My long hiatus from endurance sport: what I learned, and why I’m back.

I’m too ashamed to look back and confront the last time I posted on this blog. It was too long ago.

I’ve spent the past eight months or so on a hiatus from endurance sport. At times it’s felt liberating (a lot of hours free up every day when you step away from endurance training), at times it’s felt incredibly scary (how will my body react? Am I throwing all of my years of hard work down the drain? [the short answer: no. It’s come mostly back within a few weeks of hard work. Thanks muscle memory!]), and at times it’s felt lonely (without endurance sport, who am I?).

The greatest lesson I’ve learned from stepping away from training for so long is that without it, I am not the same. Sure, I have a heck of a lot more free time and that’s nice, but I’ve never been a lay-around, go-with-the-flow kind of person. I’ve always been a go-getter, a doer, a fidgeter. But as the months slowly passed I’ve found myself almost undetectably slipping into a sort of complacency; a sloth I’ve never known has made its way into my life. Now, I am completely capable of sitting through a regular two-hour movie without a problem. Like the rest of the population, I can contentedly twiddle through mindless games on my iPhone for hours. This may sound normal, but it’s not normal for me. I was meant to move. But I kept at it, because for the first time in my adult life, I learned how to completely relax.

Then, the big questions started popping up. Who am I? What is my purpose? What is my worth? In a life without the endorphins, goal-setting, and the tangible changes that come along with endurance training, everything else that I have to live for seems somewhat cruel and harsh. Without my endurance lifestyle, what do I have? I have my job and school, which are capricious—satisfying some of the time, but a frustrating and stressful disappointment most of the time. I have my friends and family—although perhaps taking a break from endurance sport allowed me to focus on them and appreciate them more. I have my possessions, but the mere idea of possessions depresses me. I have my love for playing music, admittedly rediscovered during my hiatus. But I don’t have that daily surge of energy and positivity that accompanies a long run or vigorous swim—energy and positivity that affects all of the aforementioned items tremendously anyway.

During my break from running, biking, and swimming, I became aware of what it feels like to be a boring person. I hope none of you take offense to this—my apologies in advance if you do, although I’m going to go out on a limb and assume the vast majority of my readership are pretty dedicated athletes. A boring person, in my own, simple little definition, is someone who has nothing that makes him or her interesting. No hobbies, no interests, no areas of expertise, no recreational activities in which they are adept, no talents utilized in areas outside of the traditional work environment, no massive collections of bizarre and random things. I have become “The Endurance Junkie,” “The Marathon Runner,” “The Triathlon Girl,” or even more crudely “The Crazy Person” (which I’m totally okay with!) among my friends. Without endurance sport, I don’t have much of an identity. It’s something I’m interested in, something I’m dedicated to, and something that makes me interesting. I do it for me, but a nice offshoot is that it makes me something unique for my friends and family. And similarly, I have a special place in my heart for friends that have non-boring sides to them. I learn so much from them, and find them to be much more engaging and inspiring people to have in my life.

One thing I’ve noticed, as my friends all approach and enter their 30s, is that the boring life just seems to set in with the vast majority of adults. Slowly, it takes over, but within only a few short years it can have a firm grasp on the typical working mom with toddlers or 60+ hour work week. This is what my friends are becoming, and so, idealistically, I cling to the hope that I can stay true to myself and the things that make me tick.

I took a break from endurance sport for several reasons, but one was to test myself. I remember having a conversation with my best friend a couple of months ago. I told him that when I was completely honest with myself, I did have some concerns about taking exercise too far. I think this is a common experience with endurance athletes. Endurance sports are all about taking things to the limits, and then passing them. We pride ourselves on completing events that require multiple body systems to fail at worst, and go into heavy compensatory modes at best. We voluntarily take on training that can sometimes make us tired and cranky, and even throws our physiology out of whack. Even those of us who are very careful about balancing training with recovery struggle with finding balance. As ultraman Rich Roll once said, “Balance eludes me.”

Looking back upon my many years as a runner, cyclist, and swimmer, I can earnestly say that there are times I’ve found a healthy balance, but more frequently I’ve been out of balance. Embracing imbalance has caused me much joy. But at times, too much imbalance has caused unrelenting fatigue, difficulties keeping up with responsibilities, and social withdrawal. Perhaps the biggest reason for my hiatus was to find time to recalibrate my perspective on things—so that the next time I get back into training, I do so with the benefit of reflection and experience.

A question I asked myself as my activity levels started to dwindle was: will all of my energy and drive somehow be magically sublimated into other aspects of my life? Will taking a break from exercise suddenly cause me to spike in my performance at school and work? After all, that energy is going to still be kicking around, and if it’s not going into a run, it’s got to go somewhere.

Not surprisingly, life without exercise was, paradoxically, an energy suck. I won’t go into detail here because I am sure you all have experienced this, but in summary, without my daily dose of activity I was more tired, emotionally labile, and unmotivated. Interesting how that works.

My take-away from my time off has been multi-fold, but to keep things succinct, I think the biggest thing I learned is that endurance sport gives me something that makes me happy and makes life feel like it’s worth living. This is extraordinarily rare. I think so many people—too many people—wander through adulthood aimlessly, and time chips away at them. They don’t have a “thing,” something they can keep coming back to that helps them along and lifts them up. They don’t have a happy place. They don’t have something that truly engages them and excites them. We runners, cyclists, and swimmers have this. Our “hobbies” are inane and without a clearly direct outcome or contribution to society, but they grant us joy that few experience on a regular basis. The indirect consequences of this cannot be quantified.

During my break, I realized that I wanted my life to feel like it’s worth living. I wanted to feel like life was fun and exciting. With the exception of a few select beings I love with all my heart, triathlon was the only place I could find this. Imagine the ecstatic feeling when one of your favorite songs bursts through your headphones during a run—the surge of previously hidden power that takes over your stride. Picture the tears of happiness and exhaustion that well up in your eyes during a marathon finish. Think about the incredible camaraderie you’ve found among other athletes at triathlons, in cycling clubs, and in masters’ swimming groups. These experiences cannot be paralleled anywhere.

And for that, I’m back in the saddle.

How to Date a Triathlete: Revisited.

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.

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An idiot’s guide to training without “training tools”: RPE and mind-body awareness

Disclaimer: the word “idiot” in the title of this post is by no means meant to be directed at readers; on the contrary, it’s my default way of being self-deprecating while writing these posts as if journaling to myself. Soon to come: “How to overcome unbridled self-deprecation as an endurance athlete.”

My last post, “I quit Facebook, canceled my subscription to Runner’s World, and erased my training log. Here’s why” received so much positive feedback and enthusiastic sharing of similar experiences from readers that I felt almost immediately inspired to expound upon my adventures in living the analog life–more specifically, how living relatively unencumbered by technology-driven distractions has improved my life as a recreational athlete (I could easily elaborate upon the benefits of this lifestyle in my personal and professional lives, but I’ll spare you the boredom and stick strictly to my badass, ninja, double-life which involves superhuman feats of strength, power, and will).

The theme of this blog post is centered around my newfound—and I use the word “newfound” cautiously—appreciation of how to move and train mindfully. The reality is that this skill is not so much newly found as rediscovered—something that has always been there, lurking just beneath the veneer of GPS watches and dubstep music turned to max volume. Each of us possesses a degree of wisdom within our musculoskeletal and neuromuscular systems that can be easily ignored, beaten into submission, or eclipsed by the sheen of a training plan. But what happens when we remove the agenda (mind) and just listen, feel, and experience (full inhabitation of body)?

This is risky, right? With structure comes progress (pretty much scientifically proven at this point) and accountability. Apply a specified, tried-and-true algorithm and, barring any rare medical complications, one can expect a certain outcome. I like this. I like science. I like applying evidence in order to forecast predictable outcomes.

I also like numbers, gadgets, and technical, detail-oriented things. Elevation gain, distance, HR fluctuations, cadence, max power, speed—these digital readouts are like candy for my left hemisphere.

Stripping myself of the comfort blankets that are my training journal, watch, and GPS was, quite frankly, terrifying for me. This was for several reasons, but among them: fear of boredom, fear of failure, lack of trust in myself to follow through, lack of trust in my body to progress, and attachment to the numbers/data game.

So I adopted something I could cling to: RPE. RPE, or “Rated Perceived Exertion” (a.k.a. “Borg scale”) refers to a numeric scale frequently used in exercise science research. The scale is completely subjective; in other words, it’s based entirely on an individual’s personal perception and concept of relativity. The idea is simple: on a scale of 6-20, how intense is your effort right now? (If 6-20 seems like an arbitrary range, rest assured it’s not–it’s based on heart-rate equivalents. It’s math.) For reference, 6 is lying on the couch, 11 is “light” activity, 15 is “heavy” activity, and 20 is “maximal exertion.” How the subject chooses to define “light” and “heavy” is up to him or her. Obviously one person’s light may be another person’s heavy depending on fitness, pain tolerance, and an incalculable number of other factors, but that’s beside the point. The point is to create a relative scale unique to each person, in order to gauge his or her psychological response to physical exertion in a given exercise session. Using RPE can be a useful tool for structuring a workout: intervals of alternating 12 and 15, or 17 effort uphill and 11 effort downhill, etc.—all while sidestepping the common pitfalls of using more traditional training tools (most notably, overtraining). RPE gives numerophiles such as myself something ordinal and organized, while also evading the possible dangers of too intense a focus on objective readouts (such as heart rate, speed, etc.).

Let me tell you something: RPE WORKS. It takes a little getting used to, but once you’re there, you’ve done it. You’ve figured out how to beat the system. But only if you play your cards right (in other words, no slacking!).

Here’s what using RPE requires: intense laser-focus on the present moment; constant and vigilant assessment of physical experience; unabashed honesty and ability to practice being objective with oneself; finely-tuned mind-body awareness; ability to interpret physiologic readouts; mental flexibility; and nuanced ability to ascertain when pushing limits is acceptable and beneficial.

Here’s what using RPE avoids: training to a preconceived number; ignoring bodily sensations for the sake of said number; zoning out; excessive overreaching; excessive underreaching; mind-body disconnect.

Here’s what an RPE-driven workout looks like: start out at a warm-up pace, and once you get to that point where the engine feels good and revved, push a little more speed or power for a discrete period. Mind you, this is all based on feel. Don’t push it too hard or too fast right out of the gates; rather, wait until you’re well into glycogen utilization (or beta oxidation, whatever you’re going for) to push into higher gears. This will become apparent not when you feel like you “should” start to speed up but when your body starts to crave it. I usually hit a point where I am ready to push myself pretty hard (15-19 on the Borg/RPE scale), and then I go for it for as long as it feels doable, maybe plus 15-25% for good measure. I let myself recover for a little while, but not too long, before messing around with lactate threshold again. Then when my body starts to feel like it’s breaking down, like I’m losing my form, I’ll reel it in and call it a day.

This is what my RPE approach to training looks like, but this is by no means a one-size-fits-all approach. I really enjoy interval training and have found this to be a great way to fine-tune my ability to put forth honest efforts while also maintaining complete immersion in the present moment. My regimented, schedule-oriented, left-brain self is actually a fan. And my performance has improved dramatically since January by training this way, despite the fact that my workouts are shorter (at least I think they are…I’m not measuring time, so I honestly have no clue. Similarly, my “performance improvement” is entirely subjective…but I just feel much stronger, lighter on my feet, etc.).

Interestingly, training by RPE also opened up a wormhole into a world oft despised (or even discredited) by endurance athletes: weight training. Running and swimming by RPE has made me keenly aware of any and every weakness in my kinetic chain like never before. Suddenly I am flooded with the sensations of specific muscles contracting and relaxing during movement; this is an overwhelmingly cool sensation, and also a wake-up call: my pelvis wasn’t nearly as stable as I thought it was while running, and my glute medius was all but shot; my pectorals were taking up far too much slack during freestyle and I’d need to do some serious work on strengthening my lats; my core and lower back weren’t doing nearly as good a job as they could be. Weak glutes during a run are bad enough as is; but try experiencing them on a whole other level while experimenting with total mind-body immersion practices. It’s horrific. Each step is like nails on a chalkboard: a glaringly uncomfortable and disorienting nagging sensation that was on the verge of driving me to insanity. So I started hitting the weights again. And surprisingly, I haven’t hated it this time around. I think it might have something to do with being fully present and mindful while doing it.

Through all of this, there is one thing I haven’t left by the wayside, and that is this: music. While I do strive for completely distraction-less living some day, I had to start somewhere, and music has been a nice crutch throughout the transition. My feelings on music also straddle the divide: on the one hand, it can be terribly distracting, but on the other hand, the right song can really help endow me with the laser focus I’m looking for. I suppose it’s all a matter of knowing how and when to use music as a tool.

Perhaps that could be said for all of the training tools—watches, GPS devices, training logs, etc. Perhaps it’s all about knowing how and when to use them effectively, while tempering the desire to go off the deep end and become too encumbered with slaving away to them.

This, however, requires a certain degree of moderation and, as I’ve stated before, moderation has always eluded me and to this day, continues to do so.

I guess that just comes with the territory of being an endurance junkie.

Triathlon as Therapy

I’d like a show of hands: who, out there, does NOT do triathlons (or marathons, or ultras, or endurance whatever) as a way of getting some really good, pretty cheap therapy?

I’ll be the first to admit that triathlon is my therapist.

“Therapy”—loosely defined as a practice that brings about physical, spiritual, emotional, and/or mental wellbeing—is sometimes considered taboo, but this bias is diminishing as our culture starts to recognize that by virtue of being alive, we are all in need of some sort of therapy. During high school, I probably needed therapy. During my first romantic relationship, I probably could have used some therapy. Heck, medical school should have COME with therapy attached. But thankfully, through most of the trials and tribulations of life that ordinarily would have called for some sort of traditional, structured therapy, I’ve had my bike, my running shoes, and enough motivation to get my butt out the door.

I’m about to make a huge generalization here and, fully aware, welcome comments and criticism—but I’m going to go ahead and say that triathletes and endurance runners engage in, and consistently return to, such “punishing” (at least by the outsider’s eye) sports because they serve us in ways that are therapeutic.

Have you ever met someone who does Crossfit because it’s psychologically and emotionally therapeutic? I’m sure these people exist, but I have met far more Crossfitters who are interested in a six-pack (sorry to pick on you all, but I had to pick on someone!). On the contrary, have you met many triathletes who train in pursuit of a six-pack? Again, they’re out there—but most of us who are seasoned in the sport know that endurance athletics are certainly not the most efficient way to get shredded—at least for most of us. No, we endurance athletes return time and time again to the toils of our sport because it is cleansing and calming not only to our bodies, but to our minds and spirits as well.

Exercise can turn a bad day around completely. This understanding is shared by everyone from recreational exercisers to more serious athletes. String together enough bad-days-turned-around, and you’ve turned a bad life around completely.

The thing about endurance sport is this: there’s something about that repetitive motion, that feeling of covering large amounts of ground, and that ability to let the mind wander just enough to invade some of the farthest reaches of our minds and hearts—this is what makes endurance sport therapeutic in a unique way. A long run can either be met with an icy and distracting focus, or a passivity that lends itself to observation and confrontation of our mind’s inner workings. Training for endurance involves spending a considerable amount of time training not only the body, but the mind: to be patient, to be persistent, to be disciplined and responsible, to be forgiving.

Perhaps one of the greatest therapeutic gifts endurance sport has to offer is the elation of crossing a finish line. This tangible experience, which is often met with a flood of endorphins and utterly delirious fatigue, is a concrete proclamation of our minds’ and bodies’ incredible potential. It is rare to meet such a definitive and celebratory benchmark in ordinary, day-to-day existence. The happiest moments of my life occurred when I crossed the finish line of my first marathons, or finally arrived on the west coast after riding across America. The profound impact of these feelings–ones of pure, uninhibited ecstasy and disbelief–have fueled a much higher level of self-esteem, belief in my untapped potential, and tendency to really push the envelope. I’m not sure traditional psychotherapy of any kind would have gotten me to quite the same place.

So here’s to endurance: to enduring, and coming out better as a result.

Zen & the Art of DNF

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post titled, “Oops…I overtrained. Again.” This post, a brutally raw admission of my constant struggles to maintain a balanced, healthy training regimen, was not easy to write. I had a really great autumn season this year, training for nothing in particular but coming off a rest-filled summer with the gusto and enthusiasm of a newbie. But suddenly, like a ton of bricks, a deep fatigue set in around the end of December–a fatigue that was all-too-familiar, and surely indicative of my overdoing it, yet again. I was met with a pervasive, intuitive sense that if I didn’t take a rest week (or two), I’d crumble. I’d hit a physical limit.

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It can be incredibly humbling to meet one’s own limitations, whether physical, psychological, or emotional. At the same time, it can be excruciatingly difficult to tease apart the subtle nuances through which psychology and emotion are intermixed with our physical capacity–especially in endurance sport. When was the last time you heard someone refer to an endurance event as [at least] “90% mental?” For me, it was only a few days ago. Anyone who’s run a marathon or done a long-course tri knows this as fact–and probably has this mantra engraved across his consciousness as gospel. And I tend to agree that the mind is the biggest player–for most of us mere mortals, at least.

But what about those times when the cold, hard boundary of our physical limitations is actually hit, head on? How do we know when to put our egos in our back pockets and keep soldiering on, and how do we know when it’s time to stop?

I have never had a problem motivating myself to keep going in a long race after “hitting the wall”–with enough pep talk, those last few miles, although painful, slowly begin to melt away. However, I have plenty of friends who hold DNFs to their names, and I expect my turn is coming soon. Most professional athletes also boast DNFs, but I think that’s a little bit of a different story given that many of them are attempting to defend titles and personal records; a DNF can be a good way to save face as a pro. That aside, I remain curious about age-group DNFers.

If I were a psychology grad student, I might make a dissertation out of interviewing DNFers to try to elucidate their thought processes when they decided to withdraw from a race. What physical limitations did they experience? How did they know when they’d reached the “point of no return”? Did the decision feel more voluntary, or more essential for survival?

Most importantly, though, would be the thought processes of these athletes. What algorithms did they use to weigh the risk-benefit ratio of continuing the race? Or was logic thrown aside because the physical suffering was too much to bear? Endurance athletes tend to be stubborn folks with few qualms about pushing through minor- to moderate-physical unpleasantries that others would balk at. Also, considerable research has suggested that as a group, age-group triathletes tend to have a much higher pain tolerance than the general population, and even other athletes. As such, I approach my theoretical dissertation with a wary eye.

I recently started watching a Discovery channel documentary series following a team of mountaineers up Everest. One of the crew members, an ultra-fit Danish triathlete with an incredibly endearing, humble personality, is attempting to summit without oxygen–the holy grail of Everest climbing–after three prior unsuccessful attempts. Despite a personal history of severe asthma, Mogens Jensen pushes on with vigor and a charmingly positive attitude. I imagine all audiences following this documentary cheering hard for this delightful Dane, who displays the classic “90% mental” attitude so characteristic of his endurance sport roots.

Unfortunately, Mogens decides–or is forced, rather–to turn back a mere 350 meters from the summit of Everest due to severe frostbite secondary to oxygen deprivation. Obviously this is a rather extreme example, but I wonder how Mogens came to the conclusion that it was time to turn around–especially after encountering numerous prior obstacles that would have sent anyone else scurrying back down the mountain face. How did he know he’d hit that “point of no return”? Plenty of mountaineers push on through frostbite; some make it, some don’t. But Mogens seemed to possess an uncanny ability to understand exactly when he could push on, and when he absolutely needed to stop. He was so close to clinching that dream–and after three prior attempts at that–but he knew that he had to relinquish it this fourth time.

Perhaps most indicative of this minor tragedy was the team guide’s response to Mogens’ defeat. Russell Brice, one of Everest’s most seasoned mountaineers and guides, notes that while he would have been extremely impressed by an asthmatic summiting Everest sans oxygen, he was considerably more impressed by Mogens’ very wise ability to sense exactly what he was dealing with.

This art is utterly beyond me, but I imagine with more experience I’ll have a better understanding of how to interpret the fine gradations of physical wellbeing. Until recently, there was little incentive to develop this talent; I’d always had fine success pushing through and finding comparable alternatives rather than stepping back. More recently, I’ve hit an obstacle that feels a little more concrete–a wall that won’t budge. For the first time in my life, I can’t simply charge through like a rhinoceros at full-speed: rather, I have to stop and turn around–or even better, find a creative way to circumnavigate the boulder blocking my path.

I think I’ll take up rock climbing. I hear it’s good cross -training.

All or none: the power of black-and-white thinking.

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Warning: This post may offend those who like to live life in moderation. I am not one of those people.

Here goes.

The key to success and happiness in life is to adopt more black-and-white thinking.

Wait, what? What about all of the “gray areas”? Isn’t it true that nothing is either black nor white, but somewhere in between? And what about moderation?

Yes! Almost everything IS gray. Which is why getting a little more black-and-white about things can be a good thing. It can push us into a darker gray, or a lighter gray, depending on what we value and want to achieve. We’re all humans, and with being a human comes the inevitability of human error. We’re destined to fall somewhere in the gray area…but why not try to make it to somewhere on one or another end of the gray spectrum?

For me, adopting slightly more black-and-white thinking about things–especially things that pertain to my biggest, most “extreme” dreams–can be incredibly useful, as long as I truly listen to my body while doing so. An almost unavoidable outcome of being just a tad more black-and-white is falling more into the realm of extreme people rather than those living in moderation. But is that necessarily such a bad thing, if I’m happy being one of the “extreme” people?

Our society places value in living in moderation and “finding balance” between all aspect of one’s life. While balance can at times be the key to keeping an especially hectic life manageable, I’m not sure it’s always the right solution for everyone. I think that for some of us, living moderately is a recipe for stagnation. Chasing down big dreams requires big, not moderate efforts. And at its most malignant, extolling the virtues of “living in moderation” is a really excellent and clever way to pardon ourselves for undesirable habits or traits.

I say, blah. Living life in the middle of the gray area is a recipe for a gray experience.

Living life in the black-and-white–well, that’s a whole other story. Life in extremes is a tumultuous, adventurous, fulfilling mixture of giving 200% and recovering 200%. The balance between the two makes it possible, but the existence on one extreme or another is what makes it worthwhile–and it is a sweet existence indeed.

In psychology, the concept of black-and-white thinking is often referred to as “splitting,” also known as “all-or-nothing thinking.” While I do firmly believe that utilizing black-and-white thinking at times optimally hijacks our brains to our advantage, I do not suggest taking it to the extremes that manifest in Borderline Personality Disorder.

Over the past decade or so, nothing has taught me the power of black-and-white thinking more tangibly than sport. Simply put, in this arena, using polarities yields results. Training days are either incredibly easy or incredibly challenging. In fact, Runner’s World magazine recently published an article in its October 2013 issue titled, “Benefits of Polarized Training.” Nutrition, to the athlete, is either medicinal or malignant: some foods hinder performance, while others foster it. Thinking in terms of good vs. bad, exertion vs. recovery, full effort vs. surrender is the linchpin to success and fulfilling experiences in sport–and it seems to extrapolate pretty darn well to other aspects of life as well.

I’ve run this idea of “the power of all-or-none thinking” past a few friends over the years, and have received more negative, if not mixed, responses to my “insane,” “impractical” theory than almost anything else I’ve proposed. Everyone, it seems, wants to err on the side of gray–or, the way I see it, on the side of caution. This is disappointing to me. While I believe that gray is often the inevitable solution to moral dilemmas and perhaps orthopedic problems, I don’t think gray is something to actively seek out for myself.

The ones who seem to be best capable of grasping the positive applications of black-and-white thinking are those who have struggled with addiction. I think vegan Ultraman and Epic 5 triathlete Rich Roll said it best in his book, Finding Ultra:

“When I decided to change my diet, I initially experimented with a vegetarian diet. Why? Not because I read a bunch of books and concluded it was the healthiest approach. It was attractive because it was so black and white. In recovery, you are either using or you are sober—no middle ground. As a vegetarian, you are either eating meat or you are not. I could wrap my brain around that.”

Rich seems to understand how the brain works, on both an experiential and theoretical level. The neuroscience definitely speaks in favor of black-and-white thinking in behavior modification. If we really want to change something about ourselves, then we have to change our brains (perhaps this is a form of biohacking, if you will). The building blocks of our nervous system, the neurons, function on an all-or-none principal: either they fire in response to something, or they don’t. The action potential doesn’t “just kind of fire” or fire less robustly in proportion to a stimulus. Even a tiny, minuscule droplet of impetus can set an entire neural pathway ablaze with activity.

Every day, I consciously make black-and-white decisions for myself. To others, this manifests as “extreme” discipline, but for me, this way of thinking has trampled down some pretty well-worn neural networks. I either wake up at 4:30 a.m. and kick butt, or I sleep in until 8 and take it easy. I either put in several hours of base miles for the day, or I sit in bed and read a book from cover to cover. Listening to my body is without question a key within all of this, but assuming I’m feeling well, it’s going to be a 4:30 a.m. day, darnit!

My general paradigm is this: every day, I try to reinforce more black-and-white thinking with myself, while simultaneously trying to adopt less black-and-white thinking with others and my external world. This is what keeps me reliable, disciplined, and true to myself, and also prevents me from ever feeling too heavily let down by anything outside of me.

I think Dean Karnazes, the “Ultramarathon Man,” said it best when he wrote: “My suspicion is that, like me, most of you reading these pages are drawn to extremes. Moderation bores you. You seek challenges and adventures that dwell on the outer edges. The path of most resistance is not a route often traveled.”

Dwelling on the outer edges sounds pretty fun to me. What do you think?

Oops…I overtrained. Again.

I’m sure we’ve all heard this oft-referenced Einstein quote before: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Well, the evidence is clear. I’m officially insane.

Einstein seems to have been right about everything (I’d like to point out that he was also a very strict vegetarian).

I encountered my first brushes with overtraining during my second year of medical school. A combination of intense, drawn-out, daily trail runs and mounting stresses from my life outside of the mountains ended up being a recipe for disaster. Hugely in denial, reluctant to give up the one thing I felt was serving me at the time (trail running), and being the know-it-all med student I was (smack in the middle of my endocrine unit, nonetheless), I did what any running addict would do: I just kept running.

They say hindsight is 20/20, and in retrospect, I recognize today just how stupid this was. I had all of the classic symptoms of what is referred to in the sports medicine literature as uncompensated overreaching-induced overtraining syndrome: debilitating lethargy, complete lack of motivation, mental fog, slowed heart rate, orthostatic hypotension (e.g. “seeing stars” every time I stood up), decreased appetite, and fitful, unsatisfying sleep. Basically, the concept here is that if an athlete does not compensate (a.k.a. “rest”) after overreaching (a.k.a. pushing hard for a couple of days or even a week), an almost inevitable outcome is insurmountable stress overload on the body: hormonal systems are suppressed, neurotransmitters shut down or dysregulated entirely, oxidative damage skyrockets, inflammation goes unchecked, and a deep, unshakable fatigue settles into the very bones of one’s body. It really kind of sucks.

overtraining-syndrome

The physician in me knows today—and even back then, knew—exactly how to remedy this. It was fairly clear that I was in the early stages of some sort of adrenal insufficiency, and perhaps even hypothyroidism, induced by overtraining, and the natural sequela would be Addisonian Crisis if I didn’t just stop, take the time to recover, nourish my body appropriately with rest, nutrition, and adaptogens, and re-hash my approach to running and training. Instead, I’d down a couple of cups of black coffee, take a pretty heavy-hitting dose of Siberan Eleuthero, and be jazzed up enough to convince myself I was fine.

I rarely felt bad during a run. But it was afterward that I’d feel like I’d been hit by a bus.

I employed stopgap therapies to try and fix the problem while still being able to run large volumes on a daily basis. I took supportive, adaptogenic herbs by the fistful. I set an early bedtime and tried to force myself to sleep for 9, 10, 11 hours a night. I took melatonin, licorice, ginseng, ashwagandha. I even stopped being vegan and started eating meat and eggs for a period of about four months. I only felt worse.

The answer was clear: I needed to rest. By six months into my stint with chronic overtraining, I had read nearly every medical journal publication out there on the subject. I was an expert. Every description pointed to exactly what I was experiencing. And the recommendations at the end of each publication were unequivocal: rest was the primary solution. In some cases only a few weeks of rest do the trick; in others, athletes toe the line between chronic burnout and wellness for years or even decades. Years? Decades?! Even the concept of weeks was unfathomable to my endorphins-hooked brain.

Rest was never an option for me. If I stopped being my endurance junkie self—admittedly, an enormous slice of my identity—then just who would I be?

I would be just another twenty-something girl. Just another medical student. Just another sister, daughter, friend, and girlfriend. While I appreciate these aspects of my identity enormously, I can’t help but admit that they feel frighteningly banal in comparison with my identity as an endurance sport lover.

So what did I ultimately end up doing? I continued to live in denial for another year or so, but during the spring of 2013 my behavior caught up with me. At the time, I was living in New York, but flew back to San Francisco to attend to some school-related things and visit my sister. I distinctly remember feeling so tired, so foggy, and so out of it while I was there. I could hardly motivate myself to get up from the chair I was sitting in. Climbing up a small hill in Bernal Heights Park—a hill that normally would seem like child’s play to me—I felt my heart thumping wildly in my chest and my blood pressure dropping precipitously. I felt so weak that I was sure I was going to pass out. While everyone else around me was enjoying the view and enjoying their lives, I was seeing stars and wishing I could crawl under the covers. That was the catalyst. When I flew back to Connecticut to spend a few days with my parents, I completely broke down, and resolved to give several weeks of rest a genuine try.

It was extraordinarily difficult at first, and I have to admit, it didn’t get much easier. As someone who has grown psychologically accustomed to being very physically active on a daily basis, putting the lid on training for a while was agonizing. I traded my long runs for long walks and long cuddle sessions on the couch with my dog. I dabbled in gentle and restorative yoga. I drank green juices and ate avocados by the bushel. All the while, I felt mentally restless. It was hard to see my running shoes stare up at me from the depths of my closet floor each morning. I had to put them in the basement.

I took some time to rest last summer, and got back into the swing of things last fall. Yet, like any endurance junkie, my tendency to overdo things—without realizing I’d overdone it until far, far after the fact—got the best of me. So here I am, in January, looking back at my insane training log from November and December and, from a logical perspective, not wondering in the least how I’ve managed to find myself in the same exact predicament.

Remember that definition of insanity? Yeah, that’s definitely me.

So what conclusions have I come to as a result of experiencing this? And what advice would I give?

Well, for one, overtraining is definitely a very real thing—and not something to be messed with. Secondly, I think it’s critical that anyone involved in very taxing and stressful endurance sports on a regular basis honestly assess his or her ability to cope with stress, period, at any point in life. At the time when I first began experiencing symptoms, I was puzzled as to why—I had, after all, had no problem recovering from similarly intense levels of activity in previous years. Why such a sudden and drastic shift? It is now clear to me that the non-physical stresses in my life at the time–the unending demands of medical school, the sadness of a failing long-term relationship, confusion and distrust of my own body through experiencing illness–were all taking an enormous amount out of me as it was. Add to that the stress of endurance exercise, which is well-documented to interfere with some of the body’s most vital functions, and overtraining becomes a distinctive possibility.

As I’ve opened up to friends and family about this rather humbling experience, I’ve been met time and time again with a very similar response: “Imagine how much better of a doctor this will make you!” Very true words, but they don’t console the fact that I can’t bust out 18-mile runs every day a la Dean Karnazes. Bummer.

Alas, I suppose I am only human after all. I guess I actually do have to take rest days.

The question, then, is this: what to do with all of the extra free time I’ll gain by having rest days?

Maybe go swimming?

Meh, once an addict, always an addict…

Stop being a boring adult, and start dreaming again.

In my December post titled “How to Date a Triathlete,” I talked about our tendency to become jaded in adulthood, and how our abandonment of wonderment and big dreaming becomes an accepted fact of life as we exit adolescence and enter the murky realm of grown-upness.

I also mentioned my desire to resist this state of mind, and how training for endurance races has been a powerful influence in my ability to maintain a childlike sense of possibility well into my 20s.

Recently, I stumbled across a video on YouTube by one of my favorite personalities in the vegan running community, Tim VanOrden. Tim, also affectionately known as “TVO,” has served as an extraordinarily influential pioneer in the raw vegan community, as well as an instrumental figure within the running community. A 9-time U.S. masters track/cross-country champion and snowshoe racing whiz, TVO is one of the few visionaries who have put the whole concept of eating a vegan diet for improved athletic performance on the map. 

TVO makes these great YouTube vids–most of them shorts–which are entirely comprised of “video selfies” while he’s coasting down a mountain trait in Vermont, mind abuzz with that characteristic clarity of thought that hits runners 5, 10, 15 miles into their runs. I love how he unabashedly whips out his video recorder and videotapes his disheveled, winded, sweaty self to share the tidbits of wisdom he gleans while out in nature. There is so much truth to what TVO has to offer. A true philosopher, his pep talks speak to everyone, and apply to universal life experiences–vegan or not, runner or not.

The video, titled “The Delusional Beginnings of Running Raw,” does a beautiful job of elucidating the concept of remaining open to limitless possibility no matter one’s age or past experiences.

In case you’re not keen on watching TVO’s video selfie, here’s the script:

“When I started this journey, I was a painter. I was adding to the canvas. I was only looking at possibility: to see what’s possible; to be what’s possible. And at that time, I believed anything was possible.

But I’ve been running for six years now, and I’ve been tested again and again, and fallen again and again. And I keep getting back up and I keep getting better. But instead of continuing my path as a painter, I’ve become a sculptor. And instead of adding to a canvas, I’ve begun to take away from a stone, chisel away, removing possibility with each nick of the knife.

And every time I make a mistake and knock off more of the stone than I intended, I know I have even less possibility to work with, and I have to reduce and change the ultimate sculpture. And I’ve found myself, now at forty-four, highly defined, and limited with this sense that less is possible because I know more. I chipped away at the stone and I see what’s left, and it keeps getting smaller. The ceiling has gotten lower. I don’t see the same possibility that I saw at the beginning of this journey, which was an Olympic team. And maybe that was delusional. But seeing it as a possibility, whether it was a reality or not, got me in the game, it got me in action, it excited me. And now that the ceiling has come way down, I still see myself improving but it’s not nearly as exciting because that ceiling’s not far away.  I don’t have much room to grow.

I’ve got to find a way to get back into the painter mode and add to my training, add to my life, add to my thinking, and add to my abilities. Because I know I’m not done yet, but there’s a part of my mind that’s trying to convince me that I am. I can’t fight that thought. I can’t chip that thought away. I have to add other thoughts. I have to simply paint over it.

In life, often, we try to chip away at our negative thoughts. We try to remove them. We punish ourselves. We’re hard-wired to be sculptors and to chip away at life, and chip away at possibility. But I think the greatest gift of the human mind, the thing that separates the human mind from the minds of other creatures, is our ability to paint. This is trained out of us somewhere in childhood or adolescence. We’re taught to face the “real world” and start chipping away, and get the job, and get the house, and get the family, and get the car and just settle in to this reduced mode of living, rather than being that child who paints possibility with every stroke.

 There’s a story about Winston Churchill. He was driving through the country one day when he came across a woman staring at a blank canvas. She was looking out at a pastoral landscape, which was beautiful. Winston walked up and he said, “What’s the problem?” and she said, “I’m not sure where to start.” So he took her paintbrush, dipped it in black paint, and put a big black mark across her canvas. He said, “There. Now you’ve started.” 

And that’s how life is. Sometimes life gives us this big black mark. And rather than chipping away and saying, “Oh, we’ve got a black mark, the canvas is ruined, we can’t use it anymore,” you can add to it. What can I do with that black mark? What possibility can I discover? How can I take paint and add? How can I take thought and add to this? Make it better? Improve upon it?

 Think about that. How to add to your life. How to add possibility back in to your life. Not by getting rid of things. But just by painting a different color over things. Or next to them. Or turning them into a new design. Black line—what can I do with a black line? Every tree that I’m running by has black lines in it. Every root that I’m jumping over as I make this video has black lines in it.

 Paint with them. Create a forest of possibility.”

78384 Maple and Birch Trees in Fall Color, Adirondack Park and Preserve, New York

You know you’re a [female] triathlete when…

I stumbled across this thread on the Slowtwitch women’s forum recently and laughed out loud enough times to find it share-worthy. Certainly more than a handful of these apply to the gentlemen as well.

Enjoy!

2008 Solana Beach Triathlon

You know you’re a [female] triathlete when…

1. You hit the drugstore cosmetics aisle to find the perfect shade of nail polish–to fix a chip on your bike.

2. You own more sports bras than everyday bras.

3. You own five one-piece swimsuits, and no two-piece suits.

4. Your chosen hairstyle has more to do with what fits easily under an aero helmet or swim cap than what’s fashionable.

5. You refuse to wear high heels, because they’re bad for your calves.

6. You turn down dates because they interfere with training.

7. Your biggest motive behind getting a dog was to have a new running partner.

8. You use hair ties to hold things (GPS, spare tubes) to your bike.

9. You are a complete pro at changing into and out of workout clothes while sitting in the front seat of your car.

10. You bring sports magazines with you to waiting rooms, because you can’t stand any of that Vogue/Cosmo crap.

11. You’d rather sleep with your heart rate monitor than a guy.

12. When you hear “bling,” you think “medals.”

13. Eau de Chlorine: it’s the newest, hottest fragrance for women.

14. When someone says, “size matters,” you automatically think of your bike, fit, wheels, and race weight.

15. When your kitchen is a mess, there’s laundry to be done, and mail is piling up on the counter, your bike is–and will always be–sparkly clean.

16. You have given up on trying to hide those pesky “goggle marks” around your eyes before heading in to work.

17. You didn’t cry over “The Notebook,” but you sniffled and sobbed while watching the Ironman World Championships.

18. A running coach would cringe over your form…but you’re still faster than most guys you know.

19. Your idea of a great birthday party is to run your age in miles with a bunch of friends.

20. You spend more time on cyclingnews.com or slowtwitch.com than Facebook.

21. You consider work a “recovery period” between sessions.

22. Your family is not worried if you left for your run 2 hours ago.

23. You’re up every day by 5 am, but never in to work before 9 am.

24. You can’t change the oil in your car, but you can completely rebuild your bike in 45 minutes or less.

25. Your car smells like a locker room.

26. Your idea of shopping is a trip to the Sports Authority.

27. You’re the only lady you (personally) know who uses Strava.

28. You have more pairs of shoes than any of your girlfriends–but they’re all running shoes.

29. You shave your legs religiously, but it has absolutely nothing to do with aesthetic.

30. You talk about taking “LSD and speed” daily without realizing that it weirds people out.

31. You have a special “secret spot” for stashing  jewelry last-minute.

32. You don’t wear leggings, you wear Spandex.

33. You frequently wear pants to work to hide your compression socks.

34. You’re actually stoked to gain a few pounds, because you know it’s increased glycogen storage.

35. You don’t take bubble baths, you take ice baths.

36. Your girlfriends are jealous of your killer tan…until they realize it only extends to mid-thigh.

37. Your only motive for doing yoga is to stretch out chronically tight hamstrings.

38. “Little Pink Kit” is your version of the “Little Black Dress.”

39. You choose beer over wine because it’s a more effective glycogen replenisher.

And my favorite, so far:

40. You would prefer carbon that has been spun into fibers and molded into aero forms over carbon that has been compressed for millions of years and carved with many facets.

wyndy-milla

Wyndy Milla rockin’ the Little Pink Kit.

What sort of quirks confirm that you’re a female triathlete? Or triathlete in general?

How to date a triathlete/marathon runner/endurance junkie.

1. Don’t.

Just kidding. In fact, endurance junkies are some of the most quality people around. All of those hours spent alone with ourselves in the meditative realm of Zone 2 really forces us to think about things like who we are, what we believe in, the meaning of life, what we’re going to eat immediately when we get home, and other critical themes.

But it’s not as simple as run, rinse, repeat. Being a true endurance junkie is a lifestyle. It’s a state of mind. For many of us, training makes us better people every day. It serves us in ways other people or experiences have not or cannot. And so we find ourselves caught up in a committed relationship, legs intertwined with the goddess of multisport.

As I once (perhaps mistakenly) told a past boyfriend: “You may be my boyfriend, but triathlon is my husband.”

Needless to say, this did not go over very well. I was mostly kidding, but I think we both knew it to largely be true. He replied with some snarky comment about “time spent in the saddle,” which I actually recall being quite clever and pun-ny.

This past summer and fall, in an attempt to unearth just what it is that makes us endurance junkies so “un-datable,” I conducted a rather unscientific social experiment: I went on 21 dates in 21 weeks, with 21 non-endurance athletes (a.k.a. “normal people”). Here’s what I discovered to be the top most misunderstood aspects of the endurance junkie’s lifestyle.

1. Most of us are introverts. Sure, we may be the life of the party on the rare occasions we are out socializing. We may seem extroverted because of our tendency to be outgoing when others are around. But don’t be fooled. Usually that’s just the endorphins talking. Or the fact that eventually, we need to balance out our 90% alone time with some human contact. Either way, just be prepared for someone who likes to be a bit of a lone wolf. It takes a certain type to spend hours alone running and cycling, and that certain type usually has a penchant for solitude that may be disturbing to others.

2. Please, please, please don’t make us stay out late with you. Our idea of “going out” involves literally going outdoors on foot or bicycle, preferably in the wee hours of Saturday morning when the rest of the world is sleeping off an impending hangover. If you make us stay out late with you at some sub-par Mexican restaurant, and hence compromise the quality or timing of our planned weekend long run/ride, we will resent you. And eat all the chips and salsa without regard for the others at the table. Consider yourself warned.

3. We WILL spend more time swimming, biking, and running, than with you. Sorry. It’s not that we don’t like you, it’s just that, well, we like SBR better.

4. Vacations, dates, and trips centered around doing something physical and rugged are incredibly hot. Especially if you can keep up/only if you can keep up.

5. Please don’t make comments about our choice of dress. We got up at 3:30 am and ran 54 miles today, so yes, it’s gonna be another sweatpants day.

6. Please don’t make comments about the state of our feet, or the strange rashes on our backs and butts. Listen, I’ve been working on those calluses for years. And brush burn can happen to the best of us. It’s a badge of honor. Now hand me my body butter.

7. It’s really, honestly, seriously not about the bike. Some multisport “hobbyists”, as I like to call them, are really just into gear: flashy bikes, fancy moisture-wicking apparel, gravity-defying running shoes. I think those folks are in the minority though. Really, for most of us, it’s about the process. The bike is just a vehicle for personal growth and change.

8. …but if you HAVE to give us a gift, give us a bike! Okay, maybe not a bike (has anyone looked at the price tags on those things these days? Insane!), but something we can use to make ourselves more comfortable, efficient, and/or entertained while slogging it out there. As they say, carbon fiber is a girl’s best friend. Or is it only me who says that? Meh.

9. We probably finished off that entire box of cereal. SORRY. It takes a lot of fuel to power through several hours of cardio exercise every day. Or at least, so we tell ourselves. If you bring it to our attention that downing an entire box of Product 19 in a day is gross, we will feel sad, misunderstood and self conscious. So just don’t go there.

10. No run = cranky + moody. I once saw a t-shirt at a local running shop that had the words “NO RUN = CRANKY + MOODY” printed on it in large block print. I felt relieved that clearly, I was not the only one to have experienced this phenomenon. Now where can I find a cute guy sporting said shirt?

11. We’re geeks for numbers. A lot of triathlon lingo is centered around numbers, figures, and calculations. Do we expect you to understand when we toss around terms like “max cadence,” “wattage,” “millimeter offset,” and “Yasso 800s“? Yes, yes we do.

12. Yes, we are capable of love. We just show it differently. Here’s my theory, which is loosely based on my associations with triathlete and marathoning friends over the years: we just have a different sense of relativity, slightly different tolerance for solitude and independence, and frequently a radically different neurohormonal profile, than the general populous. We like our friends to be people who understand the value of setting personal goals and doggedly going after them, with perhaps seeming disregard for other aspects of life. Needless to say, this typically isn’t considered very socially acceptable; women especially are deemed neglectful if they choose to pursue “hobbies” outside of family and even career. 

BWbTlR7CIAADcHr_jpg_large

Does anyone else find this photo incredibly hot?

The thing about triathletes and endurance athletes is that many of us have rediscovered the power of positive motivation, encouragement, and coaching in our adult lives. The paradigm of pushing through personal boundaries to shatter past records and achieve new, previously unattainable goals is something many of us move away from after we graduate from high school sports teams. This lens–one of encouragement, big dreaming, and distinctive goal-setting–is the one through which we understand how to show love and affection. If one of my friends mentions a goal she’s been entertaining, you sure as hell bet I’ll be on her case about realizing that goal and surpassing it. This comes off as annoying to some, but more often than not I’ve been met with appreciation.

Perhaps most people don’t get enough of this on a regular basis. When was the last time you heard someone say something like, “I believe in you,” “You can do anything you set your mind to,” or “Dream big”? These are things we were liberally showered with as children, but such encouragement and belief in oneself falls by the wayside as we grow up and hide away behind our desk jobs. This makes me sad.

I think people who are drawn to things like endurance sports are people who have recognized that realistically, only a finite amount of achievement and goal realization is possible in the “real world”. The concept of the entirely self-made man or woman is a thing of the past, as our careers and personal lives function more at the whim of the economy, our happenstance social network, and random obstacles that arise than our education and persistence. No longer does good, honest hard work necessarily translate into getting where one wants to be.

With triathlon, the payback is reliably and predictably related to the amount of work that’s put into it. Working hard = progress, and progress = personal growth and improvement. We crazy endurance junkies have found an arena in which one of the most basic human needs is not only attainable, it’s incredibly accessible. Maybe we’re not so crazy, after all?

In summary: how to date a triathlete:

-Dream big

-Stock up on Product 19.

The end.