Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Something to do this summer, other than read

This summer, consider doing a triathlon. Don't just say no, you snack-addicted, book-reading couch potato. I may not be the first one to have suggested such a ridiculous thing. You may even have your excuses ready (no bike, can't swim, can't count past two, etc.) Anyway, I said consider. Bear with me while I make my case. (And, yes, this has something to do with books.)

Often people promoting triathlon participation will cite the health benefits. It strengthens your heart, they say. It makes you lose weight. It gives you energy, improves your sleep, aligns your skeletal frame. Those things are all true. And they are good reasons to consider doing a triathlon. Especially if you need to lose weight. Or are low on energy, or have a mal-aligned frame.

But I think there are deeper more important, more philosophical (ok, self-helpy) reasons for doing a triathlon. I'm talking Triathlon as Metaphor for Life. I'm saying training for three sports can teach you how to live.

Five lessons from triathlon that you can take with you into the rest of your life:

  1. We're all in this together. Say you take me up on my suggestion. You start training. Pretty soon you'll meet other triathletes and you'll find they're the most encouraging and helpful people around. They'll invite you to run with them. They'll share their favorite sport drink recipes. They'll tell you what races to avoid. They'll give you tips on everything from pedals for your bike to the best running songs for your playlist. In my first triathlon I blew a tire early into the bike leg and had to pull off to the side of the road. I couldn't believe how many people stopped to offer help, fully ready to sacrifice their own race to give me a hand. And, you know what, people like that are out there all over your life. People want to help each other. It's crazy, you forget to look for it and then you don't see it and you feel cynical. Triathlon teaches you to be aware of others generosity again. It can restore your faith in humanity.
  2. You're out there on your own. So plenty of people were ready to help me fix my tire, but no one was going to pedal my bike for me. Training or racing, triathlon puts you out there, testing the limits of yourself. No one can get you up the next hill but yourself. No one but you can take the next stroke, the next step and the next and the next. It's up to you. You push through or you give up. You finish or you don't. No excuses. No one to blame. It's just you. I don't think I need to spell out the parallel to life.
  3. Mostly, it's about showing up. Some things, like writing a novel, or rebuilding a car, or programming a computer are complicated tasks full of little sub tasks and setbacks and special challenges. It's easy to give up before you've even started, deciding it's all just beyond you. The nice thing about triathlon is that the work to train for one is pretty straightforward. Swim. Bike. Run. That's it. Do enough of each of those and you'll do fine on race day. Skip a lot of training and race day is going to hurt something fierce. All you have to do is show up, and do the work. And if life gets in the way and you can't do all the work, then that day you just do half. Or a quarter. But you do what you can every day. That's what commitment is. It's what gets stuff done. In fact, it's all that does. If you remember what you learned in triathlon, then that novel or computer program or car can be approached in the same way. You do it, what you can, each day. And then you get somewhere.
  4. You need balance. In life it's fun to have obsessions. To, say, strive to watch every single episode of every Star Trek series in succession in chronological order until you're through them all. But obsession taken too far is addiction. It ain't healthy. It ruins your life. Trust me, I'm still recovering from that Star Trek problem. You need balance. Triathlon is a perfect simple example of that. Spend every training minute in the pool and you won't be able to run or bike worth dog doo doo. Spend all your time on the bike and you might drown before you even get a chance to show off your ride. You can't do just one thing.
  5. "Triathlon" is spelled with just one "a." I always used to think it was t-r-i-a-t-h-a-l-o-n. But it's not. You can keep that one as your free gift, even if you don't do a triathlon this summer.
If this has you intrigued and you want to give the sport a try, there's a book you will want to read. (Told you we'd get around to books.) The absolute-a-plus-top-drawer-head-of-class book for beginning triathletes is Eric Harr's Triathlon Training in Four Hours Week: From Beginner to Finish Line in Just Six Weeks. Harr's book is encouraging, inspiring, and, like this blog post, a bit philosophical, but most of all it is both deeply informative and entirely straight-forward. It will calm your nerves by answering every question you might have about triathlon. (Like, for instance, how do you change your clothes between sports? Do you just get naked? Spoiler: no.) It has training plans and preparation lists and illustrations for everything from how to take care of your bike to how to perfect your freestyle stroke. It got me through my first triathlon, and , in so doing, made me a better person.

Just consider it. All I'm saying.


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