You have to think different. And it challenges you like no other sport I've ever played.
Basically, as you all know, there are three disciplines to triathlon, but you have one that tends to be a strength and one that tends to be a weakness. For me, swimming is my strength, and not because I'm that fast or anything, but because it just feels comfortable. I don't worry about the swim that much. That's not to say I've never had a rotten swim, because I have. But it's just where I feel the most comfortable.
Almost all of the triathletes I've talked to will say, "Yeah, my weak leg is running....or swimming....etc." Very few athletes in the world will probably be able to tell you they have NO weakness out of the three sports. I would venture a guess that even the Peter Reids and the Michellie Jones' of the world might say that one of the disciplines is, at least, not their favorite.
But it's exactly this reason why the sport is so intriguing to me. Like life, you only improve if you work on your weakness. You are only as good as your weakest link.
For me, that is cycling.
I can't explain why it's my weakness--it sounds pretty ridiculous to my non-tri friends. "How hard is it to ride a BIKE?" they ask me, jokingly. I dunno. It's just the slowest part of my day, and the part that I worry about. This is a double whammy, because it's where you spend the most time in every tri. I joke that I wish I could lengthen the IM swim, and take a few miles off the bike--that would be a great TriSaraTops IM. Ahhhh...no such luck.
But life's like that, too. Things would be perfect if schools had plenty of money to pay me what I and all other teachers really work for. Matt would have a wonderful, stable teaching job. There would be no need to go to war at all, and we would use only clean fuels to run our cars and.....the list goes on and on and on.
But I don't run the world. And I don't set the course for triathlon. So you roll with the punches, and you do everything you possibly do to step OUTSIDE of your comfort zone to improve it.
For me, what good is it gonna do if I swim my tail off and come out of the water exhausted that day and then don't make the bike cutoff because all I did all summer was ride flat stuff and swim 100 repeats on 1:20?
That's just dumb. It would be fun, until of course I hit T2, but that's dumb.
So I know over the next 2 months I have to spend a lot of time on my bike. Less time in the water and running. That blows. I love swimming, and I love running. But I need to remember what will get me to that finish line.
Case in point: the wedding this weekend, although tons of fun, really put a damper on my training. I was running around from picnic to rehearsal to ceremony and had to bump my long ride to Sunday. I tried to find someone who could ride with me, but alas, they all did it Saturday.
So now I had to do my longest ride time-wise (not mile wise) as of yet ON HILLS. Alone.
40 minutes from home, because that's where the hills are.
Here we go. Outside the box.
It's scary to go outside the box, you know? I was dreading this all weekend. But I printed off a nice 16.8 mile, hilly route from my coach's website and she even typed "VERY CHALLENGING" at the top of the map. Oh boy. What am I doing? I should just ride near home. I don't know if I can do this alone. Taped it all nice and neat to my aerobars, and I was ready to go.
Except for one thing. The roads I needed to start the ride on were at the bottom of the hills. Which meant that last week's thunderstorms and the subsequent flooding forced the police to SHUT DOWN THE ROADS.
What do I do?
I should go home. This sucks. I should just ride on Route 6 for a long time. I don't know where I am. I'm alone.
Well, sometimes you gotta suck it up and do it. So, I told the whiny self to shut the hell up, and started to make my own route.
Yeah, that's it. I'll just make my own loop so I'm not too far from my car and keep riding until I hit my time.
WOW. The hills were tough. The first loop was very very very slow. But on the biggest climb, I didn't have to walk, and passed (or should I say crawled) by 5 different bikers walking their bike up the hill.
Little mental trophy #1.
Then, on the way back to my car, I realized almost that entire road where I thought there was just one steep hill and the rest I was just slow, was really a hill almost the ENTIRE WAY UP. Several MILES. Wow. That felt good to know.
Little mental trophy #2.
And the second and third loops were tough, don't get me wrong--but I felt stronger. I went a little faster, even though I was getting so tired. I felt a little bit more confident.
And I finished this ride. Nothing to write home about speed-wise, but I covered a decent amount of miles and a LOT of climbing. Does it feel like swimming 1000 yards in a pool, or running a 10K? No. I don't know how many years it will take me before it feels like that. But I don't direct the course, and I sure as heck don't run the world. And I do know, that if you want to get ahead in life, you have to reach outside of your comfort zone. That's it. No easy way, and no shortcuts.
I ended my ride alone, just like I started. But a little bit stronger, and a little more confident. And a little more ready.
Part of my ride today was inspired by Su and Rob, who I knew were out there feeling probably more pain than I can imagine, and who were challenging themselves and reaching outside of their comfort zone in a way I'll find out about soon enough. Congratulations to them both--they ARE Ironmen, and they are an inspiration! I can't wait to hear all the details.
In the meantime--get out there and step out of your zone. It's scary, and sometimes it really sucks. But it makes you stronger, even if you don't want to admit it.