Saturday, July 3, 2010

Thoughts on Triathlon Training, plus an interview with myself.

I’ve been reticient about my recent decision to compete in an “Olympic distance” triathlon because, well, I’m not a triathlete! However, following my latest setback (another not-so-sweet episode of peroneal tendonitis) I came to the realization that if I wanted to compete in an event this summer, it probably wasn’t going to be a long distance road race (say, a half or full marathon.) But, being generally not fond of shorter races (the popular 5k-10k variety and let’s not even mention the races that are run on tracks) I opted for a more creative solution to my dilemma: the triathlon.

I reasoned, as I paid my entry fee online, that I do plenty of cross-training already. I taught spin classes, after all, and after two weeks of swimming with the Master’s group in Truckee, I’ve managed to rid myself of the “panic attacks” I had earlier in the pool. Trialthons, I seemed to say as I clicked myself into the event, no biggie.

But I think there’s something that happens to the human psyche when you actually commit to something. It’s not abstract anymore, suddenly your destiny is writ large. Maybe that’s the appeal for marriage: you’re not only together, but it’s official to the eyes of the law and those inhabiting single bars. So too, I’ve found with this event: whereas before I cross-trained to help improve my general fitness, I now cross-train as a rule: religiously, compulsively-- that is to say-- daily.

And yet, this entrance into a new sport has got me thinking yet again, and not just about my level of fitness and what workout I ought to do when and how, but rather, about how sometimes these crazy things I do mimic other aspects of my life. Take, for instance, the challenge I’ve found in balancing the training for not one, but three events. My swimming falls down a notch if I miss a workout while my running suffers if I cycle too hard. This physical push-and-pull reminds me of the daily challenge many people face of “balance”-- of finding time to work, support a family, or even have a family, as well as a some semblance of a social life. If you work extra hours and climb the corporate ladder, what happens to the relationship with your spouse? Your children? Or, what if you neglect the pursuit of a career and only focus on family? Or, what if you’re like me and you put both off to pursue yet another graduate degree? I wonder: when do you know the balance has tipped too far to one extreme and you’re in danger of losing the other aspects of life you might value just as much as your pursuit, but that you thought you’d “come back to” when you had more time?

Perhaps there ought to be little “events” we set up for ourselves that make us commit to the balance of goals in life-- not just one. I envision a triathlon, but with an altered rubric. In lieu of three sports, perhaps every person should list the three most important aspects of their life, and strive to give each equal attention. With my impending move to Saint Mary’s, I can (almost) say that my three would be: athletics, my writing career and remaining close to my family/friends. It’s hard not to flinch after such a declaration (what about the cats, I wonder? Making sure my car is in good working order? What about the laundry) but I suppose that’s what commitments do: they simplify and narrow the expansiveness I-- and perhaps others-- have a tendency towards. In this rubric, for instance, I have left out my part time job as a sales assistant at a local boutique. I can hear the critique already:


-- “But, Rebecca, you need to make money.”

-- “I know.”

-- “So, why isn’t your job one of your top three priorities? Why isn’t it one of your “triathlon events’?”

-- [I would at first be silent.]

-- “You see my point, don’t you?”

-- “Well, no, voice-in-my-head, because the job I have now has nothing to do with the big picture. Or, what I mean is this: I don’t want to be a sales assistant for my entire working life. I don’t want to own a clothing store; and I don’t want to live in a rental house in Tahoe, either. So, for the ‘event’ I see as my future success, this part time job has no place there.”

-- “But.... you need this job to survive.”

-- [A laugh.] “In a sense, yes, you’re right. But I also think it’s important to set one’s sights higher than mere survival in regards to envisioning the life one wants to lead.”

-- “So, what do you see yourself as? Some sort of celebrity-god-figure?”

-- “Of course, [then, another hearty laugh], Of course not!! I see myself as a successful writer who’s involved somehow in endurance sports. Whether I continue to compete or I write about them matters very little. I see myself as supporting my family with my success. Most importantly, I see myself inspiring others to believe in themselves and to therefore, surprise themselves, when they push beyond their comfort zone to do something truly amazing. The world can be changed that way: with positivity sprouting from individuals like wildflowers in spring. All it takes is a spark and a person’s life becomes better, more fulfilling and purpose-filled. I think the world would be a better place if everyone had a passion like sports to drive them.”

-- “So what about the writing?”

-- “In addition to wanting to promote a healthy, active lifestyle via my words in a country that needs it, I also want to revive an interest in the written word, a medium that has a permanence unlike radio and video. We live in such a ‘liquid’ time-- when sound bites reign and nothing can be nailed down-- that it’s nice to have a rock-solid piece of literature or reportage to turn back to, to re-read, to hold.”

-- “How can literature matter anymore with all that’s going on in the world politically, environmentally and socially? Aren’t the literary arts passé? A relic of the 19th century?”

-- “Words will always matter. Those who can communicate have a power over those who can’t. Anyone who says otherwise is deluded. Still today in English courses, one’s ability to “think” is judged by one’s ability to write well. The problem with our literature is its lack of engagement with the deep social issues that matter. Orwell, for instance, wrote his novel, 1984, addressing his concerns of the degradation of the English language. It’s a book that still has resonance. What do most writers (and I include myself in this) write about today? Lost love. Death. Melodrama. It’s time to return to history and trace its path into the present. It’s time to push ourselves beyond what we feel and into a “dangerous” place where art and current issues collide. For me, it’s like pushing toward a faster race time. It hurts, you don’t know if you can do it, but you must. So too with writing: it’s time to move beyond what’s been done before and to make “social awareness” a pleasure rather than a pain.”

-- “What if you fail-- you can’t do any of these things?”

-- “No one who tries fails. Giving up is the only failure. Doing your best-- whether it’s in the midst of a marathon or a novel, is what produces the great things in society. We’d have no Einstein, no Armstrong, no Homer, without what some would call ‘failure.’ It’s all revision, really, and success will come in time.”

-- “What advice would you give to young people just starting out, or those who want to consider this “triathlon” view of life?”

-- “Stay the path; view life as a practice. Nothing is ever perfect. List your three things, and try to give each as much time as you can. Know you will fail at this, accept that failure, and continue to practice. Nothing guarantees success more than sheer will, a.k.a: stubbornness.”

And so, I’ll do my best on July 18th, the day of the Donner Tri. I can’t say I’ll win, but that matters very little. That day, I will do my best. I will finish. I will prove to myself I balanced three athletic events and didn’t end up the worst for it. So too, in life, I will be all right. Not ever perfect, no, but I too will continue my practice of writing and running, while always keeping those close to me near. That’s the best I can offer, the best I can do. And you know, it’s enough. It really is.

No comments: