Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Triathlon training as a reflection of my past

Here's how I thought triathlon training would work:

Running: I've run a few 5Ks, a 4-mile race, and an 8K. Training for the 5K run is something I can handle, no big deal.

Biking: I used to bike 1.5 hours to work a couple of times a week. I can bike. No big deal.

Swimming: Scary and difficult. I mean, I know how not to drown, but I've never been a competitive swimmer and I always kind of thought people who swim laps are weird/boring. I taught water aerobics in college, which was fun because it was basically adult pool-splashing time. It was a small class of interesting people, so we chatted a lot. A good workout, but not a swim.

How the training has actually been going since February:

Running: this is a big deal - because I'm enjoying it more than ever. DH (this is his new abbreviation. Not for "Dear Husband" - thought he's that, too - but for "Domestic Hercules". Because that's what he really is.) is running with me. We've already killed the couch-to-5K program, now we've started One Hour Runner. We anticipate long summer evenings jogging together along the lake, which sounds lovely. This actually isn't triathlon training anymore, it's just fun.

Swimming: after an afternoon in February when my sister gave me some much-needed pointers on how to do the crawl, I was swimming laps once or twice a week for a while, and it was working out all right. I think the increased lung capacity I've gained from swimming is what's making running so nice. I have to run hard to get out of breath now. Honestly, I've gotten so into the running that I've slacked on the swimming of late, but I'm not too worried about it.

Biking: what's a bike?


Can I show up to the triathlon and say "two out of three ain't bad"?

As I've reflected on it, though, I'm not actually surprised that the bike is the neglected third of my training. See, I learned to run whenever kids learn to run (age three?) and I ran cross-country for a couple of years and have done plenty of running for other sports, as well as for fun. Once when I was a freshman in college I just woke up one Saturday morning in the spring and, Forrest-Gump style, started running and just kept going north until I was tired. Which turned out to be Evanston. (I then walked home and was in considerable pain for a few days).

I learned to swim when I was roughly 4 or 5 years old. My parents took me to the community pool in the summers, where I took lessons from a large-bosomed, leathery-skinned lady named Judy who had a scratchy voice and a natural skill for helping small children face their terror of deep water. I adored Judy like a surrogate aunt. For several years of my childhood, my response to "what do you want to be when you grow up?" was "a swimming teacher." I wanted to be Judy. To have the patience that allows one to tread water for hours in the 10-foot end of the pool, coaxing jittery first-graders off the diving board, is to be just short of a superhero - or perhaps a saint (I learned recently that teaching children to swim is a commandment in the Torah, so maybe Judy really is a saint).

Judy helped me feel the freedom inherent in swimming: by the time I was 8 or so I would leap into the deep end of the pool and just fly underwater as long as my lungs could stand it. I'd imagine I was a dolphin, or a mermaid. Judy did very good work.

Then there was the bicycle. Classically, kids learn to ride their bikes... when? 7 or 8 years old? Maybe sooner? I've seen 5-year-olds tooling around with confidence.

I was not one of those kids.

Had there been a Judy of bicycles, the story may have been different. My father did the usual dad-thing of taking me out on the pink-and-purple bike with the training wheels and coaching me as I coasted up and down the sidewalk on our block. He was experienced in these matters: both of my elder siblings could ride bikes with no problem. Eventually the training wheels came off... and for whatever reason, I didn't really get back on the bike. There was unfortunately timed nagging from my brother, which caused me, at roughly age seven, to declare: "Maybe I DON'T WANT to learn to ride a bike!"

So I didn't. At all.

The summer when I was thirteen, I took my mom's old bike a few blocks away to the empty county fairgrounds. I had had a dream the night before : I was on a bike, wind blowing through my hair, flying along. I decided it was time to teach myself to ride this bike, along an empty stretch of blacktop next to a soybean field, where no one would see me. I got to the point of coasting at a fairly good speed down the gentle slope of the country road. As I picked up speed I realized I was possibly losing control, and gripped the brakes - but the back brake lines were rusted through. Only the front brakes engaged - and I flew over the handlebars.

The good news is that, due to my lack of steering control, I was facing sideways and I landed in a patch of grass that had not been recently mowed. Nothing was broken, except my motivation. I walked the bike the mile or so home, parked it in the carport, and finished my childhood having never ridden a bike.

This could cause the reader to wonder how I managed to miraculously wind up biking to work from the South Side to the West Side of Chicago as a young adult, or - obviously - how I'm planning to participate in a triathlon.

Well, Domestic Hercules (Herakles, if you're that kind of guy, which he kind of is) did what he so often does: he saved the day.

There was a definite advantage to the way we met - studying abroad in Italy - as most of the self-propelled transportation we did was walking. I'm very good at walking. We found, without much difficulty, that we liked walking places together. (Please insert a terrible Hallmark saying about marriage here, because I will not bring myself to do so). But the study-abroad experience has to end eventually, and we found ourselves back in the US, trying to flirt long-distance. I honestly don't recall when or how it came up that I couldn't ride a bike, but what I do remember is a complete lack of judgment on his part.

This is something I like about DH. Usually when I say something that I expect to be a BIG HAIRY DEAL, he treats it like the non-event it really is.

Instead of this being a problem, it was a matter of understanding: I was lacking this particular skill, once which he had in spades. So he offered to teach me how to ride a bike the next time I visited his parent's place, where there were many spare bikes.

In the driveway of my future in-laws' home, I made a wobbly start on the bike. DH gave me the encouraging and counterintuitive advice to pedal faster, and for some reason I listened to him. After a few moments, I was not-very-confidently tooling up and down his parents' short street. And I didn't crash.

He gave me a few minutes to gain some confidence, then he got on his bike and we took a bike ride together. It was my first bike ride with someone. I was 21.

I persisted in not crashing, save a minor run-in with a wall which I saw coming from a mile away and which didn't really hurt that much anyway since I was going approximately 7 miles an hour.

Over that summer we worked on bike riding several times, though I still suffered from some kind of social anxiety about bicycles: when the whole extended family was renting bikes for a summer afternoon ride, I got extremely nervous. DH offered to ride the tandem bike with me, so we did. (When his mother later learned that we did this and didn't get in to a fight, I think she was convinced we'd get married eventually.)

On the same bike ride a couple of years later, I rode my own mountain bike and spent some time racing DH and his brother. It felt a lot like the dream I'd had as a teenager - flying on land, under my own power, with the wind in my hair. I made it there, it just took me a bit longer than most.

This weekend, I'll be attempting what I'm calling a "fake-athlon": I'm hoping to swim, bike and run approximately the same distances I need to cover at the end of July, without regard to speed or transition times. If I can survive that - and I think I can - I should be able to manage the real thing at the crack of dawn in a strange town with a bunch of spectators and competitors, right?

And if I can't manage that, maybe I need to ride my bike a lot more in the next month.

1 comment:

  1. Fake-athlon?! - There is nothing fake about what you are doing. So impressive!!! Look at all of you and your awesome habits! :) Good luck!


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