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About Me, Goals, Musings

The Ugly Duckling

I haven’t had much to say lately. I have more than a few draft posts sitting around unfinished, and I can’t seem to find the inspiration to get past the first paragraph of any of them. But — I think I finally found the words to finish this one thanks to a few weekends spent with my amazing family.

But first, updates.

Obviously I didn’t race Eugene. With 10 weeks left in my training cycle, I was still battling plantar fasciitis and tendonitis and a whole lot of stress over getting to the start line fully prepared. At the end of a 17-mile long run, I was so frustrated that I cried. I’ve never cried while training or racing. In that moment, I knew that Eugene wasn’t going to be my race. As soon as I admitted that, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I probably could have run the distance by April, but it wouldn’t have been the one I truly wanted to train for. It was easier for me, both physically and mentally, to let this one go. I’ve been a lot happier for it.

Since my mom and I already had our plane tickets booked, we still took the trip out West. I’d never seen Portland or Seattle, so for five days I traded in running for wandering city streets and careful pre-race fueling for (a lot of) delicious food and drinks. So many people had brilliant days at Eugene, and I’m thrilled for all of them. I can step back now and say I’m a little bit jealous, and I wonder “what if,” but I’m so glad things shook out the way they did. And the good news is that I’m up to running 7-8 miles pain-free. It’s slower and harder than when I was running regularly, and it’s only once or twice a week, but it’s progress.

The weekend after I returned from my Pacific Northwest adventure, I raced my bike twice. I did my first time trial and my first crit. Both were hard and exhilarating and amazing and as soon as I finished I was all “when do I get to do that again?” This is the kind of excitement I want and need to have for racing, and so I know I’ve found what works for me right now. I didn’t write race reports because there’s only so many ways to say that I rode around in circles for an hour and finished in X place with the pack, but perhaps someday I’ll get around to an overall roundup. But I love the girls (and guys) on the team and I have a freakin’ blast riding with them, which only contributes to the whole “man am I glad I’m not a triathlete right now” mentality.

I also finally took a decent bike picture. I look only sort of stupid. Someday I will learn to corner in the drops.

Moving on. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the sacrifices we make as athletes. I’m quite sure I’m not the only one who feels frustrated when people don’t own their training, their commitments, their performances. Jon actually pointed to this in a recent post – no one is holding a gun to your head, forcing you to register for races or get out of bed at 5am to hit the pool. Sometimes it feels like it, I know, but the truth is that the sacrifices we make for our sport are of our own making.

I sacrificed a lot last year. I bought a new bike (and then another one), did Ironman and several other verrrrrry $$$ races, outfitted myself completely with really nice gear and great technology, and missed out on countless opportunities to be with my family and friends because I needed to sleep or ice bath or grocery shop instead. I don’t regret that for a second, and I’m extremely fortunate to have had the means to do those things. But there were times when I was frustrated over the things I couldn’t do. Post-work dinner/drinks? That’s nutrition for the month and a key interval workout. The cart full of beautiful J.Crew clothes? A race entry. I had to make a lot of choices, and triathlon always won over other things I loved.

Nowhere are these sacrifices more obvious than with my family. In D.C., a large part of my daily life involves interacting with other athletes, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything and everything. But when I’m at home, it’s blatantly obvious that my mom and sisters (and now my dad too, I’m so proud) share a lot of priorities and experiences that I don’t. For example, they’re all beautiful and creative and love fashion and have incredible style. It sounds superficial, but if you know me at all, you know that deep down I have a girly side too – one that doesn’t always want to hang around in spandex. When I’m with them, I feel like the ugly duckling because I haven’t shopped for real-person clothes in months and don’t have quite the right thing to wear to dinner and the last time I actually styled my hair even half decently was probably the last time we were together.

[When I say this, my sister just rolls her eyes and says “six-pack and nice ass.” To which I reply that, even if this were true, no one ever sees my abs or ass.]

It sounds like the whining of an over-privileged white girl (if I am anything, it’s that), but it’s hard to feel like an outsider in your own life, and this particular issue has been the source of more than one breakdown. I could extend it way beyond my wardrobe. I have foodie friends who have had a lot of amazing meals in D.C., and my must-visit restaurant list is a mile and a half long. It doesn’t get any shorter if I put that $50+ toward more gear. I really love to travel and have it in my head that I want to visit friends in San Diego and Denver before the end of the year, but the cost of a plane ticket makes my brain explode. Not to mention the time it takes to do these things is time spent on my bike or in the pool. So this goes on the back burner too. To sum up, there are things I want and things I want to do (the best way to describe it would be ALL THE THINGS), and I’ve sacrificed many of them in the name of endurance sports.

I’m learning, though. Without triathlon in my life on a regular basis (ie. sticking to cycling) and thanks to the huge investment I made last year, I’m spending a lot less time and money on sports. I still have to think about the $25 bar tab as a race entry (bless you, cycling, and your cheap registration fees) and the $350 shopping spree as my slick new bike shoes, but I’m not struggling each week to determine what stays and what goes. And I’m learning to say no. I really would love to have nice carbon wheels and an aero helmet for TTs and a $450 Garmin Edge for my road bike, but my Forerunner 310XT works just fine for now and I can race really well without any of the above, and that cash is best spent on other things. I’m investing in big-girl things that I’ve had on my list forever. I’m rebuilding the savings I blew through last year. I’m putting away money for the big life changes I’ll make in the coming months. I’m taking on extra responsibilities for added income, and that helps too. And I’m thinking about making sacrifices in the other direction. Maybe I finish the nutrition I don’t really love instead of buying new boxes of my favorite brand, and as a result I can check a restaurant off my list. Maybe I skip out on an afternoon ride to hang out at the waterfront with friends. Maybe I choose not to race one weekend so I can visit my sisters in NYC — or just stay home, clean my apartment, and read a good book.

So what’s the message here? I’ve been extremely lucky – still am – in that everything I need I have, and almost everything I want I’m able to get. But I still have to make choices, and I have to own those choices. I’m a strong athlete and legit competitor and I think I still have a lot of potential I haven’t tapped, which might mean that the answer is give up every other hobby and interest I have and hire an expensive coach who monitors my HR and sleep patterns and makes hourly adjustments to my schedule and eat/sleep/breathe training. I would possibly (probably? certainly?) be a lot faster than I was last season/am now. But after trying a very relaxed version of that, I know it’s not for me, at least not right now, not while I’m 25. While I genuinely love training, that lifestyle is one-dimensional, and it sells short many other things I care about. I own the year I spent in that mindset, and now I own different choices, and I’m ok with being left out of training weekends and not PRing constantly and not having the latest Garmin or buying the newest running shoes just because they’re pretty and so on because it means I get to do other fun things instead.

The bottom line: It took awhile, but I finally understand that the commitments we make, and the sacrifices that go along with them, are ours. I can’t complain that I don’t have time or money when I’m the one who chooses how to spend it.

Another thing I know: In spite of the occasional frustration, I still get a rush every time I clip in and start riding, and in that moment I am confident that all those sacrifices, and the many more I will make in the name of cycling and school and travel and other non-sports related things, were the right ones. It has been, and will continue to be, worth it.



9 thoughts on “The Ugly Duckling

  1. Hey, I get this. 100%. You’re not the ugly duckling, mostly because the differences don’t mean anything about beauty. You’re different and beautiful and strong and intelligent–all in different ways from your friends and sisters. It took me a long time to wrap my head around that, too. (And it’s hard when you go to Duke, where everyone is beautiful…at least, that’s how I felt.) If you love the sport, then you’re making the right choice for you. And that’s what matters.

    Posted by LPT | May 21, 2012, 10:50 AM
  2. First, you basically look like the opposite of ugly in that picture.

    I understand where you’re coming from. I don’t feel this with training, more with coaching – I have no weekends, haven’t had a real vacation in 5 years, and am constantly dealing with annoying parents when I could be doing other stuff (including training, and let’s not forget the fact that I haven’t seen a movie in a theater for 3 years). But then people point out that it isn’t my full-time job, and I could just quit on the spot. For some reason, I feel obligated because it would leave the team I work with stuck without a coach, but it’s on them to start looking, since I took over “temporarily” six years ago.

    Posted by Victoria (District Chocoholic) | May 21, 2012, 11:17 AM
  3. annnnd I love you.

    Ive thought about this alot lately as well and decided to only to one triathlon this season because I will be taking out 100k in loans for school. Ive made a huge sacrafice…and Im ok with it.

    oh, and you are damn sexy.

    Posted by traintritriagain | May 21, 2012, 11:32 AM
  4. I love this post. We’re the one making these sacrifices, no one else. And while it does suck that I’m wearing the same clothes I’ve had for the past two years, it’s the choices we make to do the things we love. You’re not the ugly duckling, we just have different priorities and that’s what makes us beautiful.

    Posted by Page | May 21, 2012, 11:44 AM
  5. This is lovely and so, so true. I spent the spring buying stuff for my first triathlon. (A lot of damn stuff.) As soon as the race was over, and I realized my weekends weren’t going to be “hey, what $150 item do I need ASAP?” anymore, I started online-shopping for real-girl clothes. (Aaaand then I hated everything I bought and decided I’d rather have more workout stuff.) The point is, I’m making choices now at 30 and a fake triathlete that I wouldn’t have dreamed of making as a 24-year-old couch potato or even as a 26-year-old newbie runner. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but I’m coming to see that it does indicate what is making me the most happy in any given moment, and that’s something worth listening to no matter what.

    Posted by Kimra | May 21, 2012, 2:23 PM
  6. Love this post, Em. It’s great getting to know you better through your writing. I think you’re such a rockstar and sooner or later we’ll all figure out some sort of life balance. (or I hope!)

    ps. I always think you look fab!

    Posted by Nikki Rappaport | May 21, 2012, 3:25 PM
  7. POWERFUL. And honest. And courageous.

    I love you.

    Posted by Jenny | May 22, 2012, 9:46 AM
  8. Well said, Emily! Glad you are enjoying the bike this season. I keep getting an itch just to become a pure runner. That way I can go places, vacation, etc, (aka live life!) and still be able to get a workout in, without needing to do 6+ hour workouts every weekend.

    Posted by vrljc | May 22, 2012, 11:24 AM
  9. Very well said. I think that this is something we all think about, whether we are training for Ironmans or something a whole lot shorter. Glad you are enjoying your time on the bike!

    Posted by Allison | May 22, 2012, 4:09 PM

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