... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Reflections at the End if Chapter One

At this time tomorrow morning I should be in the home stretch, running toward the finish of my first triathlon! Last night I looked back over this blog, feeling pleased with how far I've come but mostly laughing at how clueless and bumbling I was at the beginning of this adventure. Since the end of the first chapter (and beginning of the second!) is drawing near, I'd like to share some of my favorite moments of the past four months of training.

One of the best memories (although at the time I wasn't as entertained by it) is of the first day I tried to swim. I had been running for several days with varying success but avoiding the first swim workout like the plague. I had all kinds of excuses, but the bottom line was simply that I was intimidated by my lack of knowledge -- and gear. When I finally worked up the courage to do it, I made a rapid-fire set of mistakes. For whatever reason, I bought goggles and a swim cap at Walmart rather than a sporting goods store... $2.79 seemed like a good deal and I couldn't imagine that they would put out a product that didn't work. The goggles looked like they were made for rabbits, fit only for people with eyes on the sides of their heads, and the swim cap felt like it was made of foam. Then, not wanting to splash around like a fool in front of real swimmers, I went to Waikiki instead of Ala Moana, without considering that there was probably a reason that people don't do swim workouts there. I quickly realized that there was no proper entrance to the water, and ended up flopping off of very slippery rocks into the very shallow water like some sort of awkward manatee. Immediately scraped up by the reef not two feet below the surface, I realized why no one swims there... there isn't even room to move your arms without swiping the bottom. Not to be deterred, I went out deeper, put on my goggles, and started swimming (although "swimming" is a generous description of what I was doing). It took less than two seconds for my Walmart goggles to fill completely with water, rendering them completely useless, and my swim cap did nothing to prevent water from seeping onto my head and into my ears.

I couldn't even swim 25 yards and back. It suddenly occurred to me that swimming takes technique, and that watching the Olympics on the TV is not the same as learning how to do it. I remembered all of the reasons why I had held my triathlon goal in the back of my mind for six years without doing anything about it: I didn't know HOW to do a triathlon. 

The reason I like this memory so much is that it was the first time that I got my ass kicked by this process, and the first time that I learned to accept the discomfort associated with doing something new and challenging and keep pushing to do it anyway. So many of us, perfectionist-me included, live in fear of failing, making a fool of ourselves, or being faced with something overwhelming. This experience was the first time I learned to say,
"Okay, I am terrible at this right now. It is hard, and I feel overwhelmed and foolish and I want to quit and go back to doing something easier, but I'm new at this and I'm going to keep going. This will pass and I will get stronger."

Over and over this theme repeated itself -- I actually FELL OVER the first time I tried to ride my new bike. Crashing into the pavement felt like a thinly veiled metaphor for my incompetence and stupidity in being so arrogant as to think I could do something as difficult as a triathlon, but again I reminded myself that feeling foolish, embarrassed, and overwhelmed was okay. To improve, you have to push through those feelings and accept them as part of the process. You also have to develop a healthy sense of humor about yourself, because otherwise you will be impossibly frustrated.

In addition to my embarrassing moments, I have had some experiences that have been so good I will be eternally grateful for the memory. My first trail run, the Moanalua 10k, left me feeling energized and excited. Running through the forest and straight through creeks was liberating, feeling the rain on my face, water in my shoes, and green all around was incredible, and like many other times in the running portion of my training, I felt my dad nearby. Running has been like opening a portal to my childhood, a time before my dad was gone when my family was still whole. An endless stream of long-lost memories and the feeling of the running community (seemingly the same no matter where you are) have served as constant encouragement whenever I got frustrated. Crossing the finish at the Great Aloha Run feeling strong, biking through the gorgeous late afternoon in Kahala with golden sun lighting up the mountains before exploding with colors across the ocean, learning the feeling of the water rushing gently over my skin when I swim... These are all things that feel like beautiful gifts.

I have discovered a new kind of pleasure, one in which I am connected to my body and mind in the most profound way possible. There is truly no feeling like working your body and mental strength to the point of exhaustion, jumping in cold ocean water, then taking a hot shower or bath with lavender and peppermint and eating whatever healthy concoction sounds most divine. Yogurt parfaits, smoked salmon, banana milk smoothies, raspberries, cereal, or caprese salads... The cravings change but after a long workout whatever it is your body is calling for will taste like it never has before. I am more aware of my appetite, my mood, and I sleep better.

It is hard for me to believe that when I began just four months ago, I could barely stay afloat when trying to do a crawl stroke, and needed a snorkel to make it 50 yards. Now i am swimming miles at a time. I gasped for air and could barely run the 1.8 miles around Kapiolani park. Now my normal workouts include 5 milers. My bike workout started at 2 miles, and my legs were tired by the end of it. Now I can ride 35. Most notable, though, was that I didn't know how to work past the obstacles I was facing.

I was hoping that somewhere along the way I would discover a strength in myself that in didn't know I had. I hoped that somewhere inside me was the toned, bronzed triathlete I had always seen in magazines and although I still have endless roads if improvement ahead of me, I have found that person. Knowing that I can face down the things that overwhelm me, accept discomfort, and conquer my fears instills a kind of confidence that I've never had before. I have truly discovered the warrior inside.

Thank you to those of you have supported me through this journey. Tomorrow, I'll be able to call myself a triathlete and the next phase of training can begin!

1 comment:

  1. I saw your article in Hawaii Sport. Lanikai was my first triathlon, too. Congratulations. I like your lblog. We have a lot in common. My only sport was dancing until after i had my first child and started running as a weight loss and sanity keeping method. My blog is www.carpentersinkailua.blogspot.com. I wrote a blog after the tri if you want to get another first timer's take. I was in a quite a bit older category, so I finished a while after you, but I am so happy I did it. Keep up your good work!
    Kristie Carpenter