One Last Push

I went ahead and signed up for the Lake Royale Sprint Triathlon this Saturday, despite the long list of reasons why I didn’t think it was a great idea. 

I’ve been out on the bike twice this week and I’m stronger than I was in my first race–I’m working in my big chain ring now, anyway. 

Plus, I bought new shoes and a new pair of compression shorts, and Hans drove out to check out the lake with me last Sunday and it’s much less scary than Lake Washington was.  It’s smaller and friendlier!  Mary and I are going together to packet pick-up tomorrow night and we’ll have a chance to get in the water to see how cold seventy degrees really is.  I’ve spent lots of time visualizing myself being relaxed and purposeful in the water and successfully completing the swim.  I’ve also spent a little bit of time feeling the panic rise in my body and mind and visualizing how I will calm myself down if that happens for real on Saturday. 

I’ll be starting in the last wave, composed of all women age 35 and older.  I would have preferred to have the race waves ordered from older to younger the way Danskin does, so that I wouldn’t be the slowest racer AND starting in the last wave.  I wrote to the organizers to tell them I think I’m likely to be the last finisher and that I would prefer they not hold the awards ceremony on my account, but one of them wrote back and said, “don’t worry about it; just have fun.”  Yeah, like having 299 participants and all the organizers, support, and families  waiting for you to finish is fun! 

But we will see.  Maybe I won’t be last.  Maybe I’ll surprise myself.  Maybe I’ll remember to keep my body relaxed and efficient.  Maybe I’ll keep my breathing more controlled at the beginning of the swim and maybe I’ll stick to my run/walk schedule instead of allowing myself to walk whenever I feel discouraged.  Maybe I won’t feel discouraged.  Maybe I’ll speak to myself (in my head and out loud as may be needed ;)) in supportive, encouraging ways.  Maybe, I’ll choose to have fun.

I think I can choose that.

To Tri Again?

I don’t plan to bother you with this kind of thing often, but if no one minds, I’d like to use this public space to ask for the collective wisdom of my readers.

I am having a small dilemma that I need to resolve quickly–several weeks ago would have been the appropriate time, but here I am still stressing and stuck. 

When I did the triathlon in June, I met Mary and learned that she lives in my neighborhood.  A few weeks later, she was driving by and recognized me out walking the dog and stopped to chat.  We have since pointed out our respective houses to each other and spoken less than half a dozen times, but in that time I told her about the open water sprint triathlon I was considering doing October 3, she looked it up online, and the next time we saw each other, we agreed to do the race together. 

Yay!!  Training partner! 

Yay!! Race day buddy! 

But, it hasn’t quite worked out that way.  We haven’t exchanged contact info and unless we cross on the street, we don’t see each other.  We agreed to go look at the lake where the tri is taking place a few weekends ago, but the weekend came and went without us catching up with each other and actually setting a time.  So we haven’t visited the lake together.  Even worse, I haven’t visited any lake at all.  And worst of all, I haven’t even signed up for the race–which I was informed tonight in an email from the race directors is 78% full and closing this weekend.

The Whole, Big, Whiny List of Reasons Why I Don’t Want to Do the Race 

After the last triathlon concluded, I said to myself, “see, you CAN follow a training schedule!”  Then I said, “But if you don’t want to finish last in your next triathlon, you really need to rock on the bike–your true strength–and shore up the running–your biggest challenge.  So let’s create a NEW training schedule!”  And I did.  I created a beautiful, dare I say perfect, training schedule and posted it on the refrigerator so I could see where I was every day and proudly check off each workout as I completed it.

The problem with perfection is that it has no place in my real life, which this summer included: finally finding someone awesome to create the website I need for work, trying (in my weird way) to get geared up to publish the book, writing some, drawing some, trying to figure out how to keep an art gallery open, and trying to buy a new house.  It doesn’t sound that horrible until you take into account that the training schedule I created included three swims, three runs, and three bikes per week PLUS a 30 minute walk each day (I have to walk the dog, anyway, right?) PLUS five days of circuit training, even though most serious triathletes only lift weights in the off season.  If rocking at this triathlon were my only goal for the summer, I might have been able to approximate that schedule – but the truth is, the plan and I were both doomed to failure the moment I printed and posted it.

I did a few of the workouts for the first few weeks, then I got discouraged and busy with other more pressing things and I stopped going to the pool altogether.  I haven’t been on my bike for several weeks–even though the last two times I rode I was finding new gears and getting excited about my progress.  Running, oddly enough, has fared the best, maybe because I can do it in the dark before anyone is up to see me chugging along and because it requires the least amount of prep time.  But now I’ve been having problems with the knee I injured prior to the Big Ride, I know I need new shoes, and I’m reluctant to get back out there.

And since I’m whining, I may as well post ALL of my excuses: I need new shorts for the race–at the last triathlon I had to keep pulling my shorts up in the water!, as well as new running shoes; I haven’t been in open water since 2002 and without some practice and mental preparation I might seriously not survive the swim; and the weather has turned cold and the thought of doing a lake swim does not turn me on (although the water probably won’t be any colder than Seattle lake temps in the summer!).  And the really big one: if I enter the race, I probably will finish the race, but I will likely finish last–potentially by a much bigger margin than I did earlier this summer. 

So, to Sum Up:

Doing the race means spending at least $200 on race fees and gear three weeks before I’m going to close on a new house, potentially dying of panic-induced drowning in COLD open water, and (provided I live) holding up the award ceremony by half an hour as all other 299 participants wait for me to drag my butt to the finish line.

What I Could Do, if Mary Weren’t Part of the Equation:

I would skip the race, simplify my training schedule to something like swimming two mornings a week, doing two long bike rides a month, and walking five miles a day until I can get new running shoes, then transitioning into training for the half-marathon I’d like to do in March.

What I Could Do, Take 2:

Because Mary is part of the equation, I feel obligated to do the race.  I could sign up tomorrow, get out to a lake this weekend for some open water experience,  do a thirty mile ride on Saturday, buy a new pair of shoes (and plan on holding my shorts up while I swim?), and at the race try to get in the water in a middle wave so I’m not finishing every leg dead last.

What I’d REALLY Like to Do:

NOT sign up for the race but knock on Mary’s door and offer to be her training partner for the next 10 days–I’d be happy to do some open water swims or get out on the bike with her–and be her chauffeur and cheering section on race day.  Parking is two miles away from the race start, so she might really appreciate having someone drop off her and her gear so she doesn’t have to deal with shuttles.

The question that arises from that scenario, however, is: if I’m going to do all of those things (lake swims, bike rides, going to the race), why not race?  And I think the answer is that I just know I’m not trained, which means the race has a really good chance of being no fun at all.  Bottom line: I just don’t want to do it.


So, what do you think?  Do I power through, make good on my promise to Mary, lay out the cash for new gear and race fees, do my best, and suffer all the physical and emotional consequences of this summer’s poor time and expectation management?  Or, is it okay to ask Mary to do the race alone and offer to do everything short of crossing the starting line of the race to support her?



The REAL Reason I Tri

I forgot to include in the last post the real reason I’m training for triathlons this summer.  It seems so intuitive that I often forget it–which is why it deserves its own blog post.

The real reason I tri is because I have finally (I really would like to believe this is the last time I will have to learn this, but my life seems to be a series of me learning and forgetting and relearning, so I can’t make any promises) realized that my health, and especially my fitness level, is the foundation of everything else.  It determines my energy level and, therefore, how well I perform my job, how much I have to give to the people I care about, and how much I have left to engage in projects that are important to me personally.  When I get out of bed tired in the morning and come home exhausted from work, you can be pretty damn sure I won’t be getting off the couch to write in my office or to play with the dog or to get outside for a walk.  And then the vicious cycle is underway – I’m tired, so I don’t work on anything of value to me, which makes me angry, sad, and depressed, which makes me feel even more tired and less energetic.  I have to break the cycle somewhere and it seems to make the most sense that I do that by engaging in physical activities that I enjoy and that challenge me.  The joy I feel at the end of a swim can carry me through to lunch when maybe I’ll carve out a few minutes to write a few pages of something new.  And the excitement of having written something new can carry me through to the evening and inspire me to get outside for that run.

I can carry this one step further.  Fitness is the foundation for me being able to maintain the lifestyle I have currently in an enjoyable, sustainable manner.  But if I want to change my lifestyle, which I do, then fitness becomes absolutely critical.  I considered taking a working vacation in Alaska this year, but when I realized that my duties would include more than leading visitors on nature hikes–things like unloading drinking water from boats and shoveling out composting toilets–on a remote island with no nearby medical facilities, I stopped pursuing the idea for fear that I wasn’t up to the physical challenges.  Not long after, my friend Zoi posted pictures on her Facebook page of her recent trip to Costa Rica and as I looked at the ziplines and the waterfalls, I realized I was probably too out of shape to have enjoyed a trip like the one she’d been on.  And if I wanted to undertake something even more strenuous, like replanting the rainforest, I had a long way to go to be fit enough to make that a fun, manageable prospect.

Hence, the commitment to train for a triathlon…which is really just a commitment to train for the best possible life I can design.

Why I Tri

I finished my first triathlon in seven years today.  It was a hard race for me, and I was undertrained and overweight.  I finished last, fourteen minutes behind the next slowest racer.   I had a hard time regulating my breathing during the swim because I was nervous, my legs were Jell-O when I got off the bike, and I walked almost all of the uphill sections of the run.  When it was over, I had pains in my right calf and my left shin.  I’m still coughing from the asthma attack I had afterward.  Still, I had a great time and I’m looking forward to the next race!

So why would a forty-year-old woman who weighs more than 200 pounds and has asthma put herself through the torture, and humiliation, of participating – in Spandex, no less –  in a triathlon, in public, surrounded by other fitter, faster, more sculpted athletes?

Why I Tri

Reason #1: It gets me out of bed in the morning and off the couch at night.  I get bored trying to follow the advice  “walk every day and eat sensibly.”  It’s easy to skip a walk.  It’s easy to skip several walks.  But if I’m training in three different sports, I don’t get bored.  I feel guilty if I miss workouts because all three sports are still challenging to me and I know I’ll improve only if I follow a plan and a regular training schedule.  All three sports leave me feeling invigorated, too – even a run session, which I don’t particularly enjoy, usually leaves me feeling a full-body sense of satisfaction for having met my goals for the workout.

Reason #2: I like seeing myself in a different light, even if it’s only for thirty minutes at a time.  When I’m training, I feel strong and light and lean, even if I’m not really any of those things yet.  I am able to enjoy what my body can do instead of only being aware of how it looks or what it can’t do.  I get to challenge what I “know” about myself and I get to challenge other people’s assumptions about me.  Athlete is not a word most people would jump to when trying to describe me, and, yet, I am an athlete when I am training or participating in a triathlon.  I look in the mirror and I see muscles and firm skin and a woman who cares about herself.  For a few moments, I carry myself taller and feel strong and powerful, like the athletes I see on the covers of running, biking, and triathlon magazines.  I am a competitor.  Which leads me to…

Reason #3: Challenging myself and my identity in one area of my life allows me to challenge myself and my identity in other areas of my life.  I have already discussed on this site a little of how this works.  I think it’s about momentum and the avoidance of stagnation.  If I can see progress and change in one area, I can begin to hope for and work toward progress and change in other areas.  If I can change the way a person views one aspect of who I am, I can probably change the way a person views other aspects of who I am.  All of my limitations, those I impose and those imposed by others, begin to shift and melt when I defy expectations and push boundaries no one, including me, expected me to push.

Reason #4: Triathlon has much to teach me about managing my body.  I don’t have the body of a typical athlete, but I do have the spirit of an athlete.  I want to learn how to take fewer strokes per lap when I’m swimming, how to spin faster on the bike, how to increase the tunrover rate of my legs when I run.  I enjoy practicing drills that help me approximate better form.  I enjoy reading about each sport and learning as much as I can about what makes a person more efficient or able to go farther.  There is an unlimited amount of learning to be done in each sport as well as in figuring out how to do all three sports well in one race.  There’s also plenty to be learned about how to incorporate training safely, and sanely, for three sports into a life in which triathlon is only a hobby.  My mind doesn’t get bored and, hopefully, my body gets better and better.

Reason #5: Triathlon has much to teach me about managing my mind.  When I started the swim this morning, I had butterflies in my stomach.  I had made a race plan and had been following my pre-race plan to the letter.  I knew I was not going to drown in the pool,  something I have seriously feared in each of the three previous open water swims I completed.  I wasn’t worried about times per se, as this was a baseline race to help me get a feel for where I’m starting, and there was absolutely no threat of me finishing well enough to place.  I was a little nervous about crossing the finish line last and what that would feel like, but I really had very little to fear. 

Still, the anxiety I felt at the beginning of the race meant that I swam the 250 meters one minute slower than I could have because I couldn’t regulate my breathing.  I couldn’t focus on long, efficient slides on my side or on front-quadrant swimming and a patient hand because all I could think about was getting air into my lungs.  I swam with my arms and my legs, as I am conditioned to do, rather than with my core, as I am learning to do, and it cost me.  Managing anxiety is only one example of what sports training can teach a person.  I also have much to learn about positive self-talk, about focusing on efficiency – regardless of what comes up, because something always comes up – rather than perfection, about flexibility, and about meeting myself where I am in each moment.  If I can practice these things in triathlon, they will inevitably spill over into my every day life.

Bonus Reason #6: It’s fun and it enriches my life in lots and lots of ways!  It’s hard to explain why something so difficult is so much fun, but triathlon is lots of fun.  People come to it from all kinds of backgrounds and with all kinds of reasons for competing, and somehow manage to respect and support everyone else in the field.  I was amazed at the number of racers who took time to offer me encouragement on the course today.  I was really amazed when Jody, a runner who could have blown right by me, slowed down in the last half mile of the run so I wouldn’t have to cross the finish line alone.  I have met great people at the pool where I train, I met Mary and John K. during a pre-race training ride, I met Mary L., who lives in my neighborhood, in the hour leading up to my start.  Becoming a triathlete – at any ability level – is a wonderful way to become part of a community, to meet people who are willing to go out and have a good time and accept you exactly as you are. 

It’s also an opportunity to practice your one-liners, as it’s always fun to have something clever to say to the person passing you or the volunteer pointing out the next turn. 

Triathlon is an excellent way to practice laughing when what you really want to do is cry.