I mentioned before that I registered for a triathlon in September. This will be my third triathlon, but the first Olympic distance I will try. I’m excited to have a big goal to work toward- the Olympic distance is long (for me), and will force me to train well and consistently. I like that.
When I started getting back in the pool a few weeks ago, it brought back memories of my first triathlon. Some good, some not.
I was a sophomore at JMU when a friend first pitched the idea of a triathlon. She had done it the year before, so I was able to ask her lots of questions about it and determine that the idea was not totally insane. (I am convinced that MOST things that I do, I do when I see someone else try them first. I am not a pioneer or trend-setter, by any stretch).
I came up with a training schedule, which mostly consisted of making sure I worked out five times each week. Three mornings a week, I would ride my bike across campus to swim before the day started. I remember pulling on my green and white warm-up pants from high school soccer and riding across a quiet, chilly campus. When I got to UREC, it would be me and an over-caffeinated aerobics instructor, and a quiet gym.
I taught myself to swim laps that semester. Not having grown up with a community pool (unless you count Jean Brown’s pool in her backyard), I was never on a swim team. “Swimming” was sharks and minnows and seeing who could swim the length of the pool underwater.
I didn’t know how to swim for long distances, so I started out by swimming freestyle as fast as I could, losing my breath too quickly, and having to revert to the breast stroke too often. It took a while to learn that I needed to slow down, in order to keep going. Speeding up left me feeling like I might drown.
That was also the first semester that I played rugby at JMU. As a result, I frequently looked like I spent my afternoons playing “please kick the hell out of my shins”. I remember the lifeguard asking me what happened to my legs, since they were constantly various shades of purple and healing-bruise green. I didn’t have any iron in my diet at that point, which left me a) tired all the time and b) prone to bruise even more easily than usual. My legs were a mess.
After I swam in the mornings, I would drag myself to a required science class. Without fail, I fell asleep in every single science class that semester. I have the notes to prove it, somewhere. You can see where I started off writing neatly, and then my pen would trail off the page as I fell asleep. Sometimes I wrote weird stuff that came out of a dream I was having in class. (Not kidding.) My friends thought it was hilarious. Anna would nudge me to keep me awake, but it would only last for a few more minutes before I would nod off again.
The training lasted all semester, and culminated in a triathlon in Williamsburg. It was really fun and I did well- finishing strong, with energy to spare. I did it with three other friends, and it was great to experience it all together.
But it came at a cost. I was constantly tired that semester. My muscles were fatigued and weary, all the time. I was sleep-deprived all the time, and fell asleep in a lot of classes. I don’t want to think about how my professors felt, seeing that. (One professor yelled at me about it my junior year. He was a pretty big jerk in the way he approached it, but I also had it coming).
If I could go back to my 19 year old self, I would tell myself to go to sleep. Skip a class every once in a while (I mean- you’re sleeping through it anyway) and skip a workout. Skip several workouts. You’ll be fine. Get some iron in your diet. If the red meat options at D-Hall freak you out (which is understandable), take a supplement. No one should have that many bruises. Your body is telling you it needs something- listen to it.
But that was sort of a foreign concept at that time. Rest days were earned because the training schedule had been followed, not because my body was weary. It didn’t occur to me that a training program out of a book should not dictate my exercise in totality. It didn’t occur to me to be attentive to what I actually needed, and what would have been kinder to myself.
So a lot of that comes back to me, as I churn out the laps these last couple of weeks. Much has happened since then. I am not floating around detached from my body these days, expecting it to take abuse and keep rising to the occasion. I don’t feel like I am at war with my body anymore- that it cannot be trusted.
This training season will be different from when I was a sophomore at JMU. I am training in conjunction with a lot of other things, and some of those will take precedence at times. I am following a training schedule, but holding it pretty loosely. On days that I feel great, or even so-so, I want to push myself. On days when I am sore and tired, I want to cut the run short and stretch instead.
I didn’t do any of that when I was 19, and I wish I had. I wish I had cut myself more slack. I wish I had enjoyed the feeling of exercise, not just the feeling of crossing another training run off the calendar because that is what I was supposed to do.
So. Here’s to the redemptive triathlon.