beginners

2013-10-09 22.34.05

How to Become an Athlete

This week I was talking to a coworker who started running with our company club last year, and is running her first 5k in a week and a half at Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.  She asked how my training is going and I told her I’m feeling really strong, and then asked about her upcoming race.  She was telling me how excited she was, but then laughed a little and self-deprecatingly said, “but 5k is nothing to you, and I’m really slow.”  I understand where she’s coming from because I think we’ve all felt that way at some point, but I spent the next ten minutes telling her that her 5k is a huge achievement and convincing her that it’s not about the distance: she, along with anyone else who runs, walks, swim, cycles or lifts weights, is already ahead of anyone sitting at home on their couch.  You may be the slowest runner out there, but you are still a runner and that’s not nothing.

Although I tend to think of my current fitness level and training load as pretty normal – partly because my training partners are just as or more crazy than I am – people can find it really intimidating to talk about their workouts to someone who they think of as extremely fit. Lots of people think they couldn’t do what I do, simply because they can’t do it now; what many people don’t realize is that I started out in worse shape than most of them.  In high school I couldn’t run a kilometer without walking, and my fastest mile took over 12 minutes – in fact I remember watching the first triathlon at the Sydney Oympics in 2000, and wondering how the heck anyone could run 10km without stopping!

So now that we’re all on the same page as to my starting point, let me take you through what it takes to go from a 12 minute mile to a triathlete!

Gravenhurst swim exit

Gravenhurst Sprint Triathlon, 2008

The first time I ever ran voluntarily, it was one kilometer with a friend who insisted on dragging me to the gym at 5:30am, three times a week.  I survived that one, and started running one kilometer every time I went to the gym…and then made it two…then three…and worked my way up to 5 kilometers over the course of about two months.

#1: Find a friend who will drag you to your workout on a regular basis, and make it both a consistent routine and a priority.

My first triathlon was held in the spring in Calgary, and I’m not kidding you, it snowed on the bike and my hands were so cold I almost couldn’t brake. But despite such terrible race conditions, I loved the feeling of crossing the finish line and was instantly hooked on racing!  Racing gave me motivation to train harder and smarter, and I could feel myself getting stronger and more competitive with myself.

#2: Create motivation to train and push your limits; it doesn’t have to be racing, but that’s what got me hooked.

In first year university I ran a little, but the changing routine and monotony of running alone meant I gradually stopped running regularly, and didn’t really pick up my fitness again until I joined the University of Waterloo Triathlon Club in third year.  I started racing again soon after, and had regular workouts with other triathletes who not only challenged my competitive spirit, but also gave me training tips and advice.  I started racing faster and longer, which made me willing to work even harder.

#3: Surround yourself with people who are passionate about your sport and can give you motivation and advice.

When I graduated from university, 6 years after finishing my first triathlon, I bought myself a carbon fiber triathlon bike (my beloved Kuota K-factor) with some help from my grandpa and family, and joined the Toronto Triathlon Club.  My training became more consistent and focused, which resulted in an age-group placing and finally moving up to Olympic distance in 2011, then qualifying for the duathlon world championships in 2012.  Many of my friends are dedicated and passionate triathletes who support and push me in my goals, and training is no longer something I have to think about: whether I will go for a run is not a question, the only question is when and how far.

#4: Make it part of your life.

Really, that’s all it takes.  You honestly don’t need to be a high school track star or a natural-born runner like some lucky people; I’m not physiologically any better suited to triathlon than your average human being, I’m just stubborn and a bit obsessive.  Don’t get caught up in what you can’t do right now, but start working on the things you can.

And finally, regardless of how insignificant you think the distance may be, at the end of the day I want to hear about the workout you did on the weekend or the race you’re really excited about.  We’re both passionate about the same thing: pushing the limit of what we thought was possible just a little more each day.  Isn’t that an incredible achievement?

What have you accomplished recently that you couldn’t do before?