After I posted my PRs across various distances, today I had the opportunity to really scour my first set of triathlon results – a USA-sanctioned sprint triathlon from 2011. Prior to today, I never wanted to look closely at the results because they were so bad. Or so I let myself believe.
Four years after that event, I was able to evaluate it objectively. And what I was able to uncover was so incredibly useful as I get ready to embark on a very full and lofty 2015 racing season.
First things first: Hurtful comments about my weight from an ex boyfriend have impacted me in a much bigger way than I ever allowed myself to recognize. I have realized, especially so in this taper for the Bend Marathon, that I have assumed that my weight will automatically impact my running negatively. Beyond this marathon training and the past week of tapering, I realized today that I allowed this assumption to actually slow me down in all of my races in 2014.
Some of the things he would say about my weight were directly related to the sport of triathlon. The thing about him is that he struggled greatly with anxiety and depression and his way around it was to throw the first stone, and be as mean as possible so that he was protected from getting hurt himself. As I’m sure you can imagine, my weight was the tip of the iceberg in terms of his emotional abuse. I don’t hold a grudge, but I am coming full circle in realizing how deeply he affected my life. For my own benefit, I need to acknowledge this publicly so I can heal and move on.
I realized all of this when I was reviewing my race results and searching for PRs. My PR attempts and racing in general stopped when I met him in 2009. It’s very sad because I met him through the bike shop where I bought my bike so I could finally pursue a dream of becoming a triathlete. He sold me the bike and he later coached me for a very short time until he declared that he could not work with me, despite the fact that I did every single workout he gave me, following it to the T, and enjoying it. He is an incredible cyclist and I was excited to learn from him. How ironic that it took me 6 years to learn the greatest lesson of all: he was toxic to my well-being.
Without a wetsuit, he told me, I would drown. But I better not buy the wetsuit at the weight I am (then) because it would definitely not fit me come race day. In other words, if I wanted to be a triathlete I would need to lose a shit ton of weight.
It’s no surprise to me then that in my first olympic triathlon last summer, I fucked it up royally. It’s no wonder that when it came time to run that I didn’t have enough mental toughness to even try to run. I had allowed his voice to get buried so deeply into my head that all I could hear on race day was, “you’re too fat to run.” It’s no wonder that when Portland Tri came around I walked more than half the course.
Running was the one sport of the three that I should have been best at. I have been a runner since I was 15 (about 20 years). I’ve only been a swimmer for 12 years, and a cyclist for 6. A triathlete for 4 years. I couldn’t figure out why I was having such a horrible running block last year. The enjoyment for it completely gone. It’s no wonder now.
He never put me down on the bike. In fact, he built my confidence on the bike quite a bit. But that’s because cycling was his sport. He didn’t need to put me down because no matter what, he’d always beat me at cycling. And it’s true and I don’t care.
But there were many other things that I had excelled at, that he didn’t excel at. I had run two marathons and a 50k trail marathon. I had a Masters degree from the University he grew up idolizing. He was finishing up his BS in a similar program, online. He had done one triathlon and (coincidentally) nearly drowned in the swim and lost his lead on the run. Here I was, having a strong grasp on the run and a growing love for the swim, and all I needed to finish the puzzle was the bike. Because he didn’t feel threatened by me on wheels, he built me up and tore me down to the ground in other avenues of my sport.
He degraded the YMCA, where I worked and trained. He ruthlessly made fun of my friend and running mentor, former world-class runner Kevin Collins. He insulted my work ethic, my worth, my future, and told me to go back home and live with my mother because I would never amount to anything anyway (my mother does not drive or work due to a severe case of narcolepsy with cataplexy), and he called me “fat and lazy just like her.” He called me a mooch. I was working three jobs to make ends meet while I searched for a career. I had just graduated that spring.
It’s suddenly no wonder why I have struggled to land a rewarding career and why my sense of self worth is somewhere at the bottom of a dumpster.
I have been to counseling for a number of things but never once was I able to make a connection between all of my real life struggles and this one person. This one person I once loved so much I was told to stop saying so because it was annoying.
I want to be successful in life. Successful in sports, in career, in love, in friendship, in all endeavors. And so while I write this candidly, giving myself a much overdue, self-imposed therapy session, I am discovering so many doors that have been hidden and locked for far too long.
I was that strong girl who would never take abuse from anyone, no matter who he is and no matter what kind of power he has over my heart. So much so that I hid the hurt and pretended like he didn’t effect me. His words. His actions. The coldness in his heart toward me. I walked away, my head held high and pretended like I had moved on, unharmed.
Clearly harm had been done. And it was lasting.
Let’s get back to that triathlon. My first sprint triathlon. June 2011, just 2 years after our split. A lot had happened and here I was, just barely getting around to doing the one thing I had wanted to do since before he broke my spirit.
What did I expect was going to happen? When I had those kinds of voices and words in my head? I’m going to drown in the swim. My ass is too fat for a wetsuit. If you look at photos from that race, you’ll see that I wore a tank top over the tri suit. It was to hide my fat body. I remember thinking it. I was so disappointed in my results that day that I couldn’t even look at my times. All I could see was how close to the bottom of the results sheet I was, and that he had been right. I sucked at triathlon.
I didn’t do another triathlon for 3 years. I pretty much all but gave up on running and fitness altogether. I no longer dared to dream. I was a has been. A never was. And an I don’t know why I ever even thought I could.
Today I was finally able to objectively look at my results from that first triathlon.
I struggled on the swim. It was my first open water swim and I was afraid of the depth of the lake. I hadn’t quite gotten over an irrational fear of getting tangled in a dead body and pulled under. I could not track and so my swim course, which was supposed to be a half circle around buoys ended up looking more like a sunshine with the sun rays flashing from the side of the sun as I corrected my direction and then swam off course again. All things considered. I did not drown. I swam freestyle. I finished the 600 yard course in 14:40. I should have been proud but all I could think of was Brad was right. I suck. I had hoped I would be able to prove him wrong but I couldn’t.
On the bike I was still not confident. Aero bars scared me and I didn’t know how to climb or ride aggressively. I would get passed on uphills and then scream past them on downhills. I wasn’t very good on turns and my throat was so dry because I wasn’t very confident with the water bottles yet.
All these years I thought I had ridden 12 mph average speed on that bike course. The one sport I was encouraged on, and I truly proved him wrong. I sucked.
But today I did the math and realized that I pedaled a respectable pace of 16.7 MPH. That wasn’t so bad after all.
Prior to this race, I had never done a brick workout. I had no idea what was about to hit me. My legs felt like lead. They just wouldn’t move. And I was so parched from that ride that I could hardly swallow. Running had been my sport for as long as I had been an athlete, and here was my chance to show him. But that first attempt at a brick was a grind. And while I cringed at the results – that 5k being the slowest 5k I had ever run – more proof piled on that I was a worthless piece of shit. Brad was right. I didn’t deserve the nice bike. I’d never amount to anything anyway. I may as well be riding a Huffy.
Today I was able to use a pace calculator and think about my times objectively. Despite it being my slowest 5k, and in spite of it being the first time I had run after biking that hard, I ran an average pace of 9:47. It really wasn’t that bad, all things considered.
Analyzing my results today and being able to assess them objectively, the way I would if I were someone’s coach, made me question why I had gotten so bent out of shape to begin with. Why was I so disappointed? What did I really expect?
The truth is. I was no longer racing for myself. For my own enjoyment. I was no longer competing against myself. I was competing to prove Brad wrong. And it was sucking the life out of it. I had unreasonable expectations and when I couldn’t even come close to them, because I had a head full of negative hecklers, I would feel so discouraged I’d want to crawl in a hole and die.
Suddenly it’s making sense to me why I have put so much pressure on myself to have a rewarding and sustaining career. I need to prove to him that I am worth something.
If I could go back in time and change one thing, I would not have bought my bike from Syracuse Bicycles. Without me knowing it, or intentionally allowing it, I have allowed him to ruin the past 6 years of my life.
If you’re still reading this, I thank you for coming on this journey with me. I did not expect to write about my emotionally abusive boyfriend. This post was supposed to be about triathlon and why I have placed such unreasonable expectations on myself. As it turns out, he is why. Thank you for witnessing this epiphany.
As I continue my taper for Bend Marathon, and I work through random aches and pains in my body and develop an irrational fear for gaining weight, I will work on my mental state. I will think logically about my expectations for Bend Marathon. And I will remove (or work on removing, anyway) all of Brad’s voices from my head.
I want to return to the state I was in in 2008. The last string of PRs before my fitness fell off the face of this earth. Before I let his voice take root and grow weeds in my self confidence and my belief in myself.
I love running. I love triathlon! I love competing and watching and feeling my fitness improve. I have 0 memories of having an incredibly blissful time racing in 2014. Yet when I look back on so many other races in years prior, I can’t think of a single one where I told myself “you have no place being here” or (in tears) “where is the finish line? This isn’t even fun!” I had a straight out mental breakdown on the water last summer as I swam across Suttle Lake, finishing in last place. It all came down to my weight, my job, my worth. It had nothing to do with swimming.
It’s incredible how damaging someone’s words can be. How lasting..
But instead of focusing on that, I’m going to choose to focus on how unwilling I was to quit. Despite a choking wetsuit and mental breakdown. I finished last, operative word being finished. Despite declaring how much fun I was not having, I finished my first Olympic triathlon in very sad, lonely, defeated tears. I finished. Every single race in 2014 marked a slowest finish for me. But every single race I signed up for, I finished.
This marathon has been incredibly rehabilitative for me. I am so grateful to the race directors, who gave me an entry in exchange for some social media and blog coverage. They don’t realize their part in my life, but it’s huge. Running is part of me, and it feels so good to be reunited.
I have been running long runs at an easy no-push pace, and ending anywhere between 10:38/mile and 11:34/mile. All things considered.. everything I’ve fought through and run from, run toward during the past 5 months.. Calf strains, flu, PTSD, damaged confidence and a majorly renewed sense of adventure, excitement, understanding of the bigger picture, I think I could manage to run 10:30 average pace if I run strong the whole way. It won’t be a PR course for me. My PR is 4:21, pre BC (lol – those are his initials). And as I am learning tonight, I am a much different person today than I was then. I am not running this marathon to prove to him or to anyone, not even myself, that I am worthy. I am just running because I simply love to run.
My official goal for Bend Marathon is to finish between 4:35 – 4:52. That’s 10:30 pace – 11:09 pace. If I don’t run that fast, I won’t let it destroy me. It’s my first marathon in 6 years. My first one at 4,000+ feet. And the hilliest marathon by a long shot. I am rebuilding. Learning to believe in myself. Finding my inner strength. Looking ahead, instead of down. This race isn’t aboutfor PR.
I have to make one comment about the course. The finish line was moved and the course had some minor adjustments to accommodate. The turn they added near the end is on Crosby Lane.
Crosby is my ex boyfriend’s last name. I am not saying this to identify him. I don’t harbor negativity for the way he treated me. He treated me that way because he was hurting much more severely. I mention it because, as I pass that sign on Sunday, there will be about 2 mostly downhill miles to the finish. I will muster up as much positive thinking as I can and imagine him standing there cheering for me, rooting for me, pulling for me. Because I know deep down that he has always believed in me. His emotional abuse was not about me. I was just the punching bag. He hurt himself worse. And for the first time since January 11, 2009, when I ran Disney Marathon, I will be able to let go of his negative voice and carry with me only the words I want and need to hear.
I believe in you.