My husband is a multisport coach. The other day he was putting the finishing touches on a presentation for a group of women who are new to the sport of triathlon and he ran a few of his key points by me. He startled me when he said, “Triathlon is not a diet.” He went on to say that you can watch what you eat and you can, and should be, mindful of nutrition, but you need to fuel your body. Dieting and training hard at the same time is a sure-fire way to ensure poor performance, risk injury, and feel an overall sense of fatigue.
Triathlon is not a diet.
For about six years I was a racing maniac. I ran two full-marathons (26.2 miles) the year I turned 40; I ran seventeen half-marathons (13.1 miles) in five years; I competed in eight or so triathlons and duathlons in six years. I had convinced myself I was racing for the sport of it – the challenge of it. Sure, that was part of it. But I was really training (you know, all the work you do before race day) to stay skinny. When I finally understood that the reason I was able to maintain a size 2 / 4 and a 120-ish pound frame was because I was constantly training (and sometimes getting injured), I lost my zeal for racing. That was not the motivation I wanted to race. I wanted to train (it’s the journey, not the destination, right?) to be healthy, to be fit, to clear my brain, to feel alive.
I stopped training.
This spring I slowly started moving again. Slowly. I took long walks in the middle of the day. I felt my legs get stronger and my head was clear when I resumed working in the afternoon. I enjoyed easy morning rides on my road bike. I soaked in the rising sun and scenery and felt strong and alive. My walks morphed into jogs and eventually I was running again – and enjoying it. One morning I had such a solid run that I wondered how it might feel to transition directly to my bike for a second workout to see what my legs had in them. The fact that it was cold and pouring rain didn’t stop me. The solid double-workout nudged me back to something I have always loved. Multisport workouts.
This summer I am training for a duathlon (run-bike-run), versus a triathlon. The training required is more reasonable because I can roll out of the garage on my bike or lace up my shoes and run out the door and not worry about finding the time to drive to a pool or the Sound for a water workout. My husband is helping me think through my training to make sure I have solid workouts in which I can measure improvement over the next few months but we’re not doing anything too crazy, like targeting a better time than my last duathlon (when I placed first in my age group – that is so not going to happen).
My focus is on the training, not the actual race.
My focus is to avoid obsessing about my weight.
See, after just a week of solid training my clothes started to fit differently and I found myself on the scale. I had lost a handful of pounds in a short amount of time. I was back on the scale the next day. And the next. After a year of weighing myself only once a month I was back on the scale daily.
Losing weight – watching numbers creep down on the scale – is seductive. It can be addictive. I found myself reverting to some unhealthy ways of thinking:
- “If I just drink liquids until dinner I could drop another couple of pounds this week.”
- “If I skipped starches or grains at dinner I could drop even more.”
I’m shocked by how quickly those feelings can return. I pushed back. I fed my body and soul with healthy foods. I enjoyed sweet potatoes with black beans for lunch and brown rice with my tofu and vegetables for dinner. I refused to get on the scale the next morning.
Sure, I may naturally drop a few inches or pounds as result of increasing my exercise – that’s fine and a good thing if that’s how my body naturally responds to elevated physical fitness activities combined with a nonrestrictive, balanced diet that includes the five key foods I know are essential for my healthy vegan lifestyle: vegetables, fruit, beans/legumes, grains, and nuts and seeds. Or I may not drop any other pounds at all - my husband reminded me that my weight could actually go up as I gain muscle. Just one more reason to ignore a ridiculous number that does not measure my health and fitness.
Triathlon Duathlon is not a diet.
My racing challenge isn’t the training or crossing the finish line. I know I can do both. The challenge is to avoid being seduced into chasing skinny again.
My challenge is to remember that I am happy. Right now.