I had a reader send me a question- “Triathlon training is so hard. How do you stay motivated?” This seems like such a simple question, at first. Of course, I have a support network that keep me motivated. My father, my fiancé, and my friends are always supportive of my journey. Then I also have all the wonderful people who read my blog and who send me encouraging messages. On a day-to-day basis, during my swim, bike, and run work-outs, I depend on myself. I do not train with music because I cannot race with music (as per USAT rules). I am stuck with my own thoughts, which can be my worst enemy. At first, I usually experience a lot of negative self-talk: “I’m too fat for this,” “you’re embarrassing yourself,” “you’re not an athlete.” I need to keep myself motivated to push though those thoughts and keep to my training schedule. So when the negative self-talk starts up, I try to go through the list of what motivates me.
These are a few of the things that keep me motivated… Maybe some of them will speak to you and your journey too.
I constantly visualize what it will be like to be at the swim start of my first Ironman triathlon. I try to picture myself getting ready to embark on a 2.4 mile open water swim. I imagine what it will be like to be swimming with 3,000 triathletes, each with the same dream––to become an Ironman. In all honesty, it scares me… but that’s not a bad thing. I need to do this for myself. I think it is important to “keep your eyes on the prize,” and remind yourself what you are training for, and why. I am becoming the kind of person who sets big goals and big dreams, and achieves them. I felt overwhelmed crossing the Finish Line at my first (sprint distance) triathlon… I can’t begin to think what it will be like to cross the Finish Line at an Ironman race. This is a long-term goal, but I think about it every day. I will get there.
I stay motivated by relishing in the feeling of accomplishment that comes with the training required to become a triathlete. I feel myself becoming stronger each week. Each week I am able to run a little longer, and a little faster. I am able to cycle a little longer, and a little faster. I am able to swim a little longer, and a little faster. I have already come so far from where I started. When I started this triathlon dream in August 2013, I wasn’t able to run the length of one block without feeling winded. I could hardly bike for more than 15 minutes without wanting a break. I may be much heavier that most of my friends, but I am just as proud of myself in my training sessions. I am accomplishing the same goals as my thin(ner) counterparts in the sport.
My health and recovery from having an eating disorder are a huge motivating factor in keeping me focused on my training. Training and completing triathlons is helping me improve my overall physical and mental health. It also tests my mental strength… Often during a run (which is what I struggle with the most), I need to push myself mentally to do what I feel is physically not possible. Each time I overcome a seemingly impossible task, I become mentally that much stronger for the next one. It may be “cheesy,” but this goes on to apply to my day-to-day life and struggles. When a situation occurs that is difficult and emotionally taxing, I resort to knowing that, in the past, I have felt the same way and overcome it. A clear example, of course, was entering recovery from bulimia. I had lived so many years with an eating disorder, that I simply didn’t know it would be possible to live without one. I relied on my eating disorder to cope with difficult emotions, exercise a feeling of control in my life, and to “survive” the complexity of growing up. I also became obsessed with everything related to my eating disorder. I memorized foods’ caloric information, kept a thorough track of what I ate, weighed myself multiple times a day, and would go to sleep and wake up thinking about what I would or wouldn’t eat the rest of the day. Overcoming such an exhausting, overwhelming way of life was by no means easy. Neither is training for a triathlon. I like to draw a parallel between these two experiences. Both felt impossible at the start… were difficult to get used to… but were overcome nonetheless. And just how I still struggle with eating disorder thought patterns, I still struggle with some training sessions. It is a delicate balance between accepting that I will struggle, and allowing myself to know I can surpass it.
What else motivates me? The challenge that there are people out there who, for whatever reason, say I “can’t” do it. Maybe it’s because of my weight, or how “slow” I am, or because they don’t “see” me as an athlete (yet). The truth is–I’ve already started this journey and nothing will stop me until I reach that Ironman finish line. I am motivated by the opportunity to prove those people wrong. I want to dispel the myth that fitness is determined by the size of your pants, or how good you look in a bikini. I want to ruin people’s idea of “health” and what can or can’t be accomplished at my weight. I want to change the way those people conceptualize what an athlete looks like. Some people even insist that if you are in recovery for an eating disorder, you could never do something like this that requires so much focus on eating and training, without relapsing into old behaviors and obsessive patterns. I will get out there, for as long as it takes, to continue being living proof that I am an athlete and you can be too. I will be a role model to women of all sizes and anyone recovering from any kind of addiction, that you can turn your life around and rediscover what it means to live.
Part of what draws me to become an Ironman–and I believe anyone who wants to do an Ironman will agree–is the awe and respect the sport inspires. The Ironman consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run… which must be completed in under 17 hours. This can be an all-day event. Imagine… having to be swimming, biking, and running for 17 hours consecutively. This requires a huge amount of dedication, time, effort, training, commitment, and pain. By the time I cross that finish line, I will have pushed my body to it’s limit, and then asked it to do more. I want to test my physical and mental strength, and this is the ultimate test.
I am also motivated by all the e-mails I get from readers, friends, and strangers who are inspired by my journey. When I started this blog, I expected only a handful of people to ever read it. My blog has grown tremendously and I am humbled and blessed by all the message I receive from readers who can relate to my journey and my struggles, and who share their own life stories with me. I allow myself to experience difficulties in my training and in my recovery, while simultaneously allowing myself to believe I am strong and courageous, and worthy of love and respect. When I am on a difficult run, or having trouble convincing myself to eat a meal, I scroll through those e-mails and messages and remember that I am not alone. I have an army of supporters behind me now. And no matter where you are on your journey, I am there for you too. The triathlon community, as well as the eating disorder community, is a big family that will back you up and pick you up and push you along when you need it. I could not do this journey without the unconditional support I have received from my family, friends, and readers. If you are struggling, reach out. No one’s path is a paved road; we all have our bumps along the way, and that’s ok. I can not say it enough–thank you for the support, acceptance, and strength you have all given me… it is invaluable. And for that matter… regardless of what you are struggling with or overcoming, never be ashamed of your story; later it will inspire others.
Lastly, this journey is a long path to acceptance. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I sometimes still hate my body. When I go out for a run and the weight on my hips feels like it’s dragging me down, my head wants to tell me that I’m not cut out for this sport. Sometimes I still get caught up in thinking that all of this would be easier if I “temporarily” (there is no such thing) resorted to my eating disorder behaviors in order to lose the weight faster. Every time I have to pull my body through water, push my body for miles on the bike, or carry my weight through a run, I am practicing acceptance of my own body. Self-love can be arduous, and most people never achieve it. I do not fully love my body yet… But I am learning each day to do that more. This body…this very body that I still criticize…has already completed a triathlon. It’s not longer a matter of “Can I do it?” It is now “I AM doing it.” I don’t have to be thin(ner) to become a triathlete. At my current weight, I AM triathlete! The more I train, progress, and overcome the challenges of training and completing triathlons, the more I realize that I don’t give my body enough credit for what it does for me already. I am learning to love myself, completely, accepting myself exactly as I am right now.
I love hearing from my readers. What inspires you? What motivates you? How do you convince yourself to keep going when you start to struggle? Comment below or, if you would like to reach me privately, use my “Contact” form on the “About Me” section up above.