In Which I Complete My First Triathlon & Learn A Few Things

I am very proud to say that I have completed my first triathlon, 9 months after starting to train with The Trainer. I had an incredible amount of fun, it was truly a perfect event and I enjoyed every second of it. It involved a 200m swim, an 11k bike ride and a 3k run (walk in my case) and I picked up 3 Personal Best times, one in each of the disciplines. I can now say “I am a triathlete” and that makes me super happy!  IMG-20150418-WA0018 In the course of preparing for and taking part and reflecting on this triathlon, though, I’ve learned a few really important things.

Fitness Is Personal and Relative & So Are Amazings

I enjoyed taking part in the triathlon yesterday, I loved setting personal best times and I revelled in the achievement of it all. Then the next day I saw the published results. I came 96 out of 100 and immediately the old familiar thoughts triggered. “You’re useless”, “You might be a triathlete but you are rubbish and fat”, “Everyone will be laughing at you” “This is nothing to be proud of”. Thankfully I could tell that these thoughts were unhelpful and unwanted, so I started to work through them and see what I could do about these ideas that seemed to automatically appear as soon as I ranked myself with others.

First of all, the position you finish in is entirely arbitrary. All it means is that I entered a triathlon with a load of people, most of whom were faster than me. If it had happened that a load of people who were slower than me had entered, I would have finished much higher up. The others who enter the triathlon cannot, logically, bear any relevance to my enjoyment of it or the significance of the achievement. And they certainly can’t change what was a great and fun experience at the time into a rubbish experience 24 hours later. Just impossible. The fact is I had such an enjoyable time and I did my best. Learning that I finished first, last or middle doesn’t change that.

What made my achievement amazing then? Clearly I am no professional triathlete in the making, but this is where the relative bit comes in. 2 years ago I was 30kg – 5 stone – heavier than I am now. I couldn’t ride 9k on a bike without a battery to assist. I hated exercise, walking to the local shop was a trial and I wouldn’t be seen dead in a swimming costume. Yesterday I completed a triathlon. It is the distance between where you started and where you are now that makes the amazing and that is entirely personal. Had I started with a good level of base fitness, had run a few marathons, did a cycling sportive every weekend and was part of a swimming club, then yesterday would have been much less impressive. But I didn’t. 9 months ago I was a size 22. I’m now a size 14. 9 months ago I didn’t like myself very much. I am now able to enter any sporting event I choose to without feeling inadequate. 9 months ago the most I could do in a PT session was walk at 2.5kph and row for 500m. In my last PT session I rowed for 2.5km without too much struggle. The speed and distance that I’ve come in the 9 months is what makes my achievement yesterday amazing. Amazingness can never be determined by comparing yourself to others because then there is nothing relative. Of course I’m not as fit or fast as a professional triathlete, I’m not a professional triathlete. I’m just a normal woman with a full time job and a family who enjoys exercise and does as much as she can. I can only compare myself to myself, nothing else makes any kind of logical sense. Same in CrossFit, you can only meaningfully compare your WOD times with your previous WOD times. Where you end up on the whiteboard on any given day is an arbitrary factor determined by who else turned up on that day. I could go to a box on one day and be last (highly likely!) but if on another day there were a load of beginners who were highly unfit in, I would be first. My ability wouldn’t have changed in between those two days, and nor would my enjoyment level. It’s so arbitrary, it’s untrue, and I can’t believe I’ve spent the past 9 months and more disliking myself so much because I didn’t measure up to other people. No more!

This Is Just Me Now

Without downplaying the significance of me completing my first triathlon, to some extent, this isn’t anything out of the ordinary. I enjoyed my first triathlon experience and I shall certainly be doing more, but there is no big deep and meaningful meaning behind that. I’m a woman who likes to swim, bike, run. I also like to lift heavy stuff, I don’t mind burpees and I enjoy wall balls. That basically makes me a CrossFitting Triathlete. It’s who I am now. The significant thing is that it isn’t who I was just 9 short months ago, and that makes it feel a bit strange and worth talking about. It’s the change that is astonishing. Yet it’s happened and I’m proud of my strengths that made it happen, but now this is my normal. I don’t need to post a blog post every time I go to the gym, that would be like posting saying “I just ate my dinner!”. After 36 and a bit years of not being this triathlete it does take a bit of getting used to, like when you dye your hair a very different colour, but eventually it settles down and it’s just part of you. Well I’ve taken the opportunity to reflect on the enormity of the turnaround I’ve achieved but now it’s time to settle down into my new life that I’ve created. Some people watch TV for fun. Some people play golf for fun. Some people eat food for fun. They don’t make a big deal of it, they justenjoy their hobbies and pastimes and things they like without questioning are they doing well enough, should they do more, why aren’t they good enough? I do triathlons and exercise for fun. End of. It’s taken a while to get here, but I accept who I am and what I do. It’s very different to how I was “before” but it’s much better and I’m really happy and proud of it.

I also don’t need to qualify or justify my pastimes and interests. I don’t have to say “I’m a triathlete, but I know I’m fat” or “I love CrossFit but I’m not very good at it”. I’m just a triathlete who enjoys functional fitness stuff. I’m entitled to, I’ve realised this is just another part of who I am, and I don’t need to justify it. I would never say “I’m studying for a Masters Degree, you wouldn’t think I’m bright enough would you?” so why would I justify my enjoyment of exercise either? To do so is to marginalise oneself, to suggest that you don’t really belong. That’s not true. I belong.

I Am Enough

I have certainly undergone my fair share of personal development, but ultimately, this fitness lark is about having fun. If it’s not fun, don’t do it. So yesterday, thanks to a combination of a dodgy knee and my lack of running fitness, I walked the entire run part of the triathlon except for the last 100m to the finish line. I could have used that as an excuse to berate myself, or worse to not take part at all, and I could have had philosophical discussions about walking when you should really be running. I could have hated my broken knee. But all that would have done is ruined my enjoyment of the event. I enjoyed my fast walk around the countryside, I still completed a triathlon. And I realised on the walk that I’d hate to miss out on the event just because I didn’t meet a self-imposed standard. Next time I do a triathlon, or next year even, I might run a bit. The next time I might run a bit more. The enjoyment level will be the same. I’ve done 311 workouts in the 9 months I’ve been training, and there has not been one single one that I haven’t finished without feeling unsatisfied, without wishing I was better or had been able to do more. That’s a shame and 311 missed opportunities for fun. My triathlon was the first time I’ve felt satisfied with where I am right now. I don’t need to be more. I am enough.

Secret of Success – It’s Not About Weight Loss

I have undertaken some pretty incredible and quite fast body transformation in the past 9 months. Size 22 to 14 is a significant change visually, as is the 5 stone I’ve lost, 50% of which in the last 9 months. I have more energy, I like myself much more, and I’m generally happier.

I was talking to a friend the other day who said “Look at you, I’m so jealous of you but I just can’t do what you have”. I was very clear that there was nothing special about me, I didn’t have a magic wand or a secret method of achieving what I have. I eat well and I exercise most days. Anyone can. I told her that I couldn’t tell her what I thought made me successful. It isn’t especially discipline or willpower or anything that anyone else doesn’t have.

And now I’ve realised what makes me different from her. It’s not about weight loss for me and I don’t think it ever really was. At the start I wanted to try something new, so I hired a PT. I really enjoyed what we did in our sessions and I chose to do more of it in between PT sessions. I had some other goals, like learning front crawl, and I decided to train for a triathlon. Turns out I enjoy swimming, riding and running. I also really, really like to eat wholesome, homecooked, nutritious foods. I realised today that this isn’t about weight loss for me when I asked myself the question “Would you still be training as hard as you are and eating the way you do if you were a size 10 and a healthy weight?”. The answer was a resounding “YES!”. I’m not doing any of this because I want to lose weight, although I do and exercise and eating well really works for that. I’m doing it because I enjoy it. I’m unstoppable, not because I have amazing discipline or an iron will, but because I won’t be stopped from doing something I enjoy. Of course I’m very happy to be losing weight and getting healthier, but I’m not doing this for that reason. I wanted to lose weight when I tried Slimming World and WeightWatchers, yet I didn’t stick with them. I didn’t have “an iron will” then and I don’t now. I just didn’t enjoy eating the food that those programs suggested and so I didn’t stick with it, even though they did result in weight loss to some extent. I can count on one hand the number of training sessions I have had to use willpower to attend, even when I’ve been getting up at 4am or going out at 9pm to train. I do it because I love doing it. And on days when I don’t want to train, I don’t. Handily, I love what I do so much that I want to do it most days. And with food, I’m not depriving myself of anything. If I want to eat a bar of chocolate I will do it. If I want to eat a pizza I will do it. As it happens, I choose to eat real, healthy food 99% of the time. I just like it more. I choose to drink water rather than cola, not because I’m sacrificing anything for the greater good, just because I prefer water and I don’t like what cola does to me. There are benefits, such as weight loss and changing body composition and endorphin rushes and more energy and all that stuff, but ultimately I only do this because I enjoy it. I’ve wanted to lose weight pretty much my whole life and never managed it. I haven’t suddenly developed willpower or discipline that I didn’t have before. I’ve just found something I want to do whether it causes weight loss or not. The desire to lose weight was never stronger than the desire to stay in bed or eat pizza and so I stayed in bed and ate pizza. However, the desire to train and eat well is stronger than the desire to not do those things, so guess what I do! Basically we are pleasure seeking creatures and I’m lucky to have found something that I find pleasurable which also has some pretty great and healthy side effects!

All in all, a pretty cool weekend!

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