It’s 35 degrees, the sun is scorching against your skin and it feels on fire, along with the fire burning in your heaving lungs, pounding feet and heavy legs. You’re 5 kilometres into a 10 k tempo and every bone within your body is telling you to stop, puke and collapse in a pool of your own sweat. There is an inner turmoil within your brain, half telling you to keep going, half telling you enough is enough. It’s that point in the workout when you have to dig deep and go to a place to find even the tiniest bit of inspiration to just keep going and to keep on pace.
This is the inner battle of going above and beyond and breaking through. Most, if not all, athletes go through it and how you come out the other side is how you choose to face that battle, and sometimes a little inspiration goes a long way.
My inspiration starts with my friend who has Multiple Sclerosis. She struggles with pain, debilitation and exhaustion; that’s her daily fight. Whenever I get to that breaking point in my workouts I think of her and I remind myself how fortunate I am to have the ability to even chase the dream of competing in an Ironman race. It really is a gift to be healthy and able bodied, and it’s something to never forget. No matter what pain I face in a race or a training workout, there is someone, somewhere facing a much greater challenge, someone like Kayla Montgomery, the runner from North Carolina, who is defying all odds. I stumbled across Kayla’s story the other night and was instantly moved to tears. Despite being diagnosed with MS, Kayla is one of the best young long distance runners in America. Her story is remarkable and simply inspiring. She embodies discipline, hard work and determination. Watching her collapse at the finish after an incredible performance on the track is gut wrenching but amazing. She is chasing a dream, because she still can. Because of her disease, there may be a day when she can longer compete, yet along walk, so she’s doing what she can while she can. It’s something we should all remember – just how blessed we are to have the ability to do what we do. Suffering through the grind is just a part of the journey, and we should embrace every pain that comes along with it, because it’s better than not being able to run at all. Being in good health should never be taken for granted because you never know when that might change. As Kayla said, “I hope to run to as long as I can and to make the most out of it as long as I can. When or if I’m not able to run at some point down the road then at least I can look back and know that, when I could, I gave it my all.”
The sound of an alarm clock buzzing off at an early hour on a weekend seems uniquely different than a weekday wake up call. During training season, it buzzes at the same time Monday through Sunday but the buzz on a weekend sounds the alarm for something so much better.
This morning was the first time since August that I have risen early for a group training session. I couldn’t wait to get my bike shorts back on, although they fit a little bit snugger and I looked a little bit frumpier, I didn’t really care. The last month I have been craving getting back into a routine and, for whatever reason, this morning felt like the perfect time.
Just like any other training day I went through the early morning routine of sorting out what to wear and calculating my calories and hydration. Todays workout was “Everything but the Kitchen Sink,” which usually involves a 1.5 to 2 hour spin, followed by 20 minutes of core exercises and cooling off with a short run. I thought I would be apprehensive about how I might perform and worry about passing out mid-spin from exhaustion, but there was a huge part of me that was just ready to go, whether my body was or not.
As soon as I got to the office, sat on the bike and my legs started to go I felt a wave of ease and almost a sense of giddiness. There was a boisterous chatter amongst the group with the quiet whir of rotating discs in the background and I realized just how much I’ve missed this. I think I had forgotten all the little details – the sounds, the smells, the feelings – all of it combined is like one big happy thought.
As the workout intensified and my legs in somewhat unison with my lungs started to burn, my mind cleared and I zoned in, which is a rare thing for me. Usually my mind is buzzing, racing, over thinking, analyzing, but when I’m swimming, biking or running, it’s just different, I’m in the zone and everything just seems a little bit less chaotic. When I signed up for long distance triathlons I did so for a challenge. I wanted to see how far I could push myself, but in the end I got so much more.
As we hopped off the bikes and headed outside into the crisp cool morning with the sun shining brightly upon us, I was reminded that this is my passion. And despite the fact that I ended this workout sprawled on my living room floor like I starfish, I felt deliriously content and amazingly alive and that’s a pretty sweet feeling.
Life during the off season has become one big, long pity party of reflecting on what was and what was supposed to be. When I look in the mirror I see a frumpy, lumpy reflection; when I walk up the stairs I hear an exasperated old woman; and when my body aches I blame the lumpy couch and back-to-back movie marathons. I feel like a has-been and in reality it’s a pretty accurate description.
If I wasn’t already down enough on my shameful post-season uselessness, I stumbled across an article on triathlete.com by Jene Shaw, entitled ‘Four Rules for the Off Season.’ Almost immediately, I cringed at the thought that I had most likely already broken every rule, but for the sake of entertainment, I went through the rules anyway.
Rule #1: Don’t run a marathon in January.
Mission accomplished. Unless you count movie marathons or triple header rounds of beer pong, I have sufficiently satisfied this rule. In fact, I have never run a marathon, and I don’t plan on it until after the snow has fallen and then melted.
Rule #2: Focus on short, intense workouts
Fail. I’m not sure I even know what the word ‘focus’ means anymore, and other than short, intense bursts playing ice hockey after drinking a six pack, I think this does not apply.
Rule #3: Gain weight
Mission accomplished. Refer to earlier descriptions of frumpy and lumpy, and for good measure I’ll throw in tub of lard. I have indeed gained a significant amount of weight, mostly thanks in part to complying with rule #1.
Rule # 4: Swim a lot.
Fail. I’ve thought about swimming a lot. In fact I’ve set my alarm clock at least three times in the last week with full intentions to hit the pool. I’m zero for three. Next week, I’ll think about it some more.
Rule #5: Hit the gym
Fail. I have also thought about going to the gym. I was even supposed to start spin class last week, but somehow other activities keep derailing this plan. Anyway, plans in the off season are over rated.
Two for five, which when you do the math, equates to off-season triathlete failure.
Although I give myself a hard time, this has been a much needed break from the constant obsession of training and I’ve learned to become ok with that. I learned to let go of constantly eating, breathing, dreaming, thinking, living triathlon for just a brief flurry of unproductivity mixed in with some uninhibited fun. I’m kind of a one extreme to the other type of person, so I can’t say it’s the perfect balance, but it works. Starting this week, I’ll be putting away the beer glasses and bringing back out the running shoes to kick start a gradual return to fitness. And in honour of getting back on track, I also signed up for my first half iron in June. It’s been exactly one year since I signed myself up what was supposed to be my first half iron this past season, so I figured what better time than today to make that exact same commitment – but this time I’m not letting anything get in my way.
Check out the full triathlon.com article here.