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Triathlete Blog

Stay The Path

I want to be fit.

I know I don’t need to be fit.

I want to be fit.  And I want that fitness NOW.

I know I just had a baby 5 months ago.

I know that I’m 41 years old.

I know that my big races are still many, many months away.

I know that I should be patient.  Stay focused on the process.  Not measure my progress day to day.

As a coach, I know all of that.  But as an athlete, I want fitness.  Not in a few months.  Not tomorrow.  Today.  Too late – YESTERDAY on that run where I was shuffling along at x:xx pace.  Again.

Some days, my two year old daughter walks around the house shouting: I NEED SOMETHING!  She frantically searches around for something, anything, that thing which will satiate whatever random, impatient need she has.  She grabs a toy piano.  A dry erase marker.  A baggie.  Clutching the item to soothe her anxiety about whatever it is two years olds get anxious about.  Like most of us, she needs things for security.

Right now, I need something.  I need my fitness.  But like my daughter doesn’t need a baggie, I don’t need fitness.  However, I might just feel better if I walk around with a baggie.  Just in case.  Just in case my fitness runs by and I need to hold on to it should it try to escape me.

The other day, I was out running.  The weather was perfect for faster running.  High 30s.  Overcast.  First workout of the day.  I found myself running along slowly.  Thinking to myself: honest to god, how can I still be THIS slow?  Did it take this long last time around.  I check Training Peaks.  Comparison is the quickest route to frustration.  You’ll never be as fast, good, effortless as you were in your memory.

(so why do you obsess about it?)

I kept running.  And got to thinking.

What if I were fit right now?  What the heck would I do with that fitness?  Lay it all out here on this path for who to see?  How would that fitness feel?  Amazing, yes but I’d feel over-confident, dare I even say invincible.  I’d win training.  Worse yet: I’d get complacent, perhaps stop working or managing my details.  Do I really need any of that?  What’s the hurry towards fitness anyways?

Sometimes Coach Liz talks to Athlete Liz.  She looks in the mirror.  Fedofsky (I talk myself in the maiden-named version of myself & use a voice a-la Jen Harrison), get a hold of yourself, you don’t need to be fast.  Stop chasing your fitness.  Let it come to you.

The problem with starting over again this little word:  comparison.  It’s poison to the process.  I find myself comparing where I am now to where I was last time around.  Am I ahead?  Behind?  A few days ago, I was listening to the Rich Roll podcast in which he talked with his own coach, Chris Hauth.  Rich was embarking on his own journey to compete again after some time away.  Hauth in his slow-roasted, calming voice reminded Roll as he started out on his new journey to avoid chasing the former version of himself.

Spectacular advice for anyone come back from injury, baby or simply moving forward in life (you know, aging).

Having done the sport since 1999, there are many former versions of myself: new athlete Liz, twentysomething Liz, thirtysomething Liz, pro triathlete Liz, child-free Liz, one child Liz, etc.  Each of those segments of my life had many magical athletic moments.  I realize, too, that I left some of my best memories and best splits in my early 30s.  I realize I may never touch some of my PRs again.

What keeps the fire burning, then?  I think about this every day.  As I sit faced with the choice of getting on my bike or taking an afternoon nap with the kids (a temptation that can often be very real, friends), I have to look inside and ask myself – why bike?  Why run?  Especially when I find myself pedaling at lower watts, running at slower paces.  Can I find the process of putting in the miles and building fitness as rewarding as the outcome?  Even if that outcome doesn’t get close to the outcomes before?

Often I just need to set myself in motion.  Getting started is the hardest part.  But once in motion, you tend to stay that way.  The feeling of swimming, biking and running is – for the most part – the same.  I let my mind wander to those brief, fleeting times each year when you’re find yourself with amazing fitness.  I remember a few year ago, towards the end of the summer, swimming laps at the quarry and feeling magical.  That feeling where everything is effortless and comes easily.  Telling myself bottle this feeling up because you know it’s fleeting.  I work all year for that feeling.  It feels that good.  That powerful.

A few days ago, a Training Peaks notification can into my inbox.  An athlete had completed her run workout.  Uploaded her data and filled in her post-activity comments:

I’m waiting for the day when I will unhitch my wagon.

I told her to be patient.  To trust that when she needs to the fitness, it will be there.  I could have written the email to myself.  I’m also waiting.

Fitness will come when you need it.  Often not a day sooner.  It will sneak up on you, be that competitor running right on your shoulder, breathing.  Matching your steps.  Enticing you to take it up a notch and trusting you can handle it.

The road to get to that point is a long one.  And it’s not a straight path.  There will be ups and downs, detours and dead ends.  But give it time.  It won’t be easy.  It will be worth it.  And, perhaps my favorite piece of advice ever – one that grounds me in life, work and sport daily:  stay the path.