Being a professional amateur

"So are you an athlete?", a professional triathlete, at a table of professional athletes, asked me a few weeks ago. "I'm a very amateur amateur" I replied. My response has been bugging me a little ever since.

It was partly just a bad choice of words, and that terrible habit the Irish/Scottish, and women, often have of putting ourselves down; but it's got me thinking about being an amateur or a professional, or even a professional amateur.

I had been invited round for dinner, by Catriona Morrison (the social glue of Aguilas), with a group of people I hadn't met, but whose performances I knew of. I'm not very up on my who's who in professional triathlon, but I was aware I was in the presence of people who perform at a completely different level to me (say 9 hour ironman, rather than my 15 hours). Triathlon is how they earn their paycheck; whereas triathlon is the thing that puts a dent in my paycheck. I was a little nervous. What should I even bring to dinner... wine, chocolate, energy gels?! After about thirty seconds in their company, with the chat flowing, I relaxed and realised that we probably had more in common than not.


  1. a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons.
  2. a person inexperienced or unskilled in a particular activity



  1. a person who earns a living in a sport or other occupation frequently engaged in by amateurs
  2. a person who is expert at his or her work


I was pleased to read that amateur derives from the Latin amator ("lover"), from amō ("to love").

Several professional athletes and country squads were in Aguilas for some warm weather training this January. It felt slightly surreal, during my first week, doing my swim session with Rachel (1st woman out the water at Kona) Joyce in the next lane. I was amused to see this tweet by Mirinda Carfrae (Ironman World Champion), the same week:

Found a way to drastically lower your self esteem = swim with @TOinTRI @juliedibens & @marybethellis #swimmeriamnot6:42 PM Jan 13th via Echofon

I imagine that practising alongside people who are much better than you could go two ways: either make you shy away and feel bad about your own performance, or motivate you to improve. Luckily, I never felt intimadated and was always given a warm welcome and even some helpful tips: Tamsin Lewis came out on the bike with me and advised ways to push myself harder, but smarter; Gavin Noble helped with my ongoing what new road bike to get quandary, "a red one"! On a quiet squad day, Scotland coach Chris Volley came over to where I was swimming and said "Can I suggest a few things? Some people don't like that!". I for one, absolutely welcome getting feedback on how I can improve.

I guess that generous approach is similar to my own professional field, where the real elites I've met or had the pleasure to work with have always been the most easy to ask questions of, the most eager to see and help you improve.

I went to Aguilas for January to work on my biking. The improvements I want to make in my bike performance will take many more months, but I'm pleased with how my training went - some new numbers being sustained on the power meter and some new biking muscles starting to show! A surprise bonus was how much I enjoyed swimming five days a week (as opposed to my usual three). A lot easier to sustain when the pool is only five minutes away. I went to bed looking forward to being able to get up and swim the next morning. Sad but true.

Being able to train in Spain for a month has been great. After some initial difficulties with internet access, I was able to continue my work work as normal. It was most productive to live in a little bubble of train-eat-work-train-eat-work-sleep, away from some of the other distractions of regular life. Some people commented that I was 'lucky' be able to do so. I'm a firm believer that you create your own luck. Like many other amateurs, I continue to make choices that allow me to do the things I want to do.

Sadly you can't pick up watts through osmosis, but I did make gains in my own athletic and personal goals by being around a group of happy, positive, generous, determined and bloody hard-working people.

If any professional asked me today, "So are you an athlete?", I would reply simply "Yes, I am an amateur". I am a lover of my pursuits.