... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Friday, May 1, 2015

Bad Tans and Aching Eyes: Weird Triathlon Side Effects

When I started triathlon, there were some things I expected. Sore muscles, changes in body composition, fatigue… I was ready for these side effects. The deeper I go into tri training, however, the more strange and surprising things come up. Sinking in water instead of floating, increased appetite, and adjusted circadian rhythm were the beginnings, now I’m full on into triathlon-related oddities that I never would have thought of.

The first, most obvious, and entertaining, is tan lines. Oh my god, the tan lines. Living in Hawaii for nearly 5 years, I have some pretty well-cultivated bikini lines, but since increasing my training distances, shit has just gotten ridiculous. Triathlon apparel serves its purpose and, I suppose, has its own version of fashion, but the resulting tan lines are not pretty. Racerback lines permanently emblazoned on my back and shoulders, zebra stripe tramp stamps where my top rode up slightly from my shorts, and mid-thigh farmer-style shorts lines… my reflection in the mirror after a 5-hour workout is laughable. You lose all the excess jiggle on your body and replace it with beautiful, lean muscles, but those tan lines will keep you humble!
Terrible tan!

The second thing is a complete and utter mystery to me. I lose more weight the more I eat. When I’m not training seriously, I eat very little. A lot of vegetables, some fruit, a little lean meat, a tiny bit of whole grains, and a dessert each day. This is mostly because of my picky digestive system. As I exercise more and more, I am forced to increase my eating proportionally to avoid getting dizzy and light-headed. It seems inevitable that each time I up my training, I fail to up my calorie intake as much as is needed. At the beginning of this round of mileage increase, I was baffled because I wasn’t losing any weight despite the longer distances I was running, swimming, and biking. After my week of delirium, I started eating more. In fact, I started eating almost constantly, and oddly enough, it took only two days before the weight started coming off. Even now, two weeks later, if I eat more on a particular day, the scale goes down the next morning. Bodies are weird.

How I spent much of my week, avoiding bright light
The third and most painful thing was the discovery that if you squint for 4-5 hours on the bike, you can get strained eye muscles. DON’T EVER GET STRAINED EYE MUSCLES. Sore legs, sore arms, even sore abs I expect and understand, but sore eye muscles? You’ve got to be kidding me. For a week after our 50 mile ride my head hurt around my eyes, and it felt like whatever connected my eyes to my brain was aching and damaged. Every time I looked up or down or at a bright light, it shot pain behind my eyes. Closing them didn’t help. Sleeping was difficult. Watching TV, reading, or looking at the computer was awful. The sun felt like it was out to get me. Words looked a little blurry and tough to see. For several days I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on, until I got back on the bike and realized that the aero position, head somewhat down while looking up at the road ahead, aggravated it more than anything else, especially when I squinted through my sunglasses. Once I noticed my squinting, I caught myself doing it all the time. I didn’t even realize that I had a weird habit until it made my life miserable, but I immediately set out to break it. It took about 5 days, but after a lot of conscious effort to relax my face and move my head to look around rather than just my eyes, the pain eased. When we did our 60-mile ride, I focused the entire time on keeping my face slack and not squinting. I also started wearing sunglasses on the run (instead of just a hat) to keep my squinting to a minimum. These steps seem to have solved the problem, but I still have to catch myself all the time to keep my face relaxed. So there you go – eye muscle strain is a little-known side effect of triathlons.

I never cease to be surprised. If you need me, I’ll be at the beach trying to counteract my bad tan lines, eating excessive amounts of food wearing three pairs of sunglasses to prevent eye squinting. 

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