Friday, September 6, 2013

Physical Health and Wellness

Four years to nineteen months too late, I am now prepared to write about the physical health pillar for my undergraduate reflective writing assignment. During college, other than getting enough sleep and maybe eating some fruit every once in a while, I really did not care. I was relatively sedentary, but that worked for me. My diet was not as atrocious as the average college student, I walked a lot on a daily basis, and job-related duties provided some strength workouts. Oh yeah, and there was that one semester of ultimate frisbee for my physical activity credit. Needless to say, writing reflectively about my physical health, my goals for it, and how it had changed during college was a pretty difficult task for me, in spite of my love for reflective writing.

But I'm ready now.

As addressed above, I was not very active during college. Earlier in my life, I had been an active soccer player - from peewee league at age four to the oldest sector of the recreational youth league when I was sixteen. Throughout those years, I also participated in a gym co-op group for homeschoolers, so I played a lot of kickball and capture the flag, as well as other more traditional sports like basketball, soccer, handball, and so on. I also swam in pools over the summers and swam in the ocean almost every other year. Somewhere along the way - probably when I stopped running and started playing only goalie in my soccer league and definitely when I no longer played soccer - I got chubby and fairly out of shape. I grew to hate running and avoided it whenever possible. I tried playing tennis during the summer, but I also grew to hate the heat and I regularly used this as an excuse. I also started to dislike the competitive nature of most physical activity - even though I enjoyed competition in and of itself, I hated losing. Later on, thanks to the job I had during high school and college summers, I gained some muscle from stocking shelves and taking out the trash. I considered myself relatively strong.

Then I began biking. It started as a necessity that I did not take seriously. During the late summer of 2011, I biked to work a few times (on my mom's ill-fitted mountain bike), which was about a 3 mile round trip. A mile and a half in one direction was a struggle. I have always enjoyed biking. I biked a lot on my culdesac when I was much younger (prior to age six) and biked a few times on the local rail trail. I even had every intention of biking during my freshman year of college, but my mountain bike sat outside for eight months and instead died from an irreparable rust infection. Even so, I did not bike more after that.

That is, until the May 2012, immediately after I graduated from college. My boyfriend at the time was super into bikes and training for a Half Ironman and he encouraged me to be active and advised me to start with biking. So, I went back home, dug out my mom's ill-fitted mountain bike, and started riding on a fairly daily basis. I was back at my job working close to thirty hours per week, so I would ride in the mornings before work or ride to and from work. I started with three miles for a few weeks. My mom got worried because I slept all the time, but clearly, my body was not used to this unbearable amount of physical exertion. I started to do four or five miles, then six. Around the end of June, I visited my boyfriend and received the Surly Pacer road bike he had put together for me. I kept riding six miles on a regular basis.

On August 1, I moved for graduate school and began conquering ridiculous hills. I bonked SO many times. I biked eight miles nearly every afternoon and I could clearly remember when a mile and a half seemed impossible. Once classes started, I was fortunately able to keep up with my biking because the first semester of graduate school was incredibly easy. Toward the end of September, I found a weekly group ride to participate in and I did my first twenty mile ride. I was spent. Sometime in October, I got my SPD clipless pedals and shoes to match. Not accustomed to being attached to my bike, I fell on my first few rides with clipless, did one group ride without falling, and then fell a few more times. That, in combination with the increasingly cold weather, I quit biking. I was mad at my bike - she had betrayed me and let me fall. It was less about the falling and more about the feeling of incompetency. I was not a cyclist and I never would be a cyclist.

Over the winter, thanks to some encouragement from those close to me, I spun every once in a while at the gym. And then I started running. I may never understand what possessed me to try to run, but I will always be glad that it did, whatever it was. Sometime during the middle of the previous summer, I had attempted to run and barely made it a quarter of a mile before turning around, feeling extremely discouraged at how unfit I still was. Since then, I have learned that morning runs are not my thing. Anyway, I ran during the winter months, starting with a mile or a little more and sometimes running more than two and almost three. One day, at the gym, I ran a solid three miles on the indoor track. How far I had come!

After getting back into my routine for spring semester, I rejoined the weekly group rides. The first twenty mile ride of that season kicked my butt. How much progress I had lost! Thankfully, it was easily regained, thanks primarily, in my opinion, to the fact that I maintained my cardio health and some of my endurance by running. My boyfriend, still interested in the sport of traithlon in spite of his Half Ironman DNF, encouraged me to consider doing a sprint triathlon. I held it as a theoretical goal, but never really took it seriously. One of my last group rides of the semester was twenty-six miles, my longest bike ride up to that point. Twenty-six miles!

Over the summer, I lost a lot of progress and ran or biked only occasionally. I did some long rides and had some good runs, but was frustrated with the backsliding of progress I experienced.

On August 1, I again moved for graduate school and quickly got back into a routine of running about five times per week and doing some long bike rides with new biking friends. Then my parents visited and my mom showed me this cool booklet she got of activities to do in the surrounding area. Under the section for sports and competitions... under the section for September... there it was...

Sprint Triathlon.

I quickly grabbed my computer and tried to find details about this event - when and where it was, how much it costed, and if I could register. The only information I found was for 2012. Disappointed, I gave up. On August 27, I contacted a woman I knew through the group rides to ask if she knew anything about the event. She pointed me to the event website for the 2013 Sprint Triathlon and I registered immediately.

I registered on August 27. The event was on September 2. A mere six days away. What had I done?

The next day was my first ride of the semester with the weekly group, due to the previous weeks being cancelled due to rain. I was the only female and most likely the youngest. All the boys wanted to do the twenty-eight mile loop, so I tagged along. I struggled through the most incredibly painful foot cramp I had ever had and forced my willpower to not let me bonk on the long, steep hills. It was an excruciatingly taxing ride, but I managed to achieve a 15 mph average pace. I was frustrated and again felt like I would never be a cyclist, but I was also encouraged and felt that I would always cycle. The boys also offered some good advice on preparing for the triathlon, as far as when to rest and when to warm up.

The following day, I went to the gym to estimate how terrible of a swimmer I was. The swim portion of the triathlon was listed as 250 meters, so I swam two sets of 250 meters, the first in five and a half minutes and the second in six minutes. I stayed in the pool for forty-five minutes - getting used to my new goggles and practicing different strokes and breathing rhythms.

On Friday, I was spent, I had been planning to do a short run that evening, but I had wasted far too much of my energy in the pool. I also took Saturday off, although both days were filled with a fair amount of hiking. On Saturday night, I got a sore throat. Now I would have to do my first triathlon sick! On Sunday, I biked for thirty minutes to loosen my muscles in preparation for the following morning. I got my race packet that evening, went to the park where the event would be held, and studied the routes as much as possible. The lake for the swim route looked disgusting, the bike route was hilly, and the running route seemed extremely long.

I will write fully about the experience of triathlon as a whole at a later time, but for now, I just want to talk about the fact that I did it. With the listed distances of a 250 meter swim, an 8 mile bike ride, and a 4 kilometer run, I was estimating my finishing time as an hour an a half without transitions. After the race, the participants discovered that the actual distances were closer to a 400 meter swim, an 8 mile bike ride, and a 5 kilometer run. Including transitions, I finished at an hour and twenty-three minutes (1:23:09, to be exact) - third in my age group and sixty-fifth overall.

And I still remember when biking three miles took me nearly thirty minutes.