Thursday, February 16, 2006

Why Tri?

I have wanted to try a triathlon for several years now. I have never been a very athletic person. This is partly because my family was never into sports and thus never encouraged me to participate in organized sports and partly because I attended a very tiny primary school that did not offer any organized sports while I was in attendance. I did play a lot of kickball, softball and tag football during recess, but rarely in a sustained and practiced way. The only exception to this was a brief period in junior high when my school joined a softball league. We were horrible. We lost every single game. This was not a promising start in school athletics.

By the time I was in high school I was significantly overweight and very weak for my size. I remember dreading PE where we would run around the field. I absolutely hated it. For me it was probably the worst aspect of high school. With all the horrible experiences that can occur in that vulnerable time, this is saying something. Years later, I learned to appreciate it and am glad that the school forced me to get the exercise that it did, but at the time, I found it loathsome. In high school I did have very brief fantasies of joining the wrestling team and even toyed with the idea of playing badminton, but I was so out of shape I was too embarrassed to ever really try.

By the time I was a senior in college, my six foot frame weighted over 235 pounds. Prior to that time, I had never really tried to diet or exercise, but a good friend of mine, Susanne, invited me to go swimming with her at the college recreation center pool. It was a great pool. It is probably still the nicest pool I have ever been in. It used ozone to sterilize the water, so it did not reek of chlorine, and it was nice and long, so you could get really long laps without interruption. It was also usually empty which was a plus. It also certainly did not hurt that there were always pretty co-eds sunbathing around the pool either. I enjoyed my time at the pool, and swimming with Susanne quickly became a regular activity for me.

I never lost much weight from swimming, but it certainly made me feel better. I noticed that my body was more toned, and I felt significantly stronger. I decided that more exercise was really what I needed, so I started jogging in the mornings before classes. At the time I lived in a rural area along the central coast of California, and while I cannot say that I ever really enjoyed pounding the pavement, the experience was made more pleasant by the beautiful scenery. I would run along back roads winding through shallow hills alongside fields of horses and livestock grazing. I slowly became more competent and began running farther and farther. The running and swimming, along with eating better, helped me to lose 20 pounds.

Another friend of mine at the time was a semi-pro cyclist, which gave me the idea to add cycling to my exercise routine. I figured that by adding cycling, if I kept at it, I could eventually do a triathlon. This goal seemed a far fetched fantasy to a person who never really exercised significantly his entire life, but it would give me a goal and focus to all this exercise. I went out and bought a used road bike, the one I still use to this day. I eventually could ride to the ocean and back, a distance that previously seemed impossible to me. Admittedly it was only about 20 miles, but it was huge accomplishment for me at the time.

I really enjoyed having a goal and feeling the accomplishment of moving toward that goal. Training also gave me a feeling of mastery over my body that I had never felt before. I have accomplished many goals that required the use of my brain, but for the first time I was developing real discipline over the entire self, body and mind. This gave me tremendous satisfaction. I had serious difficulties at that time in my life, such as serious financial problems, and a long drought in romantic relationships, yet I had my friends and my health, and I remember it as one of the best times of my life.

It all ended when I move to Los Angeles to go to graduate school. I was attending the University of Southern California, which just does not have good exercise facilities for students who are not on a team. I later found out that UCLA is the same way. The facilities suck. Nor were there much in the way of alternitives. I could not afford a membership at a gym with a decent pool on my meger graduate student stipend. It was also difficult to find places to ride my bike. Before I carried my bike down the stairs from my apartment and off I went into the hills. Now that I was living in a slum in Hollywood I did not feel safe to ride my bike on city streets. Between the homeless people lying on the sidewalk, the gangbangers staring at you, the potholes, gravel, and uneven pavement everywhere and the drivers that really could not care less about your safety I was taking my life into my hands every time I went out on the road. I did not have the money to keep my car operating to drive to decent cycling lanes. I still tried to run, but inhaling car exhaust became too much for me and eventually that too passed.

Years later after getting married and gaining over 60 pounds I decided to start training again. I was inspired by an article in Men's Health magazine about doing a triathlon. It brought back all kinds of good memories of my days training in college, and I decided to go for it. Unfortunately, I was a law student at the time. When finals came around I was a wreak, and I simply could not keep up the training. I started up again in the summer, but I had lost too much time and was not able to be ready for the triathlon I was training for. Frustrated, I quit striving for a trithalon. I thought just simply exercsing for health would be enough, but that never lasted for long. I have tried to start training since then, but I guess I never really fully committed myself. This is probably because I did not believe in myself and also partly because I did not want to set myself up for another failure.

Now I am trying again. What is different this time? My life is more stable now. I am no longer in school. I am working as an attorney and thus have more resources. I am married and have a daughter, so my home life is more stable as well. I feel that most of my life is really successful, but one area that is totally out of control is my body. I have cycled between 260-280 pounds for the last 5 years. I owe it to myself and to my family to take better care of myself. It seems that I have tried every diet under the sun, and in doing so I have learned a lot about my body and about nutrition. But I have also been beat down by repeated failures. What I have learned about myself is that it is mastery of my body that I am truly lacking. I am under no illusions. Training for a triathlon is not a magic bullet for my weight problems, but finishing a triathlon would be a transforming experience for me. I feel that it would give me confidence in what I can accomplish, introduce me to a more active lifestyle, and would enable me to get in much better physical health regardless of my ultimate weight.

Why a blog? Part of the reason that I never was able to keep training in the past was that I allowed obstacles to weaken my commitment. By announcing my intentions to all my friends and really to the world I hope that it will solidify my resolve and give me motivation when my commitment is at its lowest ebb.

That is why I Tri.

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