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Inching Away from the Struggle Bus

I have mentally been struggling to engage with exercise and goals like I used to. Ever since I got COVID (January) I have generally lacked energy and have experienced a lot more brain fog and lack of energy throughout the day. Beyond that though, I have found it particularly difficult to self motivate in areas that used to require no effort at all.

For years I had no trouble running without music or people. I just liked to run. I had goals sometimes, and other times I just maintained my running fitness because it was habit or because I felt like me after a run.

I’ve been in a cave where I’ve been experiencing a rebirth in my career as well as who I am for the last year, which has been inspiring, exhausting, and all-consuming. However, it has left me feeling lackluster and void of hunger for some type of physical goal with the laser focus on work that most people experience in their first year at something new. I think this shift was somewhat necessary to create space for growth in my field of work but has left me feeling disassociated with the girl plastered on my blog and Instagram. Athletic pursuits used to feel so effortless and just a part of who I was. But now? Who am I? Am I the same person? What does it all mean in the context of my life and being a tiny speck on this planet anyway?

Lately, I’ve really struggled with motivation to run on my own and have been desperately needing accountability or a greater purpose to show up to exercise. My main motivation has been to use it as a way to nurture friendship connections. I won’t sign up for a running coach or group because I’m house poor at the moment (just closed on a condo and am moving this summer). I also don’t trust myself to show up with consistency at the predawn hours my former running group meets when I don’t have a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) on the calendar.

Running all the streets of Austin doesn’t excite me as it once did (I’ve been at it for over a year and am at 50% of the streets). That project requires discipline and focus and it sort of got into my head too much a few months ago where I couldn’t imagine going for a regular run and always felt obligated to complete streets on every run and then would end up skipping the run altogether if I couldn’t manage to drive in traffic to get to a new area of town. My schedule just wasn’t spacious enough to allow that kind of play anymore as the areas of the city I need are far from work and home now. It was also something I did with my dad and he has partially moved to Wisconsin so maybe when he’s back we’ll pick it up again as our father-daughter project.

I’m having even more difficulty motivating myself to ride my bike. I have some mental blocks around it which doesn’t help. The last time I really rode my bike was 4 years ago. I’ve ridden it maybe 10 whole times in the last 4 years, but nothing consistent. I am already feeling slow and out of shape before I even clip in because I’m not in the same cycling shape I was in when I was racing way back when. The longer I stay out of the saddle and watch my former teammates take off, the further I feel from being “good enough.” And the more time that passes, the bigger the monster in my head grows.

My lack of motivation in both of these sports has been pretty severe. One morning I got up, got dressed, drove 25 minutes to run a 10k with new streets, got out of my car and started running and didn’t even make it to the end of the block before I just turned around and walked back to my car and drove home. I worked for 12 hours straight when I got home, but was beating myself up the whole time in the background for having failed so miserably at getting my run in. Who am I now? Usually I say showing up is the hardest part. But that day, I showed up and mentally collapsed before I had even elevated my heart rate.

While I know I am a better person for the world when I take care of myself and my needs by engaging in movement and regular exercise, I realize I need to approach it differently than I have in the past. My overall vision is much broader right now so it is tough to find interest in my own individual accomplishments or striving when it comes to being an athlete. I have so much structure and analytical focus in my work that I need to break free of the containers I’m used to when it comes to my movement routines so that part of my life is more unstructured and free. I just want to find joy and playfulness with no gigantic expectations while still nudging myself in sport. I crave spaciousness to engage in this letting go and know I need to create it for myself so I don’t lose myself in the work vortex.

A few months ago my friend Ellen motivated me to join her at Barton Springs, a huge natural spring-fed swimming pool in the early mornings with the intention to just enjoy the predawn magic of moving in water. I started showing up once a week and my spirit felt fed and I had a smile plastered on my face for the rest of the day. The cold water, quiet gliding, rhythmic breathing, beautiful fish and turtles, otherworldly seaweed, and sparkly sunrise beams dancing on the surface of the ripples filled me. Swimming helped connect my body and breath to a higher purpose, and a part of me started to wake up a little.

It became difficult for me to go as early as Ellen goes, but I’ve been meeting another friend, Sonya a little later in the morning. She is just an all-around ray of sunshine and badass athlete and now I meet her to swim most week-day mornings. I seem to have no problem getting up early for a swim, and I am LOVING IT!

I’m also loving climbing right now and am seeing some minor improvements in both my head game as well as my physical skills which is encouraging. I may be surpassing my pre-pandemic abilities and am building routine and callouses.

When I started to reflect on what activities I feel drawn to and which ones have some sort of invisible wall that I am constantly confronting, I realized that the two sports I’m loving have never been ones where I felt competitive and they have always belonged wholly to me.

I have been pretty competitive in running and cycling in the past. For running, my focus and training has been as recent as my FKT in the Grand Canyon 9 months ago, and for cycling my racing days date back to 2018, but I took the training and racing very seriously. I am realizing that I am in a constant cycle of comparing my current self to my former self in those sports since they have historically required a great deal of focus and pressure.

Swimming and climbing have always been for fun. I also realized that these two activities are mine and only mine and have never been tangled with relationships. The memories, associations, and ways I engage in climbing and swimming are pure and untainted. They are truly my happy place because they belong all to me and there is something really special in having something that is all your own and not too tangled with a romantic partner.

It is so hard to be slower and more out of shape in something that used to be second nature. Right now I sometimes set quiet goals for myself to break 30 miles in a week with running. I’ve never had a weekly mileage goal below 50, so it’s a little discouraging at times. With cycling, I am mostly just scared about how slow I’ll be on my bike so I hadn’t even tried.

However, my mornings with Sonya slowly started to pry something open and I am ready to face those demons in a new way. Since we’ve been swimming and running with some routine, she and I decided to sign up for the Kerrville triathlon in September. I’m doing the half ironman distance so it will be brutally hot and very difficult for me (1.2 mi swim, 56 mi bike, 13.1 mi run).

There have been times in my life where I was in decent half ironman shape without even training for a triathlon or signing up for a race, but now is definitely not that time. This will also be my first half ironman which I swore I wouldn’t do unless it was part of training for a full ironman. But here I am, not planning on doing a full because WHO has that kind of time?! For real??!!

I feel like I’m mentally a rookie on the bike and my running has been a slog fest lately. I’ve never been a fast swimmer, but at least I’m not scared in the water anymore and I trust myself to survive 1.2 miles in open water. This triathlon will not be fast. And that’s ok. I want to ENJOY riding my bike and running again.

So my goal in this “race” truly is to find some motivation and reclaim these sports in the mind and body I am today. I want to rediscover myself as a runner and a cyclist without all the self applied pressure of how I used to ride and run. I just want to meet me where I am and be ok with it.

I have now been on two “long” rides (50 and 60 miles each) and have begun to feel like running isn’t a total sufferfest every single time since I began attending a weekly track workout.

I will suffer in both the training and on race day. The goal isn’t to be void of any amount of suffering, but rather to find a sweet balance where I can take some pressure off of myself while pushing myself from where I am today and not where I used to be. I want to repair my relationship with these outlets of mine and reclaim myself as an athlete in the process. That will mean being ok with slower paces, sore muscles, and maybe, just maybe, being proud of myself without it having to be linked to a personal best time or achieving some time goal. (And also I want to be “trained enough so I’m not miserable and don’t die out there!).


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