At what point does endeavoring to get fit cross over from healthy pursuit into obsessive mania?
Two months ago I was running with a well-known motivational speaker, and we got to talking about why we did the things we did. Why do we run marathons? Why do we do triathlon? What possessed me to do an ironman? And the thing is, it’s only when I stopped and was forced to take a step back that I confronted those questions. When I was actively training and racing, I was so caught up in the training and racing that I didn’t have the time, energy, or inclination to stop and ask myself, “Why?”
I think I just wanted to see if I could do it. I also wanted to experience what other people found so captivating that they would keep doing it over and over. I began to rack up the medals, trophies, and achievements, and basked in the prestige that doing an Ironman (70.3 or otherwise) gave me.
Raise your hand if at some point, your whole world revolved around training and racing, and you largely socialized with and hung out with fellow athletes. Especially among the addictive personality types that long-distance running and triathlon attract, the sport becomes all-consuming.
But you know what? It doesn’t mean anything, at least not in real-world terms. Do people’s lives improve when I finish a half-marathon? Maybe, if it’s a charity fundraiser. But I could just as well donate to a cause and just run on my own time. And once I crossed off the marathon and the ironman, proving to myself that I’m made of sterner stuff, there really seemed no point to repeatedly punishing my body across those long distances.
You know why I continued to sign up to races even when in the back of my mind I knew I was overtraining? Because it became about keeping up appearances. I’d built some part of my identity, my brand around being the strong, fast, sporty person I was known to be. And if I wasn’t running or doing triathlon, who was I?
My body failing on me and this prolonged hiatus from being competitive gave me the space to get to know myself, apart from all the sporting accolades and this reputation I’d built. Noelle is Noelle even if she can’t run, because Noelle is not just a runner. I am someone with a desire to experience new things and then communicate with others about it. I love spending time doing things with and for the people I care about. I enjoy making things or helping others make things happen.
The training I do these days? It’s a tool. There’s the matter of fighting against genetics: heart disease, diabetes, the weight creep that comes with aging. And I do still enjoy crossing finish lines with a decent time (on my terms). But life is more than what I need to do to get from the start to the finish of a race. Life is so much bigger than that, and this realization is what drives what I do these days. :)