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August 5, 2011

Somewhere along the line I’ve picked up a set of unhealthy expectations. Not that I hold other people to, but rather that I hold myself to. I expect to compete with people who have trained for years. With people who are 50 pounds lighter and have no health problems. With myself from 15 years ago.

On Friday mornings I swim with a master’s group for a sprint workout. An hour in the pool but a lot of speed drills and sprinting. I’m usually in the “not the slowest” lane. This morning we ended our long course workout with 8 x 50 in IM (fly, back, breast, free) order. In high school and year round swimming butterfly was my stroke. Mostly the 100 fly, but also the 100 and 200 IM. This morning I managed to do half of a length of butterfly before switching to freestyle for the rest of the lap. I was disappointed and frustrated that a stroke I used to do so well I couldn’t even manage a full 50.

After about 10 minutes of frustration I realized that I was comparing myself to the 17-year-old version of me. She swam 6 days a week for at least 2 hours a day. Right now I am only swimming about 3 hours a week. I’m not swimming as much as I did in the peak of my swim shape, plus I’m some number of years older and I have a full-time job. Oh yeah, I’m also training for two other sports- biking and running.

This pressure also extends to comparisons with the people who I train with. I feel like I have to be as fast as they are and as fit as they are. When we’re training I’m never frustrated that they are faster than me, rather I’m frustrated that I am slower. Training with people faster than I am keeps me motivated to go after them and train harder, but for someone who is a perfectionist and very competitive with myself, I easily fall into the trap of frustration and defeat. Why am I not getting better? Why am I slower? I am getting better, but they are getting better too.

So here’s a few reminders for myself. Maybe if you’re a beginner athlete and perfectionist like me you’ll also find encouragement from these truths.

  1. I believe what the Bible says in Psalm 139 – that God created me and formed me while I was in my mother’s womb and that I am wonderfully made. God’s works are wonderful. While my sin (and living in a sinful world) has left some blemishes, I am a creation of God and am unique in who I am. God doesn’t say “You’re wonderfully made, but did you see that awesome triathlete over there? I made him better.”  We all have different abilities, but even if I was the slowest one out there I am still wonderfully made.
  2. Focus on how far you have come, not how much further you want to go. Write down a few accomplishments from the past year. Here are mine.
    • I completed my first triathlon in June 2010 and I didn’t come in last. Those were my two goals and I nailed them.
    • A year later, June 2011, I did the same triathlon and took 13.5 minutes off of my time.
    • My first half marathon is done! Training for it was one of the most mentally challenging things but it is done!
    • I’ve found a three-in-one sport that I love that will tangibly benefit my health for years to come.
    • My friends and family are awesome. I knew this before I started doing triathlons, but they have been so supportive and encouraging it has blown me away.
  3. Set realistic goals and expectations. This is hard for me. I was the kid who really wanted the pony. We lived in the suburbs on .1 acre of land. Not a realistic expectation for a birthday gift. My first olympic tri is coming up on September 10. Part of me wants my goal to be the overall winner. But then I wake up and realize I’m a slightly overweight thirty something with less than 5 hours a day to train. My realistic goals are to (1) Have fun, (2) Finish, and (3) Do better than I did last time.
  4. Triathlons are hard. You rock for getting out there and trying, no matter how you do or where you place. I saw a tshirt online that says “No matter how slow you are, you’re still lapping the people on the couch.”
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