... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Monday, December 31, 2012

Falling- The Laziness Problem


What a fool I was. In response to my overabundant excitement, day three was a succession of horrible failures.

The first of these was my last minute decision to buy my swim cap and goggles at Walmart rather than a sporting goods store solely because I didn't feel like dealing with the downtown traffic. Apparently although I have decided that completing a triathlon is within my capability, driving for fifteen minutes would be utterly impossible. And while wiser voices told me that goggles costing $2.79 were probably not of the utmost quality, I couldn't resist the prospect of spending so little money. True, the nose piece looked a little longer than normal, but there were no sizes listed so they must be adjustable. Or maybe I was imagining things and they were totally normal.
They wouldn't make goggles that didn't work, I rationalized. Maybe all the other goggle companies are just overcharging. I am just being a smart consumer!

Continuing in my shockingly lazy decision-making process I decided to go to the same park that I had been running at and to swim at Waikiki Beach right across the street, both of which are just minutes from my house, rather than driving across town to Ala Moana Beach Park which offers water which is not only deeper and calmer but marked for length with buoys specifically to assist swimmers. I told myself this was because the waters would be less crowded, but if I am being completely honest with myself I think it had more to do with the crowd at Ala Moana being composed of experienced and intimidating swimmers who, at least in my imagination's image of the afternoon, would no doubt laugh hysterically and heckle me out of the water.

Unfortunately, my imagination's image of the afternoon was hopelessly inaccurate no matter where I went. Excited to run after yesterday's exuberant showing, it took only seconds to realize that yesterday was a fluke, and I should never have allowed it to bolster my confidence. Replacing the light, strong feeling in my legs was a heaviness that I could hardly fight against and my lungs felt tight and stiff. Within minutes I was struggling to breathe and willing my legs forward through sheer willpower. Being in decent shape, it baffles me how difficult running is for me. I swear some people's bodies are just born to run, others can train them to the point where it is moderately enjoyable, and others, like me, will be up against a fight no matter how they train. I was determined to finish, however, and ran the 1.8 miles without stopping to walk.

Limping across the street toward the beach, I consoled myself with the fact that I had in my possession a brand new swim cap and goggles and could cool my aching legs in the ocean. I may not be a great runner (or even a mediocre one) but certainly I could swim! I had chosen the least busy portion of the beach in order to minimize the number of people watching me try to get my bearings in the water, but I quickly realized that this stretch of ocean had no beach. In fact, the only way to get to the water was by jumping off a six foot wall onto jagged rocks covered in slippery algae and black crabs the size of my fist. Reminding myself that the people walking by were only tourists and if I embarrassed myself it didn't really matter because I would never see them again, I swallowed my pride and used my arms to lower myself as far over the wall as I could before dropping the rest of the way onto the rocks. Miraculously, I did not fall face first onto the reef. Instead, I stepped gingerly into the water, dodging coral and slippery rocks and looking in vain for sand to walk on, before giving up and flopping into the water like some sort of awkward sea cow.

As soon as I went underwater I realized that my $2.79 Walmart goggles were a huge mistake. Made for people with eyes on the sides of their heads, like rabbits, they immediately filled with water. In addition, my swim cap failed to keep water out of my ears, which immediately felt odd and uncomfortable. The water was so shallow that my hands repeatedly scraped the reef, and within moments I was gasping for air and swallowing water. I managed a swim of about 25 meters before giving up and dragging myself to shore, thoroughly embarrassed. How had it slipped my mind that besides swimming lessons when I was six years old, I had no idea how to perform a proper stroke?

As I stomped dejectedly back to my car, I pondered the lessons learned today:
1. I need to study swim strokes.
2. Each step forward must be taken with a grain of salt, knowing that good days and bad days will always have to coexist.
3. Don't be cheap when it comes to equipment. You may not need the most expensive gear, but if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
4. Don't be lazy and take shortcuts. Just don't. It never works out. Instead, you end up floundering around in knee-deep water, covered in reef scrapes.

Live and learn. Tomorrow, certainly, will be better.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Pride Goeth Before the Fall

The first thing to do once I picked out a training schedule was to survey my equipment. I have in my possession an old 10-speed bike that was taken apart during my move to Hawaii and dubiously put back together by two people with no experience working with bikes. Its tires also look suspiciously deflated and I quickly decided that I could not trust it with my full body weight. A trip to the Honolulu Triathlon and Bike Shop, which happens to be conveniently located just blocks from my house, is going to be a necessity before my bike is going anywhere. Until then, I can use the stationary bikes at my gym. Biking- check!
The swimming portion was going to present more challenges in terms of gear. I live in Hawaii and thus spend time in the ocean nearly every day, but my swimwear was limited to a bikini and snorkeling mask. I have nothing that seems appropriate for more serious swimming- no goggles, swim cap, or sturdier bathing suit. This, I figured, could be easily remedied with a trip to a sporting goods store. I had given myself a week-long window until I officially began my training schedule to allow myself to gather the things I needed, including my mental fortitude. Swimming supplies could be taken care of soon.

Running was the one thing that could be started without any additional gear, and since I believed it to be my weakest area, I decided to begin immediately. The first week of the training schedule called only for walking twenty minutes, but I knew I could do better than that and so my first outing was a 1.78 mile jog around Kapiolani park. It didn't feel nearly as horrible as I feared it would and I was left feeling cautiously encouraged.
The next night after the sun dipped below the ocean I headed out again. The air was cool and I noticed a distinct difference in my breath. Rather than gasping for air, counting "in-2-out-2-in-2-out-2-"in constant repetition, air came easily and my chest felt open. Was this... a breakthrough? I noticed everything around me- how the trees rustled in the breeze and the birds grew quieter as night took over the sky, how my steps fell in rhythm that I could fit to any time signature. Were my steps a march? 1-2-1-2. Or a waltz? 1-2-3-1-2-3. I realized that this time my breaths were fitting better to a three-count than the two-count they had labored under in past runs. I liked that notion- a waltzing run. The music geek in me was happy. These were the thoughts skipping happily through my head, a welcome alternative to discomfort I had been so focused on in the past. In fact, I felt as though I was getting glimpse into why so many people who I had formerly categorized as collectively insane actually enjoy running.
I felt so strong that I expanded my route, stretching the distance to just over two miles and it was not until the last few blocks that I began to feel tired and winded. I couldn't help but think that maybe a sprint triathlon wouldn't be so difficult and maybe I should be training for a full length instead! Perhaps the fitness goddess I keep imagining was already showing herself!

Pouring myself into bed that night I was confident and ready to move forward. Tomorrow I will buy goggles and swim cap and conquer the water with the same success that I conquered the road.

Ballerinas Don't Run

Doing a triathlon has always sounded like fun.
Okay, perhaps "fun" is not the most accurate word. Perhaps doing a triathlon has always sounded exotic and tough and impressive and I couldn't quite escape the feeling that if I could complete this holy trinity of swimming, biking, and running I would be magically transformed into one of those bronzed badasses who oozes strength and muscle tone from every pore like the ones I had always admired in my dad's Runners magazine. I have never been acquainted with any version of that person within myself, but I have had the sneaking suspicion that swimming until my arms felt like they were falling off, biking until my legs were numb, and running until I could do nothing but crawl are the direct route to uncovering my inner badass.
This thought has been gnawing at me for nearly six years now. That is embarrassing to admit- that I am such a slacker and a procrastinator and a generally lazy asshole that it has taken me six years to decide that I am actually going to do this. But I have decided. No more excuses, no more convincing myself that I could do it if I really wanted to but just don't have the time, and no more fear of the unknown. That bronzed fitness goddess is in there somewhere and it's way past time that I find her. And so, my goal is as follows:

1. I will complete a sprint length triathlon no later than the beginning of June, 2013, consisting of a half mile swim, a twelve mile bike ride, and a three mile run.
2. I will complete an olympic length triathlon by the end of 2013- .93 mile swim, 24.8 mile bike ride, and 6.2 mile run.

Now, just so that you have a realistic picture of me, let's go over some basics of where I am at physically at the beginning of this adventure. I am average height hovering dangerously close to short, of normal weight, and I work out at the gym at least three times a week. Twenty years of ballet have kept me relatively toned and muscular, but erase the image you have of the sylph-like ballerina who could slip through the cracks in hardwood flooring because much to my angsty dismay, that has never been me. I consider myself to be in decent shape, but like everyone I find the sides of my thighs a little more jiggly than I would prefer, my love handles a little too easy to grasp, and my butt a little too willing to give in to gravity.
My diet vacillates between a healthy mix of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and unfortunate incidents involving pasta, cake, and copious amounts of chocolate. I can't lie and say that I am consistent in my eating because I am not. I know better- MUCH better, but it is an ongoing battle to find balance between health and enjoyment. I am curious to see what effect triathlon training has on what I put into my body.

So where do I begin? After six years of fantasizing it is almost overwhelming to take the first steps to make this idea happen. There are so many what-ifs floating around in the back of my mind, and as much as I try to ignore them they insist on making themselves known. What if after all of this time, I try to do this and fail? What if I can't figure out the logistics of a multi-sport race? What if I struggle through this whole thing only to find that no matter what I do, I will never be the bronzed badass on the pages of the sports magazines? The biggest what-if, however, is what keeps urging me forward. What if I think about this year after year and never make it happen? How pathetic am I then?
And so, I turned to the internet. A quick google search of "sprint triathlon training schedule" yielded a plethora of schedules pre-made by experts in the field. Based on the fact that I feel like my legs are made of lead and my lungs are being crushed in a vice after just ten minutes of running, I decided that the beginner's plan was the best for me. Don't judge me. I can do plyometrics, yoga, ballet, and I can stay on the elliptical machine for hours, but ballerinas do not run. Twenty-two weeks seemed like a reasonable amount of time to kick myself into shape, and thus my goal began to take shape via Michael Pate's Total Sprint Training Plan. If you are in better shape than me and want something a little more condensed, check this out for all kinds of great resources and more advanced training plans. Just don't rub it in.

Excited, nervous, and energized are all accurate descriptors of my feelings each time I think about the weeks ahead. This blog will chronicle the process, the training, the frustrations, realizations, and anything else I learn along the way and, in just over five months, it will proudly display the results of my first triathlon. I have the distinct feeling that my body will not be the only thing growing stronger.