Thursday, March 18, 2010

How Did You Get This Way?

This is a question that I often get asked and was asked again this week while running with a fellow tri club member in his 20's. What I think he meant was "How did an old lady like you get so fast?" OK, maybe not quite that but along those lines.

Of course, I am NOT really that fast but it has become apparent that I am faster than average when it comes to running, especially for my age (48). But how did a math/science geek, someone whose parents discouraged her from doing sports, who often finished last running laps in P.E. classes, who never did any competitive sports growing up, who has no remarkable weight loss or cancer victory story ... GET THIS WAY???

To be honest, I think it's just simply consistency and stubbornness (Dave calls it strong will). While I don't have any sports background, I did get into jogging/running back in the 70's when I was about 16. My parents hated the idea because they thought girls shouldn't be out running but my best friend had a crush on a guy who ran XC and, well, it was more important that our clique do everything we could to help her see him, which meant running (even though most of us weren't runners!).

Throughout college, grad school and into my mid-30's, I was very career driven and took pride in studying/working 60-80 hours a week. I continued to ignore my parents and jog/run off and on for some semblance of fitness but largely for stress relief. Running was a good way to get away from the desk, solve problems and let my mind relax so I could go to sleep or go back to work and get more done later. The last thing I wanted to do was put more stress on myself, however, so I never pushed myself to go fast, never kept track of mileage, pace, time or how often I did it (maybe once a week, once a month, who knows???). I do remember running fairly often when my dad was dying of cancer, though, but that was just a phase during a very stressful time.

In 2002, at age 40, I finally entered my first race, a half marathon, while visiting Kona with my sister and her husband. They'd run races before and encouraged me to sign up. I was actually in great shape (one of my 40th birthday goals) from taking karate and gym classes but I remember being terrified. I was so afraid of being timed, of having to run with other people, of having to drink out of a cup, of finishing last. No one was more shocked than I was to discover that I could run sub-8 minute miles! Maybe ~25 years of slow off and on jogging/running had given me a good aerobic base?

And similarly in 2005 at my first triathlon, I got a big surprise. First, I had no idea how tough swimming 400m would be. I hated swimming back then and didn't really know how to swim except to save my life. I freaked out when others touched me and went off course into some weeds (where gators were surely waiting to eat me). I eventually got back on course thanks to a kayaker and came out of the water nearly dead last after the longest, scariest 15 minutes of my life. Then was I was soooooo relieved (and then pissed) that I went on to hammer on the bike and run. When I finished, all I could think of was that I had to learn how to really swim so I could do more tris! So I signed up for an Ironman ...

But one thing for sure, I don't think of myself as a natural or hardcore athlete at all. I enjoy training and racing, yes, but what I'm looking for is simply more variety and quality in my life. As I've mentioned before, I had a fairly sheltered upbringing and a lot of fears growing up. There are a lot of things I didn't do because I was too Type A in school/work, too worried about trying new things and sucking at them, too uptight about not being able to control things the way I want, too whatever. Karate challenged me to look at things differently and in endurance sports now, I am quite different, or at least trying to be. I'm continually finding ways to keep things fun, keep active and keep improving myself *without* running myself into the ground. That's what I think has allowed me to "Get This Way" and whatever happens Sunday at the Gator Half Iron Tri, I'm keepin on keepin on.

Thank you for your kind comments on my previous post. Hope everyone has a great weekend!

24 comments:

ONEHOURIRONMAN said...

It is actually not too surprising. I am convinced there are a bunch of Lance Armstrong's out there wrapped up in geek clothing, that will never be "unwrapped"

I knew a computer geek, who at 35 and 220 pounds took up running. He was a 8min 30sec miler for 10 miles right out of the gate. 50 pounds and 5 years later he does ultra ironman races and comes in second or third in the bike splits.

Go GEEKS!!

good luck

Sara Cox Landolt said...

I love learning more about you in this post, thanks for sharing!
Crushes are powerful motivators, good job helping your friend.
Your gator references always make me laugh, thank you! I love the fun -- keep it up! Best to you this weekend!

Marlene said...

Thanks for sharing a little bit of your history. I actually suspected this was something you had been working on for much longer, so it was a good way to get to know you better.

ShirleyPerly said...

Yes, this probably explains best why I am backwards. Slow easy pace running I've sort of done on my own for years (whether consistently or not). Anything that feels more competitive or sports-like, I'm quite uneasy about. But I'm out there doing it anyway, faking it if I have to :-)

Molly said...

I think you and I have very similar non-sporting backgrounds in our youth! I came to running later in life and am just starting to find my speed and it's FUN!! I hope time in the other 2 sports will pay off similarly. Good luck this weekend - I know you are going to do great!

Cliff said...

So you are saying.one will get faster when they hit 40? :)..Dang.that's still a long way to go for me. :P

The gators only get the slowest swimmers...my goal in the swim is not to be the slowest one :)

I don't think I am athlete as well..just really like what i do...

K said...

I loved this post! You and I have very similar upbringings.. Math Geeks UNITE!! :)

Good luck this weekend.

Midwestern Dot said...

What a great story, thanks for the background! You may not think you're fast, but wow, you are quite the mover compared to me...and a lot of other people my age who are (no offense) half your age!
Good luck this weekend, I know you'll just be spectacular!

The Alien said...

What an awesome post! Have you ever wondered what would had happened if you started doing tri's when you were younger? You could have Chrissie Wellington struggling to beat your records in Kona!!

Good luck on your Half Iron this weekend, have fun and a great race day!

Meg said...

This was a wonderful post, Shirley. I especially liked hearing about your stubborn persistence and consistency. I think more people could be faster and stronger but it just takes SO much work, time and determination. It ties in to your "A" type personality. I think many tri athletes are of this type and many marathon runners too. It's very interesting! What I love about you is that you are both humble and real and it is a privilege to learn from your experiences. Thanks so much!

DaveP said...

Guys, What good has ever come of calling your wife "stubborn"? Even I learned that in my first marriage.

OK, that aside. I also believe that the thing that has really made a difference in the last two years was the coaching from Coach Bill. I really believe that with out his help she would have pushed herself too much or focused too much on distance and not quality and ended up burnt out and / or injured.

X-Country2 said...

I've always wondered how awesome people like you get to where you are. I hope I'm as kickass as you some day soon.

Sunshine said...

Thanks for writing.
As always, I am cheering You!
The way you are is an inspiration.

lizzie lee said...

Well, thanks for the post, motivation very much needed. I believe that your karate/gym abilities were good base, and then the stubbornness. My running initial "good speed" was also founded on a very strong and consistent gym routine and 3-4 times per week steep hills work (hiking). Stubborn like you but never as fast. I wish there was a way to discover what is our true potential so we can strive towards it. Or would we plateau as a self-fulfilling prophecy if we already reached it?

Black Knight said...

In my opinion you are fast and, for sure, you are not old!!! Watching your pic in the other post, you look young, fast and in perfect shape (see both the feet off the ground).

lindsay said...

i enjoyed learning a little more about you :) i love hearing other people who aren't just 'naturally' fast - gives me hope! i do think you have some natural ability though - and your personality certainly helps too.

25 years of base training - yeah i think you are good to go! :) lol about the 400m swim and how that led to signing up for an IM. guess that's kind of how i was with my first road 5k and then a marathon?

KC (my 140 point 6 mile journey) said...

wow, we sound very similar with the late start. Now it's just a way of life. No looking back and full speed ahead.

Runner Leana said...

Amazing story! Best of luck this weekend!!

TRI TO BE FUNNY-Carrie Barrett said...

Have a wonderful race and stay away from the gators!!!

Jennifer Neu said...

I really like your post - way to go! I would really like to get into tri's but I'm not a strong swimmer. You make want to give a tri a chance!

Formulaic said...

so you are saying that there is a sub 8 minute runner in me?

All I have to do it go running?

Sweet!!

Oh wait! Damn!


That is why you are bad ass! Maybe the secret is 40?

(I can dream)

Melissa said...

Hi Humble, I started tris in my
40s as well. Nice to meet you.

Vickie said...

I also think, from my own past experience, if you start out racing fast and have no injuries or setbacks, you will continue to race fast and it will carry over into triathlon. I also know it to be an age thing as well as the fact that you haven't been "racing" that long, and still haven't hit a plateau. If you continue to challenge yourself to set new goals, I think your fast times will continue, only allowing for age adjustment. And then there is that Type A personality at work here as well. That says a lot about you challenging yourself, more so than maybe your own natural ability.

Jade Lady said...

omg - are we talking BRiechle?