proudest achievements. These experiences and hardships motivate me to rely on my instincts, trust in my abilities and take on new endeavors and challenges in both life and in the office.

After seeing all the other competitors with their fancy gear, I felt completely ill-prepared and really started to question my ability. But as I stood on the makeshift pier in my wetsuit waiting to plunge into the Hudson River, I knew there was no turning back. Everything I had worked for would be tested at this very moment, and I needed to trust in myself to compete to the best of my ability. I ended up finishing the race under my targeted time and in the top 20 percent of my age group. The opportunity to swim in the Hudson, bike the West Side Highway, and run through Central Park with so many dedicated athletes, screaming fans and the beautiful backdrop of New York City was truly indescribable.

Learning to persevere and be disciplined

Looking back, this achievement was more than checking the box on a bucket list or discovering a newfound hobby: It took willpower, determination, confidence, perseverance, discipline and so much more. Sometimes I don’t know how I did it.

I managed to juggle a full-time career, family and personal responsibilities, volunteer and community commitments, and a grueling 15-20 hours a week of training. Crazy. But I realized it was truly a humbling experience, and, as I write this, I have realized that we rarely stop to give ourselves the true credit that we deserve.

As a digital marketing consultant at Accenture, a global professional services company, this experience directly translates into my professional life. I work in a fast-paced and results-driven environment, where every day I’m challenged to: lead important client discussions, make difficult decisions and create valuable solutions. There are many times that I don’t feel completely prepared or have all the information to make a decision. However, like my triathlon experience, I remind myself that I need to be bold and take risks, confidently say yes when I’m challenged to tackle a new task, and rely on my resourcefulness to find the answers to my questions.

If I knew the hardship and challenges that were going to come my way, or how intimidated I would feel among all of the top and experienced triathletes, most likely I would not have signed up and would have missed an opportunity. But I didn’t doubt myself or compare myself to the competitors. In that moment, when my colleague asked me to step up to the challenge, I boldly said, “Yes.” I use this experience to fuel myself and others.

Lastly, I learned too, don’t be fooled by looks–fancy equipment doesn’t mean everything.