This past December, I wrote a post that went viral, and is ultimately solely responsible for amassing such a large number of followers and page hits. Apparently, endurance athletes from around the world found my post, “How to Date a Triathlete,” relatable. Up until then, my fledgling blog was followed by my mom—and only my mom (thanks, Mom).
A lot of people, it seems, find it hard to find companionship with a triathlete—and triathletes themselves feel alienated from the rest of society. If it’s not hard, then it’s certainly unique. The behaviors and rituals surrounding preparation for and immersion in the endurance sport lifestyle are frequently looked at sidelong by close friends and family members. So many of us feel misunderstood at worst, quirky at best. It’s a fun and frustrating hobby to have. That December post was, as is apparent from the get-go, written with the intention of being rather tongue-and-cheek, although there is definitely much truth to it.
As is obvious, I haven’t written a blog post in well over a month now, which is unusual for me. However, the reasons behind this can be largely tied into that fateful post which put this blog on the map.
Namely, I’m in the heat of triathlon training season and am too busy stuffing my face full of Product 19 to bother.
Just kidding. It’s actually quite the opposite. Yes, it’s the heat of tri training season and many of us are in the thick of taper mode for June and July races. I should be putting in my last solid week and tapering this week. In fact, I’m signed up for a half-ironman in upstate New York this weekend, so by all accounts I should be in top condition right now.
I should. But I am not.
I dropped the ball. I stopped training. I haven’t really done anything too structured or intense since maybe March. I willingly “sacrificed the gift,” as Prefontaine might say.
To be clear: I’m not injured. I’m not too busy at work. I’m not too busy otherwise. Even when I was pulling insane shifts at the hospital last year, I’d still have the will (and desire) to chase work with several hours on the trails. The truth is, I just lost (admittedly, temporarily) the will to train hard day in and day out. And this time around, it wasn’t because I was burned out.
It was because I found something else to occupy my time and energy, and engaging in endurance shenanigans for >15 hours per week quickly (and very, very unexpectedly) fell by the wayside.
I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry—this is a temporary thing, a phase, and three months in I’m hankering for my usual dose of lone wolf time and endorphins. I am still, and will always be, an endurance junkie. However, to have had an experience powerful enough to take me away from my running religion is new to me—it’s humbling, and shocking, and extremely confusing.
My post suggested a certain rigidity to the lifestyle and personality of the endurance athlete and triathlete. And to some extent, this may very well be true. This was—and still is, to a large extent—certainly true of me. I willingly wake up at 4:30 a.m. to embark upon my own hours-long “mini-adventure” before most people even get out of bed. I am hard-pressed to choose socializing over a solitary swim; it takes a lot to pull me away from the reliable peace, calm, and clarity of mind that a run imparts. However, the thing about many endurance junkies is that we go to such extremes because we just want to feel something—and it takes a lot to shake us. Grabbing drinks and going for a stroll in the park are just not enough. We want to feel life full-force; we want every day to feel like the best day; we want to be fully immersed in the moment. Training does all of these things; life in the “real world” rarely does.
But what about those rare moments when the “real world” actually delivers?
For the past few years, I’ve defined myself first and foremost as an endurance athlete. Running obscene distances, and then masochistically chasing it with a brutally grueling bike ride, was what I lived for—it was the lifeblood of who I am and what I do. I was always a medical student on the side; a girlfriend as an afterthought; a friend of convenience; a long-distance sister. To have temporarily detached myself from this label and identity, and experienced life as a “normal person,” has been an unusual and disorienting experience—but perhaps, in some ways, necessary for my own personal growth and development.
My reasons for pursuing long distance have varied and evolved over the years. At times I felt inspired to lace up my shoes to chase away the blues; it was only a matter of time before I discovered exercise to be a very potent drug for almost everything that ailed me. Training for triathlon has been the antidote to almost every psychological and emotional upheaval humanly possible: anxiety, sadness, boredom, overexcitement, loneliness, insomnia, fatigue—the list is practically endless—and I credit my regular bouts of exercise to a certain mental and emotional resiliency over the years: a resiliency which carried me through multiple unexpected moves, the beginnings and ends of countless relationships, never-ending change, and an unfathomably stressful lifestyle. Endurance sport has kept me resilient, balanced, alert, and calm during experiences that I now look back upon with awe and surprise.
Because the balance is tipped undeniably in favor of maintaining this lifestyle, it’s only a matter of time before I’m back out on the trails. But in the meantime, having something that feels equally worth my time—if not moreso–is such an unexpected gift, I have recognized that I have to embrace it.
Thankfully, my running shoes aren’t going anywhere. They never have, and they never will.