Canadian Sylvie Manaigre is a two-time member of the Spartan Pro Team. In 2019, she was the Spartan Race Canadian National Series Champion, placing third at the Red Deer Sprint, second at the Toronto Super, and first at the Quebec Beast.
Most people would argue that a nice glass of wine with dinner, an ice-cold post-race brew, or a patio cocktail on a hot summer day are perfectly acceptable ways to unwind with friends. I would tend to agree. However, I often took the "work hard, play harder" credo a bit too literally. When I got together with my (non-Spartan) friends, it wasn’t a glass of wine: It was a bottle, followed by another bottle, followed by some shots, followed by an inevitable hangover.
Guilt can be a powerful motivator, and I am a Spartan, so no matter how wild the nights got, without fail, I would wake up and go train. I would embrace the suffering and work harder than everyone else in the room. I felt that, if I worked hard enough, it would cancel out all of my poor decisions from the night before. I would race with this same motivation, and I managed to snag some podium spots. I even somehow won a few races! This self-inflicted punishment seemed to be working. Late in 2018, I received an email from Spartan, inviting me to join the 2019 Global Pro Team.
Queue the identity crisis.
I wasn’t a real professional racer. I was just someone who worked hard, loved to party, and looked at overcoming obstacles as a challenging hobby. I didn’t race for the finisher T-shirts, medals, or the prize money. I raced because nothing felt more incredible than being surrounded by inspiring humans, pushing my limits, and crossing the finish line.
I was so excited about the opportunity, but I didn’t feel worthy. I didn’t embody the characteristics of a professional athlete. I wasn’t a role model, but I wanted to be. So, I made the decision, signed the contract, and instantly let go of my identity as someone who loved to party. I was now a professional obstacle course racer. As expected, this identity change came with a loss of some "friends," but also a huge gain in perspective.
Every habit starts with a single decision. As that decision is repeated, a habit forms and grows stronger. I decided to stop drinking for all of 2019. For 365 days, I wouldn’t have a single sip of alcohol. This one decision helped make a thousand other decisions for me. Since I didn’t drink, I went to bed earlier. I stopped eating entire extra large Domino's pizzas by myself at 1 a.m. I surrounded myself with other non-drinkers. You see the pattern.
Every action that I took from that day forward was a vote for the type of person I wished to become. I hired a running coach, learned how to fuel properly, slept more, and trained with more advanced and accomplished athletes. Whenever I started to doubt my abilities and my new identity — which, believe me, was often — I would ask myself the same question: What would a professional athlete do? And that’s what I did. Every day, I became a little bit better than yesterday.
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Bad habits can set you back just as much as good ones can lift you up. If you're trying to become a better racer, stop focusing on your results and start embodying the habits of the type of Spartan you wish to become. I wanted to be the type of Spartan who inspired young girls to be strong and healthy, so I stopped drinking.
The short-term result? I became the 2019 Spartan Race Canadian National Series Champion. As for the long-term, this experience will make me a better athlete, a better Spartan, and a better person.