Monday, June 11, 2018

The Ups and Downs Don't Matter

I had a great weekend of training. As some of you know (because I've been whining about it incessantly), my health hasn't been the greatest lately. However, on Friday I swam a mile in the pool, which I haven't done in 3 months. On Saturday I biked 40 miles and on Sunday I ran 10. I haven't done that much distance since Seneca 7, which almost killed me.

It's a relief to see my fitness coming back. Cooperstown triathlon was great, and I'm really excited for the rest of the summer. Whether I feel good, or I feel terrible, I exercise as much as my body allows. I was just thinking about this recently. While I was sick, I was worried that I would lose my momentum, that I would get used to sitting around the house on my a$$. Those worries were overblown, because I had no problem pushing the volume 3 days in a row.

I follow a lot of friends - fellow endurance athletes - online, many of whom are now starting their race seasons as well. Some of them have great races. Some of them do not. For some, their training goes the way they'd like. For many, it doesn't. For a few, they got totally sidelined by injuries. I know though that in the same way I jumped back in as soon as I could, they will too.

Training is a part of my identity, as it is for many folks. If you take a vacation from work, it doesn't mean you'll never work again. If your kids go camping without you, it doesn't mean you stop being a parent. If you take a break from training, for whatever reason, it doesn't mean you stop being an athlete.

"I'm not lazy. I'm just on vacation. A very long vacation."

An analogy comes to mind, something about forests and trees. If you're biking and you crash into a tree, that tree seems like a pretty big obstacle. There's a whole big forest.... ok, nevermind this analogy. The point is that it's very easy to obsess over a temporary hardship. If we take a week off work, we're not worried about losing our jobs. Well, ok, I don't work in a sweatshop or at Booger King (whichever is worse), so maybe some of us do. In any case, if we take a week off exercising, we immediately worry about losing fitness, or at least being less prepared for a big race than we'd hoped.

That was a difficult paragraph. Maybe I should write outlines for these posts before I start. Moving on.

I've seen many people push extremely hard in their training. Maybe they want to qualify for Boston Marathon. Maybe they want to get a huge PR at their next race. Maybe they're seeing a lot of progress and don't want to stop. I've also seen many of those people crash hard. They get injured. They get sick. They burn out. Some bounce back. Some don't. I've experienced this pattern myself.

Even if all the stars align and your body holds together and you crush all your goals, someday you'll get old and stop getting PRs. That's just reality. Sorry. Some people transition gracefully. Some.... do not.

Why am I being so depressing? I'm not trying to crush your hopes and dreams. I've seen plenty of my own hopes and dreams crushed. Yet I'm still out there training. This past weekend was about half of what I was doing around this time last year. Yet I was happy and excited to see it. The weather was beautiful and I loved being outside. I worked hard and I felt good. I felt strong.

Feeling strong on a beautiful day

Training is my identity. After a while the ups and down, the successes and failures, stop mattering. The last two summers, I had months where I traversed over 500 miles. Yet at the time I was depressed and kept telling myself I wasn't a real athlete. I told myself I was a poser, that I only pretended to be an athlete.

My volume the past few months has been much lower. Despite being physically weaker though, I've been feeling a lot more positive about myself and about my life. I no longer punish myself with guilt and shame on a daily basis. I exercise every day that I can. I just accept that about myself. I went and did Seneca 7, even though I wasn't sure I could handle it. I'm accustomed to pain and suffering.

Because I'm an athlete.

When I see a friend struggle, I just want to grab them and say, "this doesn't matter. It doesn't change who you are. You are still an athlete. You are awesome."

You are awesome.

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