Beginner Berry: Constantly Chlorinated, Perpetually Perspiring

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Blog writer's block

Why you here?

No, I’m not asking you this just to be rhetorical.

Hi! I’m Brittany (“Berry” works too) and I don’t understand “personal life” type blogs.

I probably did at some time, like back when I was a snowflake teenager, but now, at least, I don’t anymore. I don’t read blogs that people write about themselves personally, so you can see right away how I’m missing out on understanding why people would read this sort of blog. Consequently, I don’t know why someone would write one. Oddly enough, here I am beginning to write one myself alongside starting another major challenge in life: becoming a triathlete.

 

Why am I here?

Besides being a fresh, trying-to-be triathlete, I’m also a masters student in environmental studies.

Beginner triathlete in academia
Me with my research poster at an academic symposium on advanced biofuels in 2016.

Actually, when I think of what I’m like as an environment grad student, I can see how I’m this type who doesn’t understand personal blogs. There are two sides to that, both of them cynical. From the side of studying in an environmental discipline, I’m well aware that there are about 7 billion of us on this Earth (and that’s just counting at present!). So I find it hard to fathom that just any ol’ somebody can really stand out as unique in such a sea of individuals. From the side of studying anything at the graduate level, this saying by BrachiumPontis on /r/GradSchool captures my feeling rather well: You get a bachelor’s when you think you know everything. You get a master’s when you realize you know nothing. You get a PhD when you realize…. Well, a PhD has never been in my plans, so I’ll save us the melancholy of the rest of that expression. Anyways, now that you understand that sentiment, you can probably understand my second point here: How can whatever I am doing be anything that’s worth blogging about?

Then to top it all off, I am quite out of practice with writing creatively. My writing of recent years has mostly been academic and I must strive to keep an objective mindset in writing that way. That means no subjectivity, no imparting bias, no explaining that isn’t literal or practical, no bending the rules of conventional writing mechanics like leaving all these sentence fragments standing alone…. Trying creative writing again will certainly make for some more exercise on top of my physical training.

So why am I here, writing on this site? Despite my hesitations to write about myself personally in a blog, despite their basis in old reservations about human behaviour that I’ve held as long as I can remember… despite these reasons I’d normally hold against doing something like this, here I am writing a blog post about myself personally. It’s fitting actually – I’ve already taken on training for triathlon, something which is very new to me, and after almost two months in, it’s been going rather well already. Why not take a shot at blogging as another new thing too?

Now that you have an introduction to me as a beginner blogger, let’s dive into the introduction to me as a beginner triathlete-in-training.

 

My Fitness Evolution

I haven’t always been a very active person. Of course, I’ve known about the benefits of exercise and sport for a long time. Who doesn’t though – really? I mean, I think most of us have had the exhaustive list of benefits spelled out for us on a chalkboard in Phys. Ed. back in grade school or high school. I did get to know a few benefits of sport for myself from the bit of experience I had with it in gym class and the school sports teams I joined here and there. As for all the rest of them though, I learned about them second hand: from having them read off to me from that dusty, old chalkboard in Phys. Ed. What’s more was that I was actually decently surrounded by athletic people to look up to (and fortunately, still very much am). Second-hand knowledge, however, is rarely ever as compelling as really knowing the benefits yourself from your own experience. It’s that difference between knowing something because someone told you so and understanding something because you’ve actually done it yourself, helping you truly internalize that knowledge.

Eventually – probably by matter of the right factors coming together over time, like trying the right sports, being influenced by the right people to try those sports, and getting the right support from others once I got into that sport – eventually, I started to apply myself more in sport. The few benefits I already understood for myself certainly helped to motivate me to get into sport. Trying to experience some of the other benefits I had been told about might have helped motivate me too and fortunately, as I started exercising more, I did start to feel their effects too, which reinforced my interest to keep at it. During high school and my bachelors degree, it would have been fair to call me a casual exerciser – hey, it was better than not exercising at all! And it has led to bigger things.

So, after all this time, what were my reservations about sport in the first place?

Before triathlon: artistic gymnastics, beam
In my gymnastics club’s year-end competition in my 2nd of 3 years of gymnastics, age 10. Looks like I just landed my mount on the beam, probably in warm-up here.

I had been discouraged away from sport. This hit me mostly in grade school. It was a lot of the usual stuff. I was often one of the last kids – if not the last kid – to be chosen when it came to picking teams. I was benched much of the time in team sports as well. Too often I was brutally harassed, regardless of whether I was actually on-field opponents with my bullies or not – and even being on the same team in the game still doesn’t usually help you if you apparently aren’t on the same team in the grander scheme of life off-court. Even the sport areas where I had some success were socially overshadowed in a total eclipse of my athletic shortfalls everywhere else. For obvious reasons, I usually enjoyed individual sports over team sports. Bullying in this respect is one particular topic I’ll be dedicating a whole other blog post to in the future.

Beginner triathlete's other hobbies: classical violin and traditional fiddle music
Posing at my first music festival competition for violin, age 10 (in the same month as the gymnastics photo on the left actually).

I had other interests too. Good! At least I had things to do! However, having those non-sport interests led me to thinking that I could get by in exercising myself mentally in intellectual and creative pursuits without exercising myself physically. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that non-sport interests aren’t worth pursuing. After a long time though, I’ve come to realize that having interests besides physically exercising myself does not excuse me from doing so.

Sports and I had an identity mismatch. Every sport has some sort of culture and identity that it’s associated with. Some sports have such large followings, they may have more than one variety of what their “culture” is. In any case, if I took on a sport, the identity it was associated with would have been quite important to me as a teenager (that’s how teenagers are!) and frankly, I didn’t like how I viewed the sort of identity that would come with being a sporty-sport in general or of any specific discipline for the most part. Essentially, I didn’t want to do sport if it meant I’d have the “jock” identity that comes with it. I was an art-fart / drama geek / band geek in high school… and I liked it that way. As I’ve matured, I’ve realized that I shouldn’t let that stuff stand in my way. If I like a sport, then what matters is that I like it for what it is.

However, we all already know where this story winds up: At some point, these things became less of a barrier for me in making sport a part of my life.

 

The Ramp-Up

In my last year of high school, I started running short distances cross-country style through the woods by my house. I particularly enjoyed feeling like I was part of nature, so I did this running barefoot and with no watches or trackers of any sort. That year, I had also gotten a bit dragged into jiu-jitsu… and I ended up not completely hating it. When I moved on to university, I gave the low-cost karate class a try in its place for one year and then went back into jiu-jitsu the next. For third year uni, I went on exchange to Germany, which quickly led to the drop-off of my martial arts practice, but at least I kept minimal maintenance of my <2km nature runs all through this time with some actual running shoes. Running is easy that way! When I returned, I still kept up the leisurely running and it did help me when I accepted friends’ invitations into some other rec league sports: ultimate frisbee and then soccer.

It was in this time that I’d finally entered the amateur endurance running world…

Then for a few more recent semesters, I was living with collegiate and post-collegiate mid- and long-distance runners as housemates, which was a great influence. If having an age-grouper marathon runner for a mom wasn’t enough running world exposure, living with these folks will make you realize every day, “Oh, there they go for the second workout today… I haven’t ran since yesterday. I should do that. That’d be nice.”. It probably helped my running as well that Brian had temporarily moved away from me to study in Burnaby, BC for that time. That meant accounting for running time just within my own schedule instead of having to coordinate it with a partner’s schedule too. And yeah, running was a lot better than crying in that amount of time that he was on the other side of the country. It was in this time that I’d finally entered the amateur endurance running world, having finally moved on to completing 5km runs, then regularly doing runs of that distance and just working to speed up my time at it, and then mixing in the occasional longer run up to 10km.

Along the way, Brian’s chapter on the West Coast came to a close, we moved together to another town, started going to a new gym, I got into road cycling as Brian started making a return to it, my sister roped me into playing this sport I’d never heard of before called Australian football (aka. “Aussie Rules” or you can call this one “footy” too) and I love it, we took in a feline roommate, and as Brian’s intro blog post explains, we set our sights on triathlon for the next challenge.

Beginner triathlete's other hobbies: Australian football
Photographic evidence of me playing Australian football. Photo credit to Rob Colburn for AFL Ontario.

Just for kicks, here are some fun figures I can throw out to give any sort of idea of the mixed level of athleticism I achieved prior to year-end 2017:

Running

Total distance ran in 2017: 588.3km

First run of 2017: Jan. 12, 2017 – 5.01km in 34m19s (trail)

Last run of 2017: Dec. 24, 2017 – 6.00 km in 34m14s (road + snow)

Fastest 5K run of 2017 (and to date): 23m13s – Oct. 30, 2017 (road)

Fastest 10K run of 2017 (also to date actually, scratch that – a matter of hours later the same day I initially published this post, I set a new PB almost 2 mins shorter): 52m38s – Nov. 26, 2017 (road)

# of times I did runs of ≥10K in 2017 (before triathlon training made it a semi-weekly occurrence): 4 times (all road)

Cycling

Total distance cycled (recreationally, excluding cycling for utility/commuting purposes) in 2017: 346.8km

First road cycle of 2017, also first time popping a tire or tube (in this case, both): Jun. 24, 2017 – stopped at 7.05km, 28m57s
Route elevation profile: road cycling 7.05km

First road cycle of respectable distance (≥20K), also most kickass ride: 42.85km in 1h57m09s (Sep. 10, 2017)

Route elevation profile: road cycling 42.85km

Last road cycle of the year, also most charlie horses in a single workout session ever: 32.04km in 1h32m00s (Nov. 29, 2017) – charlie horses in my left calf, like, at least 7 times starting from the 4th km!

Route elevation profile: road cycling 32.04km

Longest distance and duration road cycle of 2017 (also to date): 56.15km in 2h36m25s (Oct. 22, 2017)

Route elevation profile: road cycling 56.15km

 

Swimming

Total distance swam in 2017: a single length of my friend’s backyard pool, so basically, nothing that I bothered counting

Other Sports

# of goals in soccer in adult life (but probably also in my whole life): 2

# of footy games played in 2017: 3

# of practices before playing first footy game: 0.5 (pre-game warm-up is not really a full practice)

# of times a tackle in footy has sent me flying into a back somersault in 2017: 2

That brings us to January 1, 2018.

Brian and I decided to take on triathlon. And hey – I even went for a run that day! Now after nearly two months of pre-season triathlon training, there have been many changes in fitness level and in the lifestyle that comes with making that happen. It didn’t take us long to build up a completely new routine for each week (swimming every morning Mon-Thurs followed by evening workouts of running or cycling, taking a rest day on Fri, and fitting in some workouts, maybe a BRICK on the weekend… which we found we had to ramp down a bit with it only being pre-season). The feelings I’ve been having from these changes are powerful. I’m feeling constantly chlorinated and perpetually perspiring… and I love it because – non-superficially – I’ve been feeling rather invigorated from it all.

I’m looking forward to the journey ahead with the training and with the blogging, and I hope I give some good reasons for you keep reading our very personal blog. Thank you!

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