Humans are incredibly complex beings and as such, no two people are alike, and every person is vastly different from any other. When you then apply this logic to humans that train and race for endurance sports and events, you get a very complex group of people.
Every time you go to a race, you can see athletes preparing and thinking differently. You will see those athletes aiming to complete the challenge. They will be looking forward to putting in their best effort, and only focusing on what lies ahead of them.
Then you will see those athletes who are thinking about their race plan. Where every single detail has been double-checked with the coach and calculated to determine exactly at what pace they can hold for how long. Making mental notes of when and where are they meant to get their nutrition & hydration. Watching the previous waves for cues on the best pathway. Studying their weather apps.
The last type of athlete you might see is the athlete who is just happy of being there. Completely oblivious specific pacing strategies or aid station locations. They are simply happy to be sharing the moment with friends and family.
The big question that comes to mind is, what is the unifying motivation that drives each of these athletes? What is it about Triathlon, running and other endurance events that hooks them in and gets all of those different personalities to stay involved in the sport for years, or even decades?
Over the years, Psychologists have identified and classified the main personality traits of humans into four categories. This is known simply as the “4 Personality Types”. Learning how to identify these traits in yourself, and in others, can bring a higher level of understanding to the individual’s emotional motivations and core values when related to performance training.
This blog will be very useful for athletes to learn how to relate to their online triathlon coach or squad coach and for coaches to have a small insight into what an athlete might expect from them. By getting to know yourself and these different personality trait categories, you will be able to understand what motivates you and how to gain the most benefit from your coach, triathlon club, team mates and training program.
By categorising yourself in one of the 4 personality traits you will also find insight into what pushes you to get to the finish line. For some people it might be the idea of celebrating with friends, sharing that great moment, taking photos with those you care about. It may be, however, that you are motivated by beating your personal best time, seeing your numbers improve and finding the effectiveness within a process. Then there are others who just want to enjoy the race as much as possible. Next time you find yourself on a long training run or in the middle of a 100 km ride, ask yourself “What is it that is going to get me to the finish line?” For some it will be the idea of finishing under certain time, for others it will be getting before a competitor and for others it will be just sharing the rest of the ride with their friends.
Protagonist, Director, Leader
Those who focus on the goal and become practical. This type of athlete tends to enjoy being the centre of attention. They develop charisma and a practical mindset meaning that they perform very well under high stress. This type of athlete “enjoys” the pain from races.
PROS: This type of athlete is very comfortable pushing beyond their limits, tends to attack fiercely when needed and can surprise other athletes with times and challenges that most people wouldn’t expect to see coming from them. They find joy in big challenges such as aiming for the podium, racing against the pros or signing up to extreme events.
CONS: They might struggle following a program, a coach might have a hard time explaining to them repeatedly the importance of following a plan and a program. These athletes go on intuition and rarely on what the plan says. They are prone to injuries due to the high demand they put on their bodies.
RECOMMENDED RACES: Short, sharp events that involve rapid adaptation to high stress.
These athletes go with the flow. They focus on connecting with as many athletes as possible. They enjoy sharing a social ride, and their favourite part of training by far is the coffee after the session.
PROS: Quite possibly the type of athletes who enjoys Triathlon the most. They are not there for the times, although they wouldn’t mind getting a PB. They are there for the community spirit and to share and to have as much fun as possible. For many groups, this type of athletes becomes the glue that keeps them together.
CONS: They end up following their friends or random events that pop up rather than following their plan.
RECOMMENDED RACES: Any race where a friend is.
Rational, Thinker, Detail Oriented
This type of athlete is extremely logical, focusing mostly on the numbers, the plan, and the specific details around the race. For these athletes, races are about small tasks that add up to the big picture. They follow their watts, pace, their heart rate monitor and stay oriented towards the goal.
PROS: Consistency. This type of athletes understands and follows routines. This is the type of athlete that can follow a program without much hesitation and is the most likely to see results in the short-term.
CONS: As they avoid risks, they might end up underestimating their skills. They could use a small push every now and then, showing them that they can do much more than they might think.
RECOMMENDED RACES: 70.3 distance, Full Ironman, Half Marathon, Marathon, 100+ km bike events and any longer endurance sport or event. These are events and races that involve developing a very detailed plan to follow from speed to heart rate and even nutrition and hydration strategies. These athletes develop the capacity to maintain focus for long periods of time.
This type of athlete finds their space in a different way. They are not there to compete against others or to get a podium, they are mostly there to cheer on their friends and family. Their joy is watching others shine.
PROS: Their mentality and behaviour can be exactly what other athletes need. Some people often underestimate the power of a good comment, a friendly smile, or a cheer when fatigue kicks in. This athlete shines by supporting others.
CONS: There is no real cons to this athlete other than the pressure that others bring. Comments like “You must be getting a lot of FOMO” or “You must be wanting to be at the start line”. The supporter type athlete enjoys races in a different way, and that’s perfectly fine.
RECOMMENDED RACES: Any race where there is family, friends, a team, and community. That is more than enough. This type of athlete can become a great Technical Official or Coach.
As the name implies, this type of athlete is a complete enigma. This is not considered a ‘category’ but rather an outlier for athletes who end up being the combination of 2 or more personality groups. This type of athlete is rare and can’t be categorised in any way.
Contrary to what some people might say, there is no “ideal” type of athlete. Triathlon, being a community sport, requires the presence of every type of athlete. Together, every athlete helps to make the sport grow. The sport helps the community to grow by providing an outlet for them to get in contact with each other. In turn, the community attracts others and drives the sport along, and that is what makes the sport stronger over time.
Finally, remember that these types can be dynamic. Maybe one season you are the protagonist and become the one who always appears in the photos and the next season you become the supporter. Your presence in the races is what is important. Regardless of who you are, or what your background is, there is something only you can bring to the community and a lot you can take from it.