As I sat and pedaled away on my Lemond Revolution trainer this afternoon I got to thinking about why i was NOT having any fun. Okay, so the obvious answer is “well you are sitting on a trainer, riding a bike, going nowhere, so suck it up!”
Over the past 14 years of triathlon, I have spent many hours “going nowhere on the trainer” but in the past 3 years it has become increasingly difficult to do this with any regularity and intensity. Or at least the same amount that would produce positive and effective training results. This revelation is not only demoralizing (as you feel like a big sissy), but it is also a bit concerning.
“Why can’t i just suck it up?”, “Do I not have the same drive as before?”, “Am I losing interest in triathlon?”, “oh god, if I lose interest in triathlon, now what!?”, “Why am I losing interest in the sport that has meant so much to me for so long?”….and so on.
You can see how potentially this thought spiral can be a bit scary and a bit worrisome. However I do find that I can reassure myself that I still love the sport, I love the idea of making your body do something crazy hard, just for the fun of it and I love that it serves as a platform for showcasing abilities rather than disabilities. I just can’t seem to push myself in the off season or on the treadmill or trainer; like I used to.
Granted, I’ve achieved a lot of the gaols I initially set out to, when I first started racing: I completed a triathlon, a 1/2 Ironman, a full Ironman, I went faster, further, etc. So do I not have goals anymore? No, I have lots of goals still. Well then what has changed?
What has changed, came on a late afternoon, in October 2008 in Kona Hawaii. I got off my Cervelo, handed it off to a volunteer and was immediatley handing over a piece of my freedom, my independence, my FUN. NOTE: This is not and will not be a sob story from hear on out, so keep readin please!! You see, by handing over that bike (like I knew I would be doing), I agreed that I no longer saw well enough to race solo, and it certainly wasn’t going to get any better. Therefore I made the responsible decision to end my solo triathlon career and become officially a Paratriathlete. Sure I could have probably squeaked out a few more rides, but when to say when is the question. I decided to go out on the Big Island and true to my word have never ridden a solo bike again.
It is hard to explain to people that YES I am visually impaired, and NO I wasn’t being unsafe in Kona, I was just being proactive and “body aware” in the sense that I knew the vision was getting worse and would soon be at a dangerous point. Sure enough by spring 2009, it was at a point where solo riding would have been a bit sketchy.
So what is the point? The point is that despite buying a tandem, finding Syd (a triathlon guide and ultimately a great friend), triathlon had lost something to me. It lost SOME of it’s fun–not all, but some. At first it was not as evident becasue learning to ride a tandem, swim and run tethered, race tethered, were all new and exciting and fun. After a year or so of that, it is still fun, still exciting, actually more exciting then my entire solo career….but it has lost a bit of it’s fun.
Let me explain… when I race as a Paratriathlete I think I am actually having MORE fun then when I raced solo. For one thing, I dont’ have to constantly worry about why I’m NOT seeing. Nothing is scarier then wondering what you are not seeing. Am I not seeing a hole? (yup that had/has happened often), Am I not seeing a person? (that has only happened maybe once), Am I not seeing a curb, debris, pylon, stick, car, trailer, pole, rope, chain, fence, tree, mailbox? (well, yup, that has happened more time then I can count). So racing as a Paratriathlete with a sighted guide, and training with guides actually makes this stress a lot less, therefore racing more fun.
Notice I did not say it makes “training” more fun. Training as a Paratriathlete with a sighted guide makes training safer, but it has occured to me it doesn’t “necessarily” make it more fun. NOTE TO ALL MY GUIDES!! I LOVE YOU ALL AND YOU ARE ALL SUPER FUN PEOPLE, THIS IS NOT A SLIGHT AT YOU, PLEASE READ ON TO UNDERSTAND WHERE I AM GOING WITH THIS!! THANKS:)
You see, when you raced solo, I had the scary aspects during races, when there was unfamiliar places and lots of people, however when I trained solo, I was usually in familiar spots with fewere people and it felt fun–training and triathlon felt fun!! Sitting on a stationary trainer was just a misery that “we all had to put up with” because soon enough I could go out and ride just like all the rest. When you become “unsafe” to be out by yourself and you rely on the stationary training apparatus like the trainer or treadmill, you can’t mentally trick yourself out of the boredom by saying “ahh, suck it up, you’ll be outside in a day or two, and everyone else is doing it too.” This trick doesn’t really work anymore, becasue you know you won’t be outside like everyone else, riding or running at the drop of the hat. You must rely on your wonderful guides to come rescue you for your stationary chains (which they all do so wonderfully at–thanks very much), but if for some reason they cannot rescue you, or your schedules don’t match or you just can’t make it work–you don’t have any alternative…you are stuck “going nowhere”.
It is a bit tough te explain because able-bodied athletes still have to suck it up on occasion and sit inside spinning away, but they always have that mental trick that says they can break the chains and get out almost anytime they want. Becasue they have this mental “option”, they can keep training FUN.
As a visually impaired athlete, training can become WORK!! You sit, bored to death, frustrated and unmotivated to push hard becasue you feel cheated. When you have no guides to help you (i’ve pretty much been there), the torture is terrible, not to mention that it leaves your selfless guides feeling guilty for saying “no i can’t help you today”. This is somethign you never want to happen; you never want to make those that help you feel guilty, as I now have a solid roster of wonderful guides to help me along the way. Sometimes though you can’t make it work and you are stuck.
So as I sat spinning away, I realized that my motivation comes from the fact that I find my “work” factor overwhelming my “enjoyment” factor because my mind is left with few to no mental escape options. It is “sit here, spin away, sit here spin away…” and eventually the mind says “forget this, this is not fun and if this is all the options you are giving me? forget it!!”
As I sit spinning away, I am also filled with appreciation. I have been at a point in my life where there were almost NO mental escape options, no people to even call to ask for an escape; I at least have a list of some willing participants to help me escape to the world of fun once again.
To thse wonderful, helpful souls, I say thank you!! When your training feels more like a prison sentence and you feel the fun slipping away, it is tough to find reasons to keep going. Getting out to train and having somebody understand that it isn’t just a “yay look at me, I’m outside” kinda play date; that it is actually my training day, something that I require as an athlete to improve, well I thank you. I would also like that tell you that it is never ok for you to feel guilty for not being able to come and rescue me because it is not your job/responsibility to take on that burden, you are being selfless and helpful as much as you can and in now way do I begrudge you for saying “no, not today”.
There is actually not a lot that I miss about my solo racing days and I truly try to avoid being envious about others who can just “get up, get out and go for a run” on a whim; however if I had to pick something that I miss the most, it would have to be the fun of having that mental escape so readily available to bail me out of a funk when I’m not feeling motivated. I am very much enjoying my new career as a Paratriathlete, I just need to find more ways to find those mental escapes, realize I am not chained to the stationary apparatus forever (maybe just a bit longer/more often then most) and have fun in training again.
It is comforting to come to that conclusion however, as facing questions of “do I enjoy triathlon anymore” –when I clearly do–is a bit unsettling.
Assess the situation, adapt to it the best you know how, then just keep moving forward!
Sometimes I just need to take my own advice!
To all those that read this all the way through, thanks!! Don’t stress those statrionary chains you have this winter, use those mental escapes to keep you motivated and maybe think of trapped in my tower, sweating away while you are out running!! I may not mind a knock on the door to see if I can come out for some fresh air!
Triathlon is a wonderful sport, a wonderful lifestyle and has wonderful people in it—just sometimes you get tired of feeling like the blind hamster!!
Keep chuggin’ everyone!!!:)