I’m in the middle of the off-season. For triathletes, anyway. No racing action there until spring. My tri-club’s swimming lessons have been focusing on core strength, technique, lots and lots of drills – quality and skill improvement. Explaining his off-season rationale for training my coach semi-jokingly called out two other women in my tri-club and myself as “dilettante” triathletes as he felt we were really runners and so our season was still on. I felt quite unreasonably put out by that comment – “dilettante triathlete”? I had worked my ass off this year to do a sprint, an oly and a half iron and although my training was by no means perfect I felt I had made massive improvements and was rather proud of what I had achieved in such a short time. But in my heart of heart I think there’s a kernel of truth in what he said. My heart is not in triathlon, and it is in running.
Sometimes it is so hard to figure out what you really want. I’m a big one for crowd-sourcing all sorts of suggestions and can find myself overwhelmed by everyone’s views and agendas. Particularly when I don’t know or am insecure about my next step – I can sway in one direction and then in a diametrically opposite one, if you can convince me this is right for me. And the truth of the matter – of course – is that I need to figure this stuff out for myself. Sometimes I find the best guide to what I want – what I really really really want – is to watch what I actually do. One of the things I have done in the past month is not sign up for any triathlons. The Vitruvian half ironman sold out within a day or so and I knew that if I wanted to enter I needed to be quick. I kept my credit card in my wallet and watched the race fill up and close registration. Without any regret. My bike is propped agains the cupboard in what will one day be my gym – it has been propped there since I came back from the Vitruvian 2 months ago. I have not been on it. I have kept up my swimming – 1 lesson a week and 1 session on my own this week. I really like it – I like learning these new skills, getting better, getting faster. I also like doing a workout where the conditions are predictable – the pool I train in is warm and tends to be quiet. But if I never race in a pool again, that’s fine with me.
I look back to last year when I entered Vitruvian, while still doing my personal training course in London. Life was chaos at that time. I was commuting up and down to London (I live 3 hours outside of London in the deep countryside). My kids had both started new schools that autumn and I was wracked with guilt at not being there enough for them. My husband was keeping the show on the road at home in the weeks I was in London and handling work pressures and family pressures without my support. I was doing this personal training course which was wonderful but where at times I felt so out of it, so old, so utterly rudderless. Overall I felt so out of control, so unable to to be what or who I felt I should be. Picking a big hairy-assed goal to train for was a way for me to force some focus on my life. I know that I can handle stress better when I am training and I have that focus of the workouts to get in. I know that when I’m busy running intervals, or learning how to do a swim drill, or sweating away on my bike trainer, I will not be agonising about my kids, my husband or myself. I know that completing the hard workouts makes me feel a sense of achievement, a feeling that I am not a failure after all. And that that creates a momentum of positivity which I carry through in the rest of my life. So I can see how I came to do triathlon this year. And it has been good. The Vitruvian was a wonderful experience. Parts of it were very hard, very painful, but overall I had a smile on my face and certainly in my heart. Because I felt it was a good job done. A high target set and completed. In the mess of my life I had managed to pull this together. Imperfectly perhaps, but nonetheless I made it to the start and the finish. The pressure I had felt to do it – to do something big this year – was high but the sense of achievement when it was done was fantastic. And the relief that it was over was incredibly telling.
I’m not saying I will never do triathlon again. Who knows? But I do know that right now I am very happy to be back focusing on my running. I am working hard – while I have no a-races till London I do not feel like I’m in the off-season. It’s the build phase, more like. The intervals are hard. After more than 18 months of running slowly I am struggling to get my speed back. (How did I ever run a 1:45 half in 2009?) Training with a heart rate monitor for the first time I can see that the effort is bigger than it should be for these workouts. But that’s fine. I have time on my side. There are months to go till London and I will get there. At some points these 8 minute miles might not feel as tortuous as they feel right now. My old familiar knee injury is back and so are my weekly visits with my running osteopath. So far it’s not sidelining me and I’m not concerned. I know I will get it fixed and I also know now that I can cycle and swim in the meantime, if I need to, to keep my fitness up.
And a new interest on my horizon is yoga. Oh I know you’ve all been there and done that and are either amazing at it or are way ahead of the curve and cross-fitting / paleoing your way to happiness. But I live in the boonies people, and yoga has been late to come to our part of the world. I’ve tried out the few local offerings there are and many of them were disappointing. But I’ve found a fantastic teacher now, and his weekly classes are challenging and massively enjoyable. This from someone who hates to go to classes of any kind. And then last week I won a FaceBook competition to get a place on a yoga class in London with Colleen Saidman Yee – it was fantastic! Much more fast moving than what I’m used to but great to experience such a different style and also to be around someone who is so positive and so generous with her knowledge.
All this – the running and the yoga – seems to be what I want to be doing without putting pressure on myself. Listening to myself is the really hard part of growing up but also the most gratifying experience. Slowly, slowly, I am unpicking the expectations, hopes and agendas of others away from my own sense of where I want to be and where I want to be going. I turned 41 two weeks ago and feel like I have turned a corner somehow. Watch this space!