This weekend held three firsts for me. One was my first at-speed insect-swallowing incident while out bike riding.
Ew. A protein shake would have sufficed. Nearly had a sting in the ear too. Perhaps these mishaps go along with my second first: cycling on a road bike. A bright yellow one at that. Check out my gratefully borrowed steed:
I announced the intention to do a triathlon on my blog last summer. I haven’t talked about it much on here since – other people’s exercise is pretty dull, really – but I can’t help myself today, because of my third first: feeling officially excited about doing it.
I’ve spent the winter steeling myself for road rides on my sluggish mountain bike, and doggedly trudging to the local pool twice a week, alternating struggling for breath with struggling against my inner giver-upper: “Why the hell did I take this on, why can’t I just stop, I’m never going to be able to do this, why am I so crap.”
But this weekend I told the gremlin where to go. Flying along like a yellow she-devil knocked down the last-but-one hurdle to feeling like the event is do-able. Cycling on roads CAN be fun and I CAN go fast. I nearly laughed aloud with glee at the difference this skinny whippet of a bike made. It was like swapping a 2CV pulling a tractor for a Ferrari. Well, maybe that’s stretching it, but you get my drift.
But what was the final hurdle you might wonder. A very female one, I’m embarrassed to admit: what to wear.
I’ve been having mild what-to-wear panic attacks as I’ve started to think through the practicalities of the event. Wear a sports bra under my swim suit and then add cycling shorts over the top? Could that look any less attractive? Short and crop top combo? Not for this Mummy-tummy.
I solved the problem this weekend. I succumbed to my first tri-specific kit purchase, a tri-suit. This one here, in fact, at a vastly reduced rate I couldn’t possibly turn down. Yes, it means I’ll be in all-in-one lycra (time to ease up on the cakes and pies), but at least I don’t have to worry about silly combinations or changing clothes.
The trouble is, each of these advances limit my ability to excuse a poor show on the day. I have kit that shouldn’t take me too long to transition between the three disciplines, I have a bike that shouldn’t hold me up. Goddamn, it’s all down to me and my mental battles in training and on the day. The giver-upper gremlin’s perfect hunting ground.
The gremlin has been with me throughout my life, particularly for physical challenges. I like exercising, but only to a point. If it ever gets beyond that point and actually gets hard, the gremlin wakes up and spends really quite a lot of energy trying to convince me to stop. Is it just me that does this? I hope not. I risked sharing this weirdness with a friend and she told me her husband has a similar gremlin, which made me feel a bit better. Weirdness shared is weirdness halved and all that.
In learning to swim front crawl for this event, I’ve realised it’s a really, really long time since I put myself in a situation where I genuinely can’t do something and struggle hugely to learn. It’s not easy. Duh. Statement of the obvious. But experiencing in practice what you intellectually know in theory still feels revelationary, even at nearly forty years old.
Do children feel a similar way about all the things they learn from scratch? It’s so easy as an adult to avoid situations that truly push you. You almost need to seek them out – life can get stuck in a comfortable groove very easily, which feels, well, comfortable.
For children, by contrast, doing and learning new things is life. How brilliant is that – new experiences and discoveries being your daily life. We adults could learn from that. Maybe one New Year’s resolution each year to do a completely new, out of comfort zone thing would do it.
I read an article in Red magazine recently about a well-being theory called ‘flourishing’ from an eminent psychologist, Martin Seligman (apparently he’s a positive psychology guru). He thinks it’s no longer enough just to consider human happiness, we need to consider four other dimensions to life fulfillment and wellbeing on top of positive feelings: our engagement with the people and world around us (our flow), the quality of our relationships, finding meaning and purpose in our lives and accomplishment of goals we set ourselves. Each element has to satisfy three criteria: it contributes to wellbeing; many people pursue it for its own sake (not just in pursuit of other elements); and it can be defined and measured independently of the others.
I like this idea – fulfillment and life satisfaction is about more than feeling happy. Do I feel happy when I go swimming? No, mostly not, I still find it hard work and nowhere near as pleasurable as running or cycling, but it is satisfying because it contributes to achieving a goal and makes me feel proud of myself for doing something hard.
Making choices I can feel proud of, doing hard things, positive interactions with people, helping a friend, being a good parent and a good partner – these are things that make me happy with who I am. I know it’s a teeny tiny small thing next to the realities so many people face in the world, but taking on this triathlon is contributing to my ‘flourishing’.
Of course I haven’t actually completed the event yet, nor indeed the training, so the gremlin has plenty of time to do its worst. It’s a tad late for a New Year’s resolution, but, nonetheless, I think mine is to build an enormous mental mallet that bashes the hell out of the gremlin as soon as it appears. Without it on my shoulder who knows what I could be capable of.
Ps If you’re interested in the theory of flourishing, check out Martin Seligman’s talk about it on The RSA , or this Guardian article, or this excerpt from his book. . Or buy the June issue of the UK’s Red magazine.