Have you ever done something completely out of your comfort zone that changed your life? I have. About four months ago I crossed the finish line of my first triathlon and officially joined a community of remarkable people called triathletes. After wrapping up my first season, I have started to reflect on some of the lessons I have learned and how triathlon has changed my life in some positive and important ways. I think we can all agree that there are moments and events in our lives that help us to sprout and grow beyond comprehension. Here is a peek into my experience.
Triathlon has taught me…
The power of (and the connection between) the mind and body. The body is a beast. I find it fascinating how much the body can endure. I reflect back on some of my training weeks and races and exhale as though I’m reliving all of the intensity and suffering that was required to finish. However, the mind is an even bigger beast. People often focus on what the body is being put through physically, but fail to recognize the responsibility of the mind. As a psychologist, the mind’s role in endurance sports is of particular interest to me. The mental preparation that goes into heading out for a 70-mile bike ride or a 15-mile run. The will it takes to get up early when you want to sleep, to jump in the cold water when you’d rather join those who are bathing in the sun, and to keep pedaling against a monstrous headwind when you would rather call it quits. That is the power of the mind in all its glory, capable of anything. The mind does not always agree with the body and can even overrule it when necessary, which is possibly the reason why people can conquer these amazing feats.
Humility. People become truly humble and real during their weakest moments. I have experienced and been witness to humility, even in the most “hard shelled” individuals. Triathlon has taught me to respect, encourage, and regard those around me, especially during struggles or in darker moments.
Everyone has a story. I never thought I would be blogging about triathlon. This blog was my little piece of the world where I could share my thoughts about and experiences with running and traveling, two of the things that have always been important to me. So when the opportunity to get into this new (and intimidating) sport presented itself, I finally took the leap. My story is nothing extraordinary or worth writing home about. I’m a competitive yet fun and driven woman always keeping my eyes open for the next challenge that lies ahead. I had always wanted to do an Ironman, but that was just one of those dreams that people just dream about and don’t actually do. It wasn’t until June when I realized that this thing called Ironman was actually in my foreseeable future. And now here I am, a runner turned triathlete in less than a year, gearing up to train for my first Ironman. What I have learned is to never be afraid of adding another chapter to your story. To never feel as though a story has to end or is already written. It’s never too late to introduce a new chapter or change the trajectory of where it is going. Likewise, we should all take a moment and listen to others’ stories as well. People are amazing.
Doubt is like a rock in the shoe. Imagine that every time you went out for a run, someone forced you to put a rock in your shoe before you started. That rock will hurt, slow you down, make you weaker, and control your mind and thoughts. It would be difficult to think about anything else aside from how irritating the rock is. Now imagine that you are allowed to rid the rock from your shoe. I know we have all been there. It feels incredibly good and relieving to take off a shoe and dump out its contents. What this season has taught me is that self-doubt is like a pain-in-the-ass rock in my shoe. Whenever I doubted myself before a track workout, long ride, or race, it brought me down and made me weaker. When doubt clouds the mind, it makes everything else foggy and unattainable. So many others—my coach, my husband, the blogosphere, my friends and family—are confident in my abilities, so why shouldn’t I share that sentiment? Replacing doubt with faith and confidence is one of my goals moving forward.
It’s OK to be tired, take naps, and enjoy a rest day or two. Growing up and until this past year, I have always had the mentality that if I don’t do enough with my day or take advantage of every minute, it would make me appear lazy. Where this mentality developed, I don’t know. I did not believe in naps and thought that rest days were overrated. HA! Oh, how these notions have changed. My body would not survive without a little “laziness” sprinkled among the intense training. I now nap if I am tired and embrace my rest days. Heck, if I need a spontaneous rest day, I’ll take it without feeling an ounce of guilt. If I decide to stay inside on a warm sunny day and watch a marathon of Game of Thrones or Orange is the New Black because my legs are tired, don’t judge. I’ll be back at it again tomorrow.
It’s not about being perfect. I have always been somewhat of a perfectionist. Grades. Sports. Work. Relationships. Performance. I always want things to be the best they can be. Unfortunately, I am also well aware that this perfectionist mentality often leads to disappointment. Perfectionism is a dead end for a number of reasons and can rob you from all that is good in the grand scheme of things. Triathlon has helped me to be more comfortable with the less than perfect, and to keep my composure when failing or making mistakes. There are good days and there are bad days. But, there are no perfect days. What is perfect in this sport? Can you run “perfectly”? Can you swim “perfectly”? When there is no standard of what that is, the answer is no. Things in my life no longer need to be perfect, and I’m OK with that.
Challenge myself to do things I don’t want to do. If you’ve ever read or heard about Carol Dweck’s theory of motivation and mindset, you are aware that people can either have a fixed-mindset or a growth-mindset. I would like to note that I tend to have a fixed-mindset, meaning that if I am instantly or naturally good at something, I tend to enjoy doing it and will thrive. If I am not good at something, I throw it aside and move on to the next opportunity. A prime example of this can be seen in my schooling. Psychology always came naturally to me, while math and chemistry did not. These two disciplines were extremely difficult for me and I was discouraged at the thought of putting hours upon hours and days upon days into studying for a class in order to get a B+ or A- at best.
I feel like swimming has become the math and chemistry of my training. In order to get a “C” in swimming or to improve, I have to devote more time and energy than I would like. Author Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in something, so for once I am not running away and changing majors. I’m learning to grasp what it means to have a growth-mindset and am putting in the effort and work that is required to become a better swimmer. I finally can associate with and better understand those who work incredibly hard just to get by. Triathlon is teaching me to be more patient, hard working, and growth orientated.
There is a lot of world to see – see it from all angles. I remember during one particular swim at Elk Lake, I arrived early in the morning when the water was still and empty, and stood there with a slightly tilted head staring at South Sister. I began thinking; the views are so much different from the water. I had biked and run around this area several times, but had never seen the sights around me from this perspective. It reminded me that each of these sports produces a different interpretation of and sentiment for what surrounds us. I think this is an important way of looking at life. It’s good to switch things up and observe them from different angles. You may notice or feel things that you otherwise would have missed. The view of South Sister is best from right here in the water – and I would not have discovered that otherwise.
Most importantly, to embrace and appreciate my body. As someone who has always been self-conscious about her body (my PhD dissertation focused on female body image), triathlon was not something I was initially thrilled about. Really, you mean I have to swim in a bathing suit and wear a lot of spandex around other fit athletes? I still remember my fist time into the pool. I walked out feeling very uncomfortable in my one-piece bathing suit, thinking that people were going to stare at my thighs and cellulite. I was that girl wrapped in a towel, waiting until no one was looking before I tossed it down and jumped in the water. Sad, I know.
Over time, however, I began to realize that the body is much more than just an outward image. The body houses everything I need to push through an intense ride or a long run. It keeps me afloat and moving in the water and enables me to travel miles and miles without the help of some man-made machine. It is THE machine and something I have learned to appreciate so much more. There are things about my “appearance” that I will never be able to change, but that shouldn’t hold me back from strutting out in my one-piece and jumping into the pool to get in a good workout, or racing in a half-Ironman. This body of mine does more for me than I give it credit for. So what if it’s not perfect.
When you learn and discover this much about yourself and the way you want to live your life, you come to appreciate and acknowledge that this sport is for you. It’s not perfect, easy, or one-dimensional, but rather a collage of challenges, techniques, strengths and weaknesses, that meld together and form a beautiful piece of art that is unique to you. I can’t wait to see how this sport inspires and changes me in the coming year. Thank you, Triathlon.
Is there a chapter in your story that was added unexpectedly?
Have you ever done something completely out of your comfort zone that changed your life?