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Triathlon is Hard. That’s Why I Like It.

This weekend was a victory – a victory of a long-time coming sort.

As I round the corner, quickly approaching the six-year anniversary of my crazy ass decision to “become a triathlete,” it’s true that I have been (publicly) wondering whether or not I even want to swim, bike and run anymore.

I have been implementing the discipline versus motivation tactic for the past few weeks – in really full-force – trying not to make excuses.  Trying to summon the love for triathlon back, or figure out if I even care any more.   [Also probably known as burn out. Whatever you want to call it.]

I have come to one conclusion in the past few months:

People who keep telling me to “do triathlon only for fun!” are annoying as hell.

(And no, I don’t mean you, April Gellatly.  YOU are allowed to tell me to have fun–because triathlon is your JOB! :))

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We all have our own personal reasons for #WhyWeTri, and my reason does not have to be even close to yours.  And if you are telling me to “go out there and have fun,” then I know we don’t have the same reason for starting this sport in the first place.  (E.g., we are not speaking the same language, so don’t even try.)

My definition of fun is pretty much limited to the following: roller coasters, movies, ice cream, new books, painting, laying on the couch with a kid, a hot cup of coffee, music and a bath, and water parks.

Do I like to swim? Sure.  Do I like to bike?  Yep.  Do I like to run?  Yes, I actually do. Still?  Nope, triathlon is not really on my top of the list fun list.   Okay, maybe it’s on the fun list – like dead last.

I, personally, do triathlon because I am a competitive person – and swim, bike and run is my competitive outlet. And no I’m not competing with YOU… I’m competing with me. And I started the sport because I wanted something for ME.  Not something weeeeeeeeee! that’s fun!  It was something scary and challenging and huge.  Something that could show my kids what mom was made of.  Somewhere to figure out who I was.  A place to try and get healthy so I didn’t die at 35, choking on my own fat neck.

Fun was never really on my list, I’ll be honest.  So quit trying to tell me to have fun.  It was never my intention.

And guess what?  My reason for tri-ing is perfect.  It’s mine.  Not yours.

SO when I am struggling with the sport, the fact that it’s not fun – has nothing to do with my state of mind.  I never sought the fun anyway.

I do believe that a lot of the time, our desire to do something can ebb and flow — but quitting or walking away — is not always the best option.  It’s sort of like divorce. You shouldn’t pull the trigger on blowing up your marriage until you have exhausted all available avenues of reconciliation.

“Triathlon is not like marriage.”

Um, the hell it isn’t.

  • You start out with great intentions
  • You love
  • You love all the shiny newness
  • You celebrate “firsts”
  • You find out that you might be burned out
  • You work harder
  • You maybe burn out
  • You try and come back
  • You fight for it.
  • You figure out if the fight is worth it
  • You sign up for Ironman

Anyway, I’ll drop that analogy. And post a picture of the Expert cooking homemade pasta yesterday, as an example of how to keep the love alive. 🙂

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But it’s very similar – at least for me.

I don’t quit easy, and I don’t give up on things. I am paralyzed by making the wrong decisions; I am paralyzed by living my life with any regrets.  (Just ask the Expert how easy Movie Night is around here. I can’t even decided on a movie, for “fear” that I pick the “wrong one” and waste two hours of my life. Yes, OCD. I got it. Check check, I’m crazy. )

You don’t just quit. You keep working.

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(My view from the treadmill this AM.)

Earlier this year, I was on a triathlon high in February with training, and then I ran myself into a stress fracture. When the competitive outlet was whisked away, I really sunk into a depression about it.  If I couldn’t work hard at something, then what was the point?

Fast forward to mid-May and early June, when I was able to start really working hard again.

Well, by that point, my body decided it wasn’t going to cooperate like I had hoped it would.  Meaning really, I was just old-fashioned out of shape. The small fact was that I hadn’t been able to run, I chose not to swim as much as I could, and I lost a whole lot of fitness. (Not fun.).

So I just turned into a robot.  A crabby robot, but a robot.  Doing workouts, not thinking about it.  Just motion. Whatever.

But then yesterday and today, it clicked.

For the first time in all of my almost-six years in this sport, my body and my mind found themselves on the same page. I had an amazing two-hour ride and thirty-minute, 3 mile, brick run yesterday.  It was a sweat-fest, but it was almost effortless.

And by effortless, I mean that my body and mind were in sync.  I just went. All this “do or do not” that I have been forcing upon myself finally kicked into a gear, and it was automatic.

Really, I was sort of on Cloud 9 about it.

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Then I woke up this morning super sore from the week of training, and was thinking of a long list of reasons not to do my hour easy run.  But I just got dressed, and I moved. I acted and went.

About 40 minutes into that run, I realized how effortless it was.  And again, I just mean that my body and mind were working together.

For the first time I can ever remember – my body didn’t seem to be fighting me.  My mind wasn’t fighting me.  I was just running.  And I was running well.  I finished my hour, and could have seriously gone for another one.

(But I learned my overuse lesson a few months ago.)

Then it clicked for me.  Ohhhhhh! Those people who talk about having fun?  They are actually good at swimming, biking and running. They might actually be talented in this sport.  Or maybe they have worked so hard that it has become fun, because they are proficient, efficient, and speedy. ( I also get that some people might find sucking at triathlon to be fun. And just like to get medals. That’s cool too.  To each her own.)

I am certainly not “talented” in this sport.

I have clawed my way from the beginning of my first run where I bruised the bottoms of my feet, and I have done so with every single workout and race.  It’s never been fun for me… because, well, it’s been hard.  It’s been horribly ugly.  Because in the beginning, I really, really sucked at swim, bike and run.  And along the way, I semi-sucked at it. [And even though I have finished a ton of races at this point, I could still fall squarely on the suck scale, depending on who you ask.]

All I am saying is that triathlon, over the years, has served a different purpose for me than “just do it for fun.”

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Triathlon has been a massive challenge. Something so weird and out of the ordinary for someone like me… and THAT was exactly the allure.

Over the years, sure, I have gotten better.  And yet, I’m still not “good” on the race results.  And being a competitive person and also knowing that I may never be competitive in triathlon is a wee bit of a struggle, I guess, if I am being honest.

But I keep going, because it keeps something alive in me.  Hope. Drive. Desire. The impossible.

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So maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to reconcile the smiles and the “just have fun” things. It’s more than that to me.

But now, I sort of get it: Yesterday and today, my mind and body cooperated, and it was like a freaking symphony.  I have never, ever felt that way on workouts before. Never. It was sort of amazing.

I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t know if it was a fluke. Or if the stubborn, bull-headed persistence is (finally) starting to show dividends.

But I will say that I am glad I didn’t quit.

And I will also say (holding my breath)… that it was fun.

19 Comments

  • Stephanie

    July 10, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Yep. We need a better word than “fun”.
    When people ask why I do it, I say because it’s ‘fun’ and I enjoy it. But actually, there is nothing “FUN” about a 90 mile ride. There’s nothing ‘fun’ about how much my shoulders hurt because of the swim I did yesterday. But there’s something about it that has become so meaningful in my life that without triathlon, life feels empty.

    Reply
      • Andra

        July 10, 2016 at 12:54 pm

        Meaningful! I love it. I did my first tri yesterday and the sense of accomplishment is amazing. I did panic on the swim but I still finished. This is a meaningful venture!

        Reply
        • Courtney

          July 10, 2016 at 2:57 pm

          Good job Andra! First swim is like ripping off a band aide next one you’ll be a pro 🙂 the sense of accomplishment is great that’s why I tri ❤️ Personal accomplishment.

          Reply
    • Monica

      July 10, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      Love this! I’m not particularly talented at any of the disclipines, but I am highly competitive and find triathlon ridiculously fun. So I’m one of those who probably (annoyingly) tell people to do it for fun all of the time. This is a great reminder that everyone is not racing for the same reasons I am. Perspective is everything.

      Reply
  • Rhona

    July 10, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    Another great post, and so pleased for you! I found myself smiling while reading, as I have had a similar weekend (and similar workouts!)- feels so good to feel so good! Thanks Meredith.

    Reply
  • Shane

    July 10, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    You’re awesome?! Thanks again for your honesty!!!! I totally relate and yet at the same time see how different I am. I’m not really competitive. Maybe that’s part of my self sabotage…. I’m not good enough to compete (even against myself)? But I am mentally challenged! Depression. Bipolar. The works. Exercise helps my brain work better. Without it I suffer more. I need a goal to press forward. I got into tri’s before the mental collapse. I got back into it to help deal with my dads quick- unexpected- traumatic death with lung cancer. This year I’m going for 70.3. For me. For the mental challenge. I feel my success already. And strange enough – it’s fun! I’m not good. I’m not fast. But I do start and I will finish. Some days my only “fun” or enjoyment in life coming during the training. And I build my brain power by coming alongside inspirations like you. Thank you for all you do!!! ?

    Reply
  • Suzanne

    July 10, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    I tell my self to enjoy the process. Triathlon, for me, is not fun, but it is enjoyable. I love the feeling of competence; the “runner’s high” (which I can’t get from running alone anymore because I can neither run fast or long enough, hence why I started triathlon [and I generally only do sprints!]); the comraderie, etc.

    So, enjoy! even if it’s not fun.

    Reply
  • ginger

    July 10, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    SBM – I adore this written piece! it’s speaks so much to me as I’ve given up for the last 6 months and I miss the outlet of just doing something that is for ME! thank you, thank you, thank you. The mind and body supposed connection isn’t there. Why? exactly what you said, friggin’ hard and I need to lose weight but…. why not just start for other reasons that matter to me. I appreciate the honest gift today!

    Reply
  • Jenn

    July 11, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    To me, fun means laughing and having a grand time with people I love. This ironman training of mine is anything but fun. Its HARD! but I LOVE the hard… it makes me feel strong and empowered. I am not talented or competitive, but I sure am stronger and much more badass than I was 5 years ago when I decided one day that I might try running. I don’t tri for fun, I do it because it makes me feel alive.

    Reply
  • Michelle Brenton

    July 11, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    Spot on! I did my first 70.3 yesterday in horrendous rainy conditions but I smiled all the way. Not because I was having fin, but because I was making the best of my race in the conditions. Everything went according toy plan and I couldn’t have asked for more. But hell,socializing with club mates afterwards is FUN.

    Reply
  • JonBoy

    July 13, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    Great article! After two years, I’m starting to notice I’m getting faster. Still slow – but faster than the fastest couch potato. I’ve seen the biggest improvement in running and biking.

    Jon

    Reply
  • SoAnyway

    July 13, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Press on:
    Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
    Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
    Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
    Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts.
    Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
    ~Calvin Coolidge

    Of course, there comes a point where persistence in the face of active indifference becomes actively pathetic. It’s important to realize when it’s time to cut your losses and drop it. But I hope you never reach that point with your tri-ing. If there’s one nice thing about this sport it’s the support you get from the people in it.

    You’re super. I like you.

    Reply
  • Diane

    July 18, 2016 at 5:55 am

    I did my first tri because I was looking for challenges in my life and a friend told me that I should do a tri. Given that I was 47 at the time, pretty much a couch potato, and totally blind, I thought she had lost her mind. Not being one to pass up a challenge though, I signed up for an Olympic distance and six months later I was hooked. I love tri because it helps me with that goal to reach to get me exercising and staying fit. It has opened up opportunities for me to meet new people. Most of all it gives me the knowledge that I am doing something that most sighted people find hard and won’t even try. In order for me to do tri, I need volunteer guides to help me, so every time I go out to train I am with a friend and we enjoy each other’s company. Maybe not fun, but a definite feeling of accomplishment. I almost completed the 2015 Mont Tremblant Ironman last year having to step off at the 21km mark with heatstroke. I am already working on Mont Tremblant 2017.

    Reply
  • Nicole

    August 2, 2016 at 2:28 am

    Just finished your book and thought I would check out the blog. First, you write in your book everything I feel when it comes to being that size 12-14 girl doing a Tri. And this blog entry is the same. I started with the sprint distance last year and have done 2 more with another on the horizon. Not because they are fun but I too like the challenge and always told myself I couldn’t try these kinds of things. In my mid 40s I wanted to try more than running races so the Olympic distance is next year and maybe a half IM the year after that. Hell, after your book I am thinking why not try a full IM – maybe at 50!!! Anyway, thank you for your honest account of your journey. It is inspiring.

    Reply

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