It’s true: triathlon-ing’s a time suck. There are the obvious hours spent in streamline, saddle and Sauconys. There’s time spent seeking the perfect goggles and a cure for my ornery plantar fascia. Throw in the hours I then spend blogging about it, and you’ve got yourself a hefty part-time job minus the pay and plus major expenses.
It’s not like I’ve got gobs of time to kill. I’m a single mother of three—two great humans and one goofy spotted canine. I’ve got a big-ass job with big-ass time commitments. I’ve got a mortgage and a real estate tax bill sitting on my desk that both need paying, and a camp lunch that needs packing. So it’s no surprise that several of ya’ll have asked: “How on Earth do you find the time?”
Sometimes the asker is genuinely attempting to fit “it all” into her own life. Other times, the question is posed an indictment with a twist; I am guilty and I didn’t even get to make a phone call. Shouldn’t you be less interested in pace and more interested in your press release, dearie?
Whether the question is delivered with awe or contempt, my answer’s always the same: physically speaking, training for triathlons requires no more of a time investment than I’ve historically allotted to exercise. While this is the God’s Honest Truth—I’ve sweated 8-10 hours per week for years—I commit a sin of omission every time I say it. So here I’ll stop sinning and give you the “long answer”.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I do whatever my coach tells me to do—with a focus so maniacal that he probably thinks twice before saying anything to me these days. So this winter upon his recommendation I inhaled a book by Daniel Coyle called The Talent Code. It’s all about this white stuff called myelin, which apparently Albert Einstein had tons of when they dissected his brain. (I guess I should have known they dissected his brain; I didn’t.) No one knew what to make of myelin at the time. Turns out this stuff is synapse insulation that’s generated via purposeful repetition—the more you do some task in a deep state of concentration, the more myelin you produce and wrap around that specific task-doing circuit. Everyone’s pipes start out with leaks, but as you practice deeply whatever it is you deeply love, those pipes get increasingly efficient at sending and receiving signals. The book talked about how the build-up of myelin over time gives us Boston Pops-worthy violinists, Nobel Laureates and Olympians.
Clearly all my swimming, biking and running has insulated some sporty synapses—hence the nifty new First Place medal hanging in this old girl’s home gym. But Coyle missed something: everything goes better with a little myelin. For me, all this swimming-biking-running-writing (lather-rinse-repeat) has insulated synapses that make me a sturdier version of my self. Experiencing the successes and failures of training strengthens both my cores—my “four-short-of-a-six-pack” one as well as the one that enables me to look you straight in the eyes without glancing away. Constant motion calms my soul. Building a busy race calendar has built a stronger me.
Not everyone needs to swim, bike, run and write about it. I am blessed to know world-class haiku-writers, granola makers who should have their own shelves at Whole Foods, and devoted Dalmatian breeders (ya’ll know who you are—yeah, I’m talkin’ about you). We all have our “thing” and it’s our main task here on this Earth to find it, embrace it, do it well and do it poorly and in so doing become the “me” we were meant to be. It’s the scariest most important work we do and fuels every other aspect of life.
When I got up on a stage last week in Las Vegas to preside over a press conference—my very first press conference, I might add—with 50 members of the international media sitting in front of me and a staggering 20,000 people watching the live streaming video online (that number should be read as twenty-flipping thousand, thankyouveddymuch), I did it not in spite of the hours spent honing my stride. I could only do it *because* of those hours. I took to the stage as a newly minted blue-ribbon triathlete, a 4:09:55 marathoner, an IronMom with a Moose-shaped finisher’s medal. I could climb onto the stage looking confident because I’ve made a complete ass of myself wearing a bikini to my first swim workout. I could introduce a senior vice president without peeing my pants because 15 miles from nowhere with a full bladder I broke down this winter and learned to pee in the woods.
Yes, I make sacrifices and my kids do, too. Daughter #2 has eaten six a.m. breakfasts on the bleachers at the high school track while I grunted through 2000/1800/800/400/200. Daughter #1 has snagged rides with friends when Mom’s training and racing calendar clashed with church functions. (Thanks again, Tom, Solomon and Beth. Sorry again, Emma.) Even my coworkers make sacrifices—they had to “tie one on” sans CJ last week, as I refused to let a Vegas-sized hangover interfere with my ability to sneak in 2000 yards before the conference doors opened for the day.
In short, I’ve spent a lot of time but earned a great return on investment. I’ve a stronger sense of self to show for it all.
If I ever solve world hunger, it’ll be because of—not in spite of—my fartleks and time trials. Who knows: I might even be wearing socket rockets when I do the solving.
With that, I’ve gotta fly. It’s 6:26 a.m. and I can hear a set of 8×50 fast on 1:10 send offs calling my name.
Here’s hoping you’ve got the guts to increase your white stuff, people. Mylenate like your life depends on it. Methinks it might.