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Having officially ended my first triathlon season, and being the introspective guy that I am, I figured it would be good practice to look back on the season and glean what lessons I could from triathletic endeavors.  What astounds me is that approximately one year ago I was just starting my foray into the triathlon world, not knowing what was to come nor the successes and failure that awaited me.

I think the biggest observation I have regarding the past year is how truly insane we are for taking on these challenges 🙂 I love it!  I’ve always been the crazy one – wanting to push farther, faster, longer.  I had accepted my role as the “go big or go home” guy, even when I knew that led to exasperation in the best of times and outright annoyance at the worst.  You can’t imagine my relief when, as I became more immersed in the triathlon/endurance community, I found a group of nut jobs just like me!  In all seriousness, though, one of the greatest blessings of the past year is finding a place where I felt that I was and am accepted for all of me, crazy idiosyncrasies and all 🙂  There is such a strong sense of community and family in the endurance community, and it permeates every race, every tweet, every blog.  There is encouragement and support and a kick in the ass when you need it!

It was right at a year ago when I signed up for my first triathlon, a half iron race in Galveston with Team in Training.  I remember my first “real” swim (where I actually tried to use form rather than flailing about).  It was a disaster.  In that moment of struggling to make 50m and can still feel the frustration of not excelling.  I remember at the end of the lap standing up, closing my eyes, taking a deep breath, and going again, this time focusing on being on top of the water (although I really had no clue what that meant).  I close my eyes now, and that instant juxtaposes with the thrill of coming out of the water in Louisville, where I swam the best race I’ve ever had (not hard given the circumstances).  The swim is still a challenge for me.  I have big goals for my swim next season (and for all three disciplines).  I think, of all three disciplines, the swim is the best metaphor for life.  You can’t stop swimming, in fact you are either swimming or you are drowning 🙂 Life keeps coming.  There are no coasts, no standing still.  You have to keep pushing, keep treading, keep breathing.

LIkewise, I remember that first ride on my bike.  As an aside, isn’t the best thing about triathlons that it is a reconnection with our childhood?  Think about it, swimming, biking, and running were the best parts of childhood.  Going to a pool on a hot summer’s day.  Riding that bike with no hands feeling the wind against your skin.  Running until it felt like your lungs were going to burst, taking that next breath, and shooting like a star across the yard/playground.  That’s how I felt my first bike ride.  I couldn’t help but laugh with joy at that feeling.  It was as if with one more pedal stroke I would actually start flying.  Like my front wheel was straining to let go of the ground and carry me around the world!  On the worst training days, I still get that feeling.  On the best, you better watch out! 🙂

And running, oh running.  Growing up, it was always a frenemy of mine.  While in the sports of my youth, it was used merely as conditioning or punishment and I never truly understood the cathartic/therapeutic gifts it just waits to give.  We all know the feeling of that first run after taking a break for a while, and when I strapped on the vibrams for the first time a year ago after taking several years off it was painful.  It was slow and it was short, but it was a run.  Aside number 2, if you put one foot in front of another, you are a runner.  Please don’t let people look down on you because you run slow or you don’t run over 5, 10, 20, 26.2 miles.  YOU ARE A RUNNER!  The struggle for speed and distance regardless if you are an elite or a back of the pack run/walker is what makes this community great.  We all travel the same roads and feel the same pains.  When we are lucky, we find those people who run with us.  That’s why this community is so great!  And sometimes we find that zen.  We take out our iPods and just listen to us and the road.  We feel the ground under our feet and feel connected to the earth, to each other.  We hear our breath.  We feel the burn.  We high five each other.  We hold each other up when we feel like collapsing, like crying.  We run out our pain, our anguish, our frustration, and in the moment we are done, when we feel the runner’s high (and when we don’t) we know that we’ve connected a little bit more with ourselves.

I don’t know what I expected this post to be, but I guess it’s turned into a little more of a love letter to the endurance world than a mere reflection on the last year.  But I like the word reflection.  Maybe that’s the truth that is found in going through what I’ve gone through in the past year.  From DNFing in Louisville to finishing Redman and every failure and success in between, I’ve been able to see myself a little more clearly, warts and all.  That’s ultimately what will bring me back next year and the year after that and the year after that.  Struggling makes me stronger.  It helps me grow.  Succeeding gives me courage to take control.  It helps me keep going.  And failure forces me to confront my fears.  It gives me the strength to get back up off the ground and harden my resolve.

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