giving triathlon another tri: woodstock recap

Good morning strangers!

Lately, I’ve been busy with starting my summer job (as a camp counsellor, my days are filled with dodgeball, swimming, and huckle buckle), prepping for a sport history conference in Colorado this weekend, getting ready to move next month, and enjoying the warmer weather as much as possible. My bike shorts tan is coming in quite nicely, in case you were curious! Last weekend, I put the playing in the sun I’ve been doing to the test and gave a triathlon a go in Woodstock, which is only 45 minutes away from where I live and seemed way too convenient to pass up.

It’s been two years since I’ve thought about bricks, open water swims, and wetsuits and since I tend to get nervous take myself too seriously, the weekend was one filled with butterflies for me! I’ll give you a brief recap of the race.

Swim (750m/18:39):
The water at the conservation area was only 61 degrees, which of course made me question my sanity and that of all the other people who paid good money to willingly dive in. In hindsight, a trip to some open water and a swim in my wetsuit before the race would probably have helped me out. I spent the first half of the swim trying to remember how to sight, wondering how the people on their backs and doggy paddling were keeping up with me, and forgetting that I am a comfortable swimmer. This photo, which I swore I’d keep to myself but which I hope will make other people feel better about the bad race photo that always seems to crop up in the mix, sums up how I felt coming out of the water (for the record, I didn’t cry):

me

Bike (20km/41:33):
The bike course was pretty straight forward and flat and riding in the morning meant there wasn’t too much wind to fight with. I usually enjoy the bike part of the race the most and try to pass as many people as possible. This time, I didn’t get ahead of very many people but I was mostly passed by men on fancy bikes so I knew I mustn’t have been doing too badly!

Run (5km/26:46):
Like I said, it’s been a while since I’ve done a lot of running off the bike. I never really had a problem with it–I think I mentally decide that I’m warmed up and that “all that’s left is the run”–but I have been running slowly compared to the pace I’d like to be at lately. With that in mind, I just decided to take the simplest advice a friend ever gave me when it came to the run: “Go so hard that you wan’t to quit but then don’t let yourself.”

Transitions:
The transitions in a triathlon are never my strong suit. I can usually be found conversing with someone in the transition area (it’s important to talk to someone else who is similarly casual or risk pissing off someone in their zone), forgetting to take my helmet off as I head out on the run, or having a snack. I’m sure this approach isn’t helping my times, but I’m also not at the level where it really matters all that much!

me3

Going into the race, I had my secret goal of what I wanted to do it in. I didn’t make that time. I did, however, make it in the time I told myself I’d be happy with. The results are online but my overall time was 1:30:03. I kept flip flopping between being proud of myself for getting back into the sport, frustrated with myself for being on the 6th page of 8 results and not as fast as I was before, but as the week’s gone on and I’ve done some looking back on how my triathlon results went the last time I took up racing, I’ve realized that what I’ve done is given myself a fine starting point. Like this article about having a “bad” race suggests, you need a race to get you back into the swing of things sometimes. I forgot how hard to go during a race because it’s been a while and while I really wish I’d pushed harder, I didn’t know how I’d do with a race and all three things in a row again.

1

I’m also being careful not to compare myself too much to my past times because I’m in a different place now. Triathlon was good for me when I was dealing with my body image and eating issues–anything that let me see my body for what it could do and not just what it looked like was helpful–but I started at a time where I was still not exactly in a healthy place. Two years later, I can appreciate that I’m in a better place physically, mentally and emotionally. I’ve got my hormones back somewhat in order and have a regular period again. I don’t rely on exercise compulsively and more than ever use it as a way to de-stress instead of something to stress over. I’ve made time for other things–people and interests–in my life. I’m in a relationship–with a boyfriend who got out of bed super early on a Sunday for the race and made for a good looking cheerleader.

brent and i woodstock

Speaking of people, there were a handful of my friends and people I knew from when I was doing a lot more triathlons and duathlons doing the race on Sunday, and even more volunteering and helping out. That was comforting and I was pretty glad that I had friends who know what they’re doing to help me with my wetsuit and to answer all my last minute questions so I wouldn’t look like an idiot! My friends, along with Brent, who cheered for me whenever I ran past them, probably don’t realize how much more fun it is when there’s people who know your name cheering you on.

All of these things make a mediocre finishing time not such a big deal. I got to spend the morning surrounded by healthy, happy people in the sun, exercising. I’m not sure what would be better, except maybe if I got a shirt and some food after. Oh wait…

I’m also certain that the rest of the summer will only see things moving in the right direction. Next up on my agenda, after Colorado (and I’m hoping to rent a bike there!), are some longer bike rides-Pedal to the Pines and lots of time on my bike getting psyched for my tour next year–and another sprint distance triathlon at Guelph Lake in June!

Are you a triathlete?
How do you deal when you’re feeling “slow”?
What is your favourite part about racing? 
Are you doing any events this summer? 

appreciating exercise (or why I’m ready to bike across the continent)

The other day, I was biking with a friend of mine and we got to talking about how training time—biking, running, swimming (she’s a triathlete friend)—gives us a way to destress. When she said something about how exercise has always been her way of keeping herself sane, happy, and healthy, I couldn’t agree more. There’s something about heading out for a bike ride or a run and getting to be outside, without your cell phone attached to you, with some space from the rest of what’s going on in your life, that’s oh so freeing.

More generally, I think exercise is a great way to destress. Letting it all out in the weight room. Processing thoughts in the pool. Thinking things over on a hike. These are all ways that exercise can give us that much needed break and time to just be in our bodies.

However, for a while, exercise was a source of stress in my life.

First: Am I doing enough? I should do more. This was the name of the game when I was really struggling with my relationship with my body and experiencing my eating disorder.

Then: Am I doing the right kind? I should do it all. Even through recovery, I’ve found that it can be a difficult balance to master: exercise is a place where I can learn what my body is capable of and where I have the opportunity to just experience it for what it does, not just for how it looks, but it’s also a loaded area where there are so many messages about what we “should” be doing.

But I’ve learned along the way that when it comes to deciding whether or not something is good for us, things aren’t always black or white. Going on a long run for one person might be about getting out and experiencing their body. For another, it might be about burning off a binge. We celebrate people who are dedicated to their recreational pursuits and sometimes we can go too far—for the average person who trains for health or just recreation, training through an injury probably isn’t necessary and seems counterproductive. It can be a slippery slope if you’re struggling with why you exercise—the compulsion is hard enough to kick, but add in acknowledgement from the world around us when we do come across as “hardcore” and things get even tougher.

That being said, I think it’s important to talk about how exercise, even for people who have struggled with compulsivity in the past, can be a part of taking care of your body. Our bodies are meant to move so learning a relationship with our bodies that allows us to exercise in life-affirming, health-building ways is essential. With so many messages about exercise as a way to control weight, it can be hard to flip the switch: exercise isn’t punishment or just about changing the way your body looks. The number of articles I’ve seen about quitting running because it’s not going to make you skinny just reinforce the idea that exercise is only about weight—it’s not. Running has other benefits—the mental ones I talked about at the start of this post, the other physical aspects that have no reflection in our body composition.

Exercising, in my opinion, is about using our bodies and keeping them moving in ways that feel good and that are enjoyable. It need not be complicated or intense. It shouldn’t come loaded with feelings of guilt and compulsion. It’s simple: exercise should make your life better—your physical, mental, emotional, and maybe even spiritual health (if you’re into that).

love your bod

If you’re a regular reader, maybe you’ve checked out my bucket list page. On it are some things that I’m making good on these days, namely biking across the continent. I didn’t really elaborate on my page, but ever since I wrote an article for Canadian Cycling Magazine in 2010 about a man who rode across the US and fundraised for brain and spinal cord regeneration research (he raised $26 052 to be exact), I’ve had biking across the continent in the name of eating disorders awareness on my long term to do list.

So, that’s why I’m uber excited to be planning this fundraising ride across the states. I’m sorting out the details now, with plans to donate the money that I raise to Hope’s Garden, the eating disorder resource centre in London that helped me so much. When I decided to ask for help with my eating disorder over five years ago, I used the Hope’s Garden website to find myself a therapist. I went to support groups throughout my recovery on campus and at Hope’s Garden itself. The Awareness breakfasts and special events that the centre offered kept me learning, committed, and passionate about my recovery. It seems only fitting that I do this in their name! My plan is America By Bike (the same company the man I interviewed used) and their “Fast America” tour in April of next year: 33 days, 3 457 miles, and a whole lot of awesome. I’ve been talking with Hope’s Garden (the woman in charge there makes me even more excited about all of this) about fundraising and setting up a donation page, looking for sponsors, and getting the word out about what I’m doing—and why I’m doing it.

cross country

If I hadn’t taken the time to think about what exercise means to me and to get my relationship sorted out with why I work out, I don’t know if biking for 33 days straight from one ocean to the other would be a healthy choice—my mindset of more is more is more in the past would certainly be raging. But I’ve earned back the right to bike my butt off by putting in the work and getting healthy. I had a good talk with my therapist (part of how I stay committed to myself and my health) about this. She (re)assured me that years ago, this wouldn’t have been a great idea. But given where I’m at now and what I know about exercise–I see it as a place to challenge our bodies and then to really appreciate just how much they’re really capable of–I know that this is one heck of an opportunity to focus on what my body’s capable of. It’s hard for me to think about how my thighs are looking in my biking clothes once I’m out the door and riding, and I trust more and more that the less I worry about how my body looks as a result of the exercise I do, the more I enjoy activity.

Like I said, I think it’s important to—and I’d like to serve as an example of someone who’s been able to—find a healthy relationship with working out that will keep us moving, happy, and healthy throughout our lives.

Stay tuned!

turn dreams

 

What kind of exercise helps you appreciate your body most?
What’s one item on your bucket list that you’re ready to make good on?

Is an eating disorder a forever thing? On “struggling” and committing to recovery

It’s been a very long time since I’ve blogged. I trust that I’ve been missed. I may not have been blogging, but I have been thinking about things to blog about (the blogger’s blessing, perhaps?). One thing’s on my mind lately…

To this day, I can remember sitting in my doctor’s office, telling the new nurse practitioner about my history with my eating disorder. In the midst of my recovery, I filled her in on my background and recovery progress. While she applauded that progress, she said what still makes my throat close up when I think about it:

“You know that you will always struggle with this. It will never go away.”

At the time, I think I just sat there quietly, trying not to cry. I may have blogged about this before, but as of late, it’s been coming up for me again. Last week, I was reading a story about a cycling acquaintance from London, Andrew House, whose story regarding disordered eating I only had an inkling of (you can read his whole story on the London Free Press site). In his teens, his eating disorder had gotten really serious. He now rides successfully and serves as an example of recovery in action. A quote from him in the story hits home with the topic I was getting at earlier:

““Eating disorders are definitely on the rise,” House said, “and to see someone who has been through the whole process, it gives them a lot more hope. Society tells them they’re going to struggle the rest of their lives, and I tell people, ‘oh, no, you can do it.’””

Amen to that sentiment!

This all got me thinking: what is it about being told that “you’ll always struggle” that irks me so much (personally and when I hear about it being said to other people)? I can only speak from experience, but I know that when I have a slip, the best thing someone can say to me is first and foremost that it’s okay. The next thing I need to and want to hear is that I will be able to get back on track and that it doesn’t mean that I’ve failed at recover or that I’m doomed to struggle for the rest of my life. The last thing I’d want to hear is that their relapse is to be expected given who a person is. Minimizing a stumble to put it into perspective in the grand scheme of things (there are ups and downs in recovery, obviously) or to make it okay (I don’t think falling down is anything to be ashamed of, provided you get back up) is realistic. What I think people need to be careful of is what we make it mean about a person who is in recovery or recovered.

“You will always struggle with this.”

No. No, no, no, no, no, no. Did I mention “No”?

There might be people out there who will struggle for a long time. But this isn’t the same as suggesting that a person will always struggle because that’s just the way they are. Interpretation of that sentiment? This is a permanent part of you. Alternatively, my stance on eating disorders, a la Jenni Schaefer, is that an eating disorder is not a person’s identity. Separating from ED, like Jenni advocates for, was a big part of what helped me get healthier. Hearing even the suggestion of the biggest fear I had in my recovery—that I wouldn’t be strong enough to get better no matter how much work I put in because the eating disorder was who I am—is like being kicked in the stomach.

I believe that if we put in the work, we can leave eating disorders behind. This is what makes recovery worthwhile. My eating disorder taught me a lot about myself. It has made me who I am, but it is not–and never was–who I am. The things that contributed to it—let’s say perfectionism, dedication to a goal, determination, stubbornness, for instance—make up the person I am—and those things are not necessarily bad. It’s all in how you channel those parts of yourself, what you learn from the things that challenge and try you, and who you make of yourself.

I’ve been reading for fun in my little break from school and the first book I pleasure read was “A Life Without Limits,” Chrissie Wellington’s book. This lady is an example of someone who took her personality traits that may have predisposed her to an eating disorder and turned them into something that made her seriously successful. From bulimic to a world champion, I’d say there’s an example of someone who wasn’t okay with “struggling” for the rest of her life. Along with her, there are plenty of examples of friends and people I’ve met through my blog and in my life beyond the interwebs who have left their eating disorders in the past.

Even when we have a slip, that doesn’t confirm somehow that we are doomed to always have issues. A relapse, actually, can serve as a perfect chance to see just how much space we’ve put between us and our old ways. I know if I start to notice myself thinking or behaving in an unhealthy way nowadays, it drives me batty because I know just how far gone I am from the days where it was all ED, all the time. The struggles get further and few between. And further. And fewer. And I trust, because it’s the only thing that keeps me going, that sooner or later, they’ll be all done.

it gets better

Committing to recovery is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. If I didn’t think it was possible, no lifelong struggles to come, I don’t know if I’d be able to be where I am today. I hope that I can serve more and more as an example of someone who has left their eating disorder in the dust and won’t settle for partially recovered or almost there. I’m putting my black and white thinking to use here and saying that it’s recovered or bust for me.

What do you think about the idea that you will always struggle if you’ve had an eating disorder? Comforting or damning?