March is here. It’s been months since I’ve written anything on this blog. I feel guilty. Not just because I haven’t followed through on my commitments to myself but because, as ridiculous as this might sound, I feel as though I’m letting down “my readers”. I mean I said I was going to pursue these goals and write about it along the way. Unfortunately, there just has not been much to write about in the way of goal fulfillment.
Triathlon training has, so far, been pretty non-existent. These first few months of the new year have been busy and stressful in ways that have just not been conducive to exercise for me. Add to that the whole winter thing, and there you go. I have been downhill skiing quite a lot with the kids (probably close to 30 times this season), which has been great, but I can’t kid myself that this has done anything for my cardiovascular fitness. Bottom line (i.e. confession): I’ve run outside twice since the start of the year; “worked out” in a gym (stationary bike or elliptical) eight times, and swum not at all.
As the days and weeks have passed by, I’ve vacillated between feeling panicky (the triathlon I’m hoping to do is now only five months away) and reassuring myself that there is still plenty of time to make this happen. As my once distant goal grows closer, images of swimming in the open water of a large lake, surrounded by other swimmers, flash through my mind, and I know with cold hard certainty that this will be an incredibly scary and challenging event for me, mentally as well as physically. Then I think about coming out of the water and hopping onto a bicycle to ride 22 miles. And then getting off the bike and, groan, running for 5 miles. Riding a bike and running are not frightening in the same way as swimming in a lake is. But, at this point, it’s still a pretty huge leap for me to think about doing these things in quick succession and in any way competitively. Somewhere along the line, in my hazy vision of how this may all go down, the concept of “just finishing” the event creeps in. “I’ll be happy if I just finish it.” I’ve heard people say this a lot when preparing to participate in an athletic endeavor. Sometimes these people are fairly good athletes (fitter and more experienced than I am, at least). I’ve never really bought the idea that people want to “just finish”. In my mind, this is kind of a face-saving statement used to lower expectations and pressure. Not that there is anything wrong with that! But I think most of the time people, in their heart of hearts, want to do more than “just finish”. However, what that means to them (which they may want to keep to themselves) is going to vary a lot from person to person. The individual, perhaps unspoken, goal may be based on past performance, looking at other people’s times in similar events or, perhaps, just some arbitrary bench mark that seems suitable to strive for. I’m more likely to think in terms of finishing in a “respectable” time than “just finishing”. Of course, what’s “respectable” is also going to vary widely from person to person based on their abilities and expectations for themselves.
For me, respectability has often hovered around the magic number 12. For running, this means an average time of less than 12 minutes per mile . For biking, it means averaging more than 12 miles per hour. I realize that these are terribly humble goals and, at times, in the handful of organized biking and running events I’ve participated in over the years, I’ve thrillingly exceeded these benchmarks. But still, the baseline of my personal “respectable” time, hovers in the back of my head as something achievable that I will be satisfied with — and which, based on past experience, will probably not put me at the very back of the pack in a mixed field of participants. Because, let’s face it, being last is something that nobody wants to be.
This brings me back to the idea of “just finishing”. Could this be a helpful concept? Right now, “just finishing” paints a picture of literally crawling across the finish line, like Wile E. Coyote after he gets blown up and then falls off a cliff and then smashes into a rock wall and is flattened. But could the image of “just finishing” or simply “finishing” be transformed into something more triumphant? Could I really let go of ego and expectations and comparing myself to others and feeling embarrassed and just do it? Whatever that might mean. And finish. And feel good about it. Hmm… Interesting questions to ask. I don’t think I have the answers yet. But I do know one thing: If I don’t get my ass in gear and start doing something, even “just finishing” may be a lofty goal! With that in mind, I plan to report back, no matter how mundane the report may be, in a week, to detail what I’ve done. Hold me to it, OK?
Let me know what you think. What’s your approach to motivation, finding a finish that makes you happy, and the mind game of meeting hard goals?