I have officially been in the sport of triathlon for five years, with the Lake Norman YMCA Triathlon as my first race back in 2009 (race report). The short story behind it is that I'd been running for just a year, suffered a fractured fibula, and during my recuperation decided triathlon seemed like a healthier cross-training option for this late-blooming athlete. I bought a used bike the day I got sprung from the walking boot, worked with Coach Jim for nine weeks, raced the all-novice event, and came in second. I was hooked.
Here it is, five years later, and I am more excited about the sport than ever! I asked myself "why" -- why am I still in triathlon? Why have I not burned out or moved on? Knowing the reasons may help me, and maybe you, to keep enjoying this sport (or whatever your sport) as long as we are able!
It's different for everyone, but this is the list I came up with for me (in no particular order):
My Keys for Long Term Triathlon Enjoyment
- Having a sustainable training load. I train around 10-12 hours a week and for my family, life, and work circumstances, that is very doable. Dustin Yonke, a Coach with Team MPI, recently wrote, "You shouldn't be putting into the sport what you are not willing to give up." That pretty much sums it up! I've never resented the training, nor has the family (they are asleep for half of it) and I've always felt it has added to rather than taken away from life.
- Racing distances that I enjoy. I am a sprint and Olympic short-course girl, with an occasional half-iron for fun. At those distances, I can race often, can prepare well, and finish racing before lunch! I can race twice in a weekend, take a day off, and get right back to the training I love and to the family that needs me.
- Having a knowledgeable and trusted Coach. Coach Jim is great moderating factor and source of perspective for my competitive spirit. I am glad I do not have to think of how to train or what to do, and I can devote my full energy to the efficient and effective training he has designed. I have been with Coach Jim since Day 1 of triathlon training and can't imagine it any other way.
- Being part of the supportive community of triathletes. Triathletes are generally earnest, hard-working, encouraging, folks who equate movement with fun like I do. I love my triathlon peeps near and far, and training and racing keep me connected in and enjoying the social side, which for triathletes usually wraps up by 9 pm so we can train in the morning!!
- Changing things up. It may seem like we just swim-bike-run-repeat but things are always changing - the training focus, race types/distances, seasons, personal goals, venues. There are seasons and cycles and ups and downs. (Having a coach helps to keep things from getting stale too.)
- Finding frequent fulfillment in the small things. Yes, race successes and PRs can be fulfilling, but more importantly, I find frequent fulfillment in the little successes of daily training - better body balance in the pool, achieving flow in a run, pushing through fatigue on a long ride, hitting a tough mile pace, or just getting out the door to train when I don't feel like it!
- Loving the training. I do, I really do. I appreciate the rhythm and structure that training brings to my life. I love to sweat, to feel my muscles fatiguing, and to tap into the singular focus required to push on when my brain is telling me I can go no further.
- Appreciating that triathlon training gets me out into the world. Seeing the world on foot, from a bike, and through goggles is the best. If it wasn't for triathlon I fear all I would see is my car, my house, and my computer. It's amazing what you come across when you travel through the world a little more slowly!
- Keeping race nerves in check. I get nervous/excited for races just like anyone but I don't let it take away from the experience. I make sure to take time after a race to reflect on what I thought about my efforts and execution before looking at results and rankings that might try to tell me a different story.
- Blogging! Yes, blogging! My teaching mentor/colleague/friend Barbara Bekken used to quote, "Writing is nature’s way of showing you how sloppy your thinking is.” Blogging has helped me to make meaning out of the messy jumble of physical, mental, and emotional tangles that triathlon can bring out of you. I am a different person after writing 864 blog posts, and after spending countless hours digging and reflecting to find out what lies beneath. My readers see the cleaned up, dots-connected version, but it's a process to get there. And by writing, it more clearly defines the athlete, the person, the friend, the mom I want to be.
- Having time-outs. As bizarre as it sounds, the injury time-outs have always left me more grateful and more "hungry" for the sport. I've had at least four significant injuries that had me out for 6-8 weeks. The lesson there is I DO need the downtime, but moving forward I'm going to try to achieve that without the injury.
- Appreciating what the body can do (and not what it looks like). Feeling fit takes the focus off...I don't know what to call it, "standards of beauty?" I don't feel any pressure to look a certain way and I don't fret about aging when I know I can out-swim/bike/run most people half my age. Makeup, manicures, blah blah blah...not for me. I can shower, get dressed, and be out the door in under ten minutes! How's that for a transition time?!
- Having goals. I enjoy working toward things, and with three sports there is no shortage of potential goals, and no shortage of data, numbers, graphs, and histograms! I enjoy being the fitness experiment "sample size of one" since we are all unique!
- Triathlon brings surprises. Herding cows from the bike, getting lost on trail runs, running in new cities, being in a cycling video, making Team USA 4x, running the Boston Marathon, traveling to London and New Zealand, being selected for a racing team, and starting a new wonderful career in sports marketing and triathlon...who knew?!
- Remaining grateful. I remain grateful that I am able to enjoy this sport and for the opportunities it has afforded me. I've learned more about myself in the past five years than perhaps at any other time of my life. The quiet of the roads and trails tempers the information overload of everyday life and helps me to untangle, solve problems, find tranquility, and feel joyful. (Or as I joke, training leaves me too tired to care!)
When I think about all the gifts of triathlon, I can't imagine giving it up, I can't imagine the hole that would be left behind. I think this is what is meant about adopting a "fitness lifestyle" and it just becomes a part of who you are and the rhythm of your life.
When others share with me that they want to get in shape, I encourage them to think about what might inspire them, what excites them. I guarantee it's not the exercise bike in the basement. That bike might be useful as a supplement, but it won't be a source of motivation. Motivation might come from climbing, running, lifting, tennis, ultimate, CrossFit, pickup basketball, spin class, cycling, martial arts, yoga, hiking, or squash. Find that "thing" that ignites you and the rest will follow! Then fitness ceases to be exercise and soon becomes life!
Have a great weekend, spend some time with your passion!