When I was fourteen, my parents twisted my arm until I signed up for high school track. They said “it will be a good way to get in shape for swim season,” and as a freshman in high school I didn’t know yet that I didn’t really care about being in shape for swimming. I had grand dreams for being the best breast stroker on the team. When I relented and joined track, I thankfully had enough self-awareness to not become a distance runner, like they wanted, and instead chose “mid-distance,” running 400 and 800 meters.
The problem with track? Running. Running is terrible. Sometimes when I run, my teeth literally get a cramp like I just stuck them into ice cream. I think dark thoughts. God saw fit to bless me about three weeks into track season when I felt my left ankle go a bit on a two mile practice run. It got worse to the point where I was limping from class to class for a day or two.
My golden ticket of tendonitis got me out of almost the rest of the season. Now, was I hurt for really more than a week? No. But after my injury, I “benched myself” for about two weeks, came back to practice and rode stationary bikes while everyone went out on their runs, and only really came back to the team full time for the last week or so of practices. Technically I never quit.
I kept swimming though, and I liked it. When I was a senior in high school a friend decided that she, Henry, and I should sign up for the Elkhart Lake triathlon and do it as a relay. “We can handle the Olympic distance,” she said.
So that was how I signed up to do a mile of open water swimming in Wisconsin in June, and Henry got roped into about 40 kilometers of biking (on a mountain bike).
We were wildly unprepared, but we completed the race. And for the rest of the day, we got to walk around different graduation parties with our number sharpied onto our arms and calves. We felt like champions.
And it was remembering that feeling that in March of this past year, before the most hectic summer of my life, that I decided I wanted to do another triathlon, all by myself. While students of mine took a long test, I thought about my training plan. I would download one of those walk-run apps and build up to a 5k. I would get a Y membership and get back to swimming. I would even find a bike somewhere and learn to ride while hunched over (thanks Dad). As you can probably tell, I am very motivated by competition. Without an extrinsic goal, I find it really hard to actually commit to exercise for more than a week.
So I signed up for the race – September 15. Plenty of time to train and prepare.
Training started off…slowly. I spent the first week running a maximum of five minutes a day – just to see if I could make it. After that, I did the walk/run training schedule that was much more walk than run.
But then June rolled around and I spent more time in the car or in Wisconsin than I did at home. By this point, I was getting better at running (as in, I can run for about five minutes at a time at 4.5 miles an hour. Low bars). My crowning achievement came when I was staying at my parents and actually ran for 20 minutes without stopping.
It is really amazing how tiny achievements that literally only you care about can motivate you to keep going. Can convince you that you are competent in what you’re doing. That 20 minute run that I came home and proudly declared to my parents could not have meant less to them or my siblings (except in relief that their 23 year old daughter was finally exercising). But the next day, I ran for 22 minutes. Then 24 minutes.
I came back home to Columbia, and Henry started to join me on runs. Our little neighborhood is just over a mile if you run around it once, and so we would measure our pace in laps. Some days, we did two laps. Four times, we did a full 5k. When Map My Run told me my pace was under a 10 minute mile for the first time ever, I literally fist-pumped the air. I was riding high.
June 13th sent me back to Wisconsin to get ready for the wedding, and the morning of the 15th my brother Ian (former Cross Country star) and I went on a two mile run. Right after we turned around to go back, I felt a twinge. My ankle. A beloved physical therapist confirmed when I got home: tendonitis. Just as I was starting to like running, starting to get good at it, the same injury that I used to get out of track had come back.
My ankle still hurts a month later, but I have been focusing on the other two events in the race: swimming and biking. My hope is that if I go overboard (see above picture) on training for those (which don’t put pressure on my ankle), my body will be at least physically prepared for the triathlon itself.
I really never pictured myself doing anything athletic in my life. I certainly never thought I would actually miss running in the mornings. But I know that my twenties are the time to really invest in my health (and when you have a health history like I have you really shouldn’t need much more motivation than that). I hope that doing triathlons becomes something I do throughout my life, or at least I find some kind of exercise that engages me enough to pursue health for health’s own sake.