What, besides three sports, do triathletes have in common? Actually, not much. What unites us is a desire to swim, bike and run. You know, the kind of stuff we did as kids. What separates us is the rest of our lives: family, friends, professions, physiques and political affiliations. I think we are also comfortable with being by ourselves, alone in a crowd. When you are training, even among fellow triathletes, there isn’t much time for talking. There’s a lot of introspection. Somehow, we manage to achieve a cohesion of overachievers and struggling wannabes united by commitment, heart and passion.
In May I will participate in my third Ironman 70.3 triathlon on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast. This past weekend, about 60 Boca Hawaii athletes were joined by coaches and generous family members as support at the Hapuna Prince Hotel for a training weekend that would mimic and exceed the intensity of the event itself.
This was my second Boca Hawaii training weekend. I got there Thursday evening so I’d be fresh for the Friday morning bike ride to Hawi. Throughout the weekend we had scheduled bike rides, swims and runs. For me, this was the weekend where the bike route finally clicked for me. During last year’s race, I had an awful bike ride. But having done the ride twice during training weekend, I’ve figured out a way to budget my calories and effort to make each stroke count. No longer was I telling myself that the finish was just around the bend. I knew already. I credit this to riding my bike several times a week since January with super handsome coaches and equally attractive freshmen cyclists. Hey that sort of thing keeps me coming back! By the time endurance triathlon training came around, we were all bike ready.
My swim has gotten progressively better, despite the 30-60 second freakout at the start. I injured my wrist a few weeks ago. It didn’t help that it got slammed a few times this weekend while we were swimming in tight-knit clumps to get the feel of spinning arms and kicking legs, courtesy of our loving teammates. One thing I learned from masters swimming was to swim with as narrow a profile as possible. The motion keeps your arms close to your torso and head and can protect you from the novices’ deadly frog kicks. Whenever we swim in the ocean, I always feel someone touching the bottom of my feet as they draft in my bubbles. I often wonder about the person who ran their hand down my legs. Pausing to check would waste valuable seconds. So I just wonder.
Normal triathletes (well, typical triathletes) usually have one sport that is harder than the others. For me it’s the run. My cardio is strangely insufficient and both of my knees are bums. Add the stifling heat of baking lava fields, and I feel as though I am drowning, never quite able to breathe sufficiently. It hurts a lot.
How is it that some people can run so effortlessly? I envy them. I am trying to get to that point. I’ve lost some weight, so I expect it to get easier. I need to lose more. And what helps me lose more? More running. This weekend my runs scaled from OK to crap. When I got started on the last long run, my plan was to run out an hour and run back an hour to catch our plane. I started and three of my coaches passed me on the rolling hills with words of encouragement. Then Coach Felipe snuck up on me. I certainly didn’t expect him, but it was the most perfect time for the most perfect person to get to me. I was heaving, my heart rate was soaring, my legs were dragging, and I was melting. He assured me that I could never finish a 13.1 mile run breathing so laboriously. He made me slow down and catch my breath, he had me push out the CO2 to help my body get more oxygen, and he put my head in the right place. Then he moved on. I was motivated, as I always am, when a coach take the time to work with me when I am struggling most. I didn’t have a good run, but I did have a better perspective.
This TED Talk helps, too. Emily Balcetis, a social psychologist, talks about why some people find exercise harder than others. I watched it because I think I have a block about running. According to Balcetis, I should keep my eye on the prize and not be distracted by my surroundings. Is it that easy? Sometimes while running I come to realize that I was in a little zen zone for a while. And like a dream, it slips away as I desperately struggle to reinstate it. I am again reminded of how heavy my legs feel or how hot it is or how long the race is. Balcetis says that if one focuses on the goal, the finish actually seems closer.
My goal for the next month is to work on my run, build strength in my leg muscles, and preserve my knees. I hope that will result in a solid event and a personal record.
I have a theory about triathletes, based on my personal experience. We’re all a little crazy. We love to suffer together. We’re competitive, but we enjoy each other’s accomplishments. It’s a solo sport best prepared for en masse. Training our bodies is only part of the equation. If you can stand the person who you are while racing, then you’re that much closer to happiness.