The word “triathlete” is near the top of the list that defines my second decade on this Earth. Good or bad – it became who I was to myself. I was unreachable between the hours of 5 and 7 am on weekdays and 7 to 11 am (or later) on the weekends remaining dedicated to my training, which meant in the saddle, on foot or underwater (and sometimes all three). Race schedules were meticulously planned like one might plan a lengthy overseas journey making sure proper spacing between races maximized fitness with predetermined recovery periods sprinkled in.
And. I. Loved. It.
I started out not being able to run more than a mile. With each new goal reached, I pounded away to the next carrot I set out for myself and thrived on the challenge. After eight years of competing, there was one distance I had not yet traveled. An Ironman distance triathlon consists of 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run. Go big or go home. My part-time job during the summer of 2011 was preparing for this eminent date I agreed to show up for when I registered a year prior. I would be at the start line of the 2011 Madison, Wisconsin, Ironman and I was going to give it everything I had. That commitment, and the hours of dedication that went along with it, in many ways readied me for my most rewarding journey.
Sleeping in is overrated.
My alarm had two settings – early and earlier. Some days it was easier than others to wake up and get amped for yet another tempo run or 4,000 yard swim.
But I learned that getting up was almost the hardest part. The initial shock of jumping into a chilly pool before other warm bodies had a chance to heat it up was the hardest.
So I can tackle the things I want to do for me, before I turn my “mom” on.
I learned that I could function surprisingly well on little sleep. And the sense of accomplishment that came during those first two hours of being awake was energizing.
Although I am not training for triathlon now as a mom of two, I still start every day early. We’re past the waking up in the middle of the night stage (just barely), but I enjoy waking while the house is still asleep so I can tackle the things I want to do for me, before I turn my “mom” on.
Get selfishness out of the way.
Life rarely came between me and my workouts. To say it was a priority would be like telling a new parent you might spend a little more time now changing diapers and cleaning up messes the size of a small village. I had the freedom to focus on me and what I wanted to achieve and that meant swimming, biking and running.
I checked off the Ironman bucket from my list and with it the selfishness that goes along with taking a challenge like that head on. I left my self-centerdness (and perhaps a portion of my sanity) on an intercoastal bridge I did over and over and over again as “hill training” for Wisconsin’s rollers. Training made me stronger in many ways, but perhaps the greatest is seeing the need to put my children first as a gift to cherish rather than a task to check off. It may have also been the preparation I needed for some of the monotony that comes along with parenting. If climbing the same hill 12+ times back-to-back doesn’t test your patience, then another glass of spilled milk isn’t going to break you.
Take time to plan out the big stuff.
Training for triathlon can mean a lot of alone with your thoughts time. There’s nothing like an open road to set your mind straight. During those 100+ mile bike rides I found myself daydreaming about what life was going to be like one year, five years, ten years down the road. While the closest start line was the pending Ironman, my thoughts somehow always ventured toward starting a family with my husband, who happened to also be my coach and talked me into Ironmaning together. We made a phenomenal team of two in Wisconsin that day. And now as a team of four, there is no doubt that we are better together because we’ve proven we have each other’s back. And that includes amidst the human washing machine that is an Ironman mass swim start.
Never go anywhere without a snack.
Putting in that kind of training meant the fourth sport is eating. I was “eating for two” well before I got pregnant with my daughter. I didn’t go to the bathroom without a snack in the event I would start to feel faint from hunger pangs.
Having food at the ready has continued into momhood. Only now it’s packed in “snack traps” to reduce spillage and comes in fun shapes like fish and Os. I am a firm believer that there are few crises that cannot be diverted by pulling out something to munch on.
Make life a ride.
It was race day. I had just finished a grueling 112-mile bike ride complete with two mechanical issues that put me out for about 15 minutes. I changed into my running shoes and glanced at my watch. Seven hours and change. I remember thinking, “I’ve still got another four hours out on this course, and that’s if everything goes well.”
Spending the better half of the next four hours waiting for the thing to be over would be torturous. It hit me that I could stand to have some fun – well as much fun as one can expect to have on a day like that – if I just went along for the ride and took it all in.
Step by step.
It truly had been a journey of a lifetime.
And while crossing that finish line is a feeling I likely will never recreate, the miles it took to get there continue to leave imprints on my life. While I still swim, bike and run, it usually involves my son and daughter with stops along the way to look at a bunny rabbit or swing in the park. I guess in my case I had to speed life up in order to appreciate the time to slow down.
And it’s worth mentioning that I did the more “mom” thing to do after finishing the Ironman opting for a 140.6 bumper sticker instead of the painfully permanent tattoo. My mom was ever so proud.