ATP: Avalanche of Tedium and Pain

Good lord a year is a long time. The idea of doing anything for a whole year seems just impossible. I know it’s not–I mean, novel writing is kind of an endurance sport–but when I try to think of where I will be in my life in twelve months things start to get blurry.

However, you simply have to plan that far in advance for some types of events, using plans that aren’t easily broken down further because they build on work in sequence. A marathon you can kind of train for in a few months, but an Ironman really is a full year commitment, if not longer. So keeping that in mind, I kind of finished my Annual Training Plan by following the magic book I found in my laundry room, called The Triathlete’s Training Bible. It’s pretty clear about what needs to happen. I think if I followed it exactly, I would be able to finish an Ironman.

But then, I already know I won’t follow it exactly, because life happens. So…yeah. I’m just accepting that now, so I won’t be able to use small setbacks as an excuse to give up. I’m pretty sure even with setbacks, I’ll still be able to finish.

There’s a reason we often think of this kind of planning as navigation rather than a recipe or blueprint, because when you’re navigating, if you know the end goal, you can move around obstacles in your way. I’m trying to think of the “Annual Training Plan” feature of Training Peaks as a navigational tool, not as an overwhelming avalanche of tedious and painful workouts I am committing to now. Because if, for example, I got another opportunity to go to Greece, I’d say screw the cycling in a heartbeat–can’t take a bike with you–but I’d still try to keep up with the running and swimming while abroad. And that’s not a bad thing; it just means that I know that Ironman is a really big goal this year, but it’s not the exclusive goal, and it ranks below finally hiking that damn gorge.

I feel like the annual goals I wrote down are a little unusual. For one, I know I can do better than “just finish,” but I don’t know how much better, so I just said “Complete a full Ironman at a reasonably challenging time for me, to be estimated later.” They’re all kind of like that, because I have repeatedly sold myself pretty short.

I think my biggest goal is actually counter-intuitively to NOT let the idea of racing become an all-consuming passion. I’ve been thinking a lot about the activities I really love doing, and then looking at what happened when I decided to run a marathon. Like, who has time for kayaking when you’ve got that many miles on your plate? Is Zumba wasted time when you could have been running? It’s a fine line between wanting to beat your own best time and destroying the things you enjoy. The whole point of all this is to be happy, and some people really get happiness out of suffering…I just am not one of them.1 I really like the structure of training for something, and I genuinely want to do my best at these races, but my best in terms of time and my best in terms of “best for me” are clearly two different things.2

Moreover, I really do believe there should be room in all pursuits for amateurs who behave like amateurs, who do something for the love of it. It’s the same argument I have about writing: you don’t have to be a professional writer for writing to be worthwhile. Training “as hard as you can” shouldn’t necessarily be the mark of being committed to something, or of getting something out of it. Training to meet your goals, within the broader context of your life goals, is a much more reasonable and healthy pursuit.

So, this week, I’m figuring out how to apply that logic to the balance beam of obsessive excellence vs play. Odds on me writing a blog post in six months that starts, “So hey, this is burnout!” are…pretty damn high. But maybe this is the year I learn the meaning of moderation. You know, by doing that most moderate of pursuits, an Ironman triathlon.

  1. This is actually a little complicated. You can learn to love certain kinds of suffering, like the physical ‘pain’ of exercise, or spicy foods. But sometimes, when I hear people talk about training for this type of event, it’s like they’re stuck in a job they really hate, or love to whine about. That’s what I’m trying to avoid. In truth, nothing makes me feel more successful or privileged than spending four straight hours at my ridiculously fancy gym which is a completely insane luxury, and when I catch myself whining about it, I try to recognize that I’m adopting a language that represents an attitude I really dislike. We all stumble, but yeah, I try to catch myself and contextualize my own grumbling.
  2. This, I think, is what my brain has been meandering around: these two ways that time is tied to this kind of sport. It takes a huge investment of time, the purpose of which is to reduce race time. There’s just something quirky about that, something my brain wants to understand more fully.