Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

11 Gifts From My First Triathlon Season

Last week, the New York Times featured an article by music critic and composer Edward Rothstein entitled "Triathlon Training with Chopin."  Rothstein writes of using what he learned tackling a "rigorous artistic enterprise" such as the coda of Chopin's first Ballade as he trained for the New York City Triathlon.  The race, which would have been his first triathlon, took place without him on Sunday, after he sprained an ankle on a training run in Central Park.  But Chopin served him well during training, particularly as he struggled to master swimming, his weakest skill.  From the piano, Rothstein knew that
Practice is partly physical training: teaching the body to feel comfortable with the artifice and its intricacy. Ultimately, the playing must seem effortless; all the tension, the strain, the struggle must be dramatized in the music, not in the body. And when I have practiced enough, I no longer have to be aware of every minute finger motion or position of my elbow. Movements mold themselves into phrases, becoming supple and poised. My body’s once uncoordinated parts cohere; the body can be forgotten.
As I continue preparing for my first triathlon--my ankle sprain came early enough that I had time to recover, though it called for some serious tweaking of my schedule--I am finding that the opposite is also true.  What I am learning as I train to join the swelling ranks of amateur triathletes can be applied to other areas of my life.  

Here is a brief list of some of my more useful "tri" lessons:
  1. Even a mountain climb is made up of individual steps, one after the other.  Know where you are going, but don't get too far ahead of yourself.
  2. Resting between sessions of exertion is important for consolidating increasing strength.
  3. Adequate sleep and attention to nutrition is essential, especially when you are engaged in a particularly challenging undertaking.
  4. Believing you can do what you've set out to do is half the battle, and worth whatever mental and spiritual work it takes to maintain/restore that belief.
  5. Take advice and instruction, but be the final arbiter of what is right for you.
  6. Enjoy the process.  
  7. Don't look down--or in the case of triathlons, don't read grisly reports of disastrous injuries or other medical calamities.  Prepare yourself to perform within your own capacity, and don't invest in fear.
  8. Avoid comparing your accomplishments with others.  
  9. Pay attention to and appreciate the unanticipated side benefits of the endeavor.  
  10. Use crutches--hopefully not real ones--and toys as necessary and available.  E.g., an iPod, a fun purple swim cap, a heart monitor, protein gels (if you have to ask, you haven't gone deeply enough into the tri-universe).
  11. Remember to breathe (critical), and to laugh.  
For now, I'm off to yet another meeting, to begin a full day of work.  I am looking forward to my resting-week 23-minute run later, and hoping to apply some of this wisdom to novel-writing with the energy that remains.   

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