What in the world possessed me to sign up for a triathlon? My Guilt-Free RD® Philosophy on Exercise: Beliefs, Barriers and Behaviors (Part One)

I recently completed my first (only?) triathlon. While I’m very happy that my training and race day were successful, I’m just as happy that it’s finally over! It has been quite an interesting experience – I have learned much more than I anticipated.
I can still see that look in someone’s eye when they’d find out I was training for a triathlon. They were so impressed! But then I would declare, “It’s not what you think! It’s not that impressive – it’s actually kind of crazy!”
I’m not knocking all the athletic folks out there, but I do believe you have to be a little bit “cray cray” to sign up for a triathlon. Had I lost my mind? How did I get there? Well, to answer that question I need to go back to the beginning and tell you what led me to even considering a triathlon.

As the Guilt-Free RD®, I’m usually talking about food and nutrition, not exercise. But the same principles for healthy eating apply to healthy exercise. Taking a closer look at our beliefs, barriers and behaviors is key in making lifestyle changes.
Why do people exercise? For health benefits, stress management, weight control. We’re encouraged to find something we enjoy so that we’re more likely to stick with it. That’s what I’ve always told my clients, and that’s what I’ve always done myself.
My first exercise was actually more of an art than a sport. I grew up studying ballet. Quite seriously, in fact. It was not just ‘what I did’, it was ‘who I was’. I even attended (or should I say ‘survived’) a performing arts high school when I was 15 years old. Growing up in an artistic family (my father was an actor/director and my mom was a visual artist – painter/illustrator) it wasn’t too farfetched to believe that dance could, and would, be my career.

However, I ultimately decided that I didn’t want to give up everything for a career in dance and went on to study nutrition in college.  I continued to dance throughout college, but in graduate school I started lifting weights and got hooked. I liked the results and how effective it was in managing my weight.
Over the next 20 years my primary form of exercise was weight lifting and walking. And, honestly, I had no desire to change it up. I enjoyed my routine, what I put into it and what I got out of it.
Lifting weights was convenient and low stress. I had free weights at home and could lift at 10 o’clock at night if I wanted to. All by myself. The fact there was no one yelling at me to work harder was a bonus – I’d had enough of that in ballet. At one point I shifted my motivation from weight management to stress management and was pleased with the results. Turns out, I exercised more regularly and enjoyed it more when I viewed it as something FOR me, not something I HAD to do.

But then something happened. At the age of 43, I started running. I had always HATED running. Seriously, I would see people running and think “Why are they torturing themselves?” I had never gotten that “runners high” people raved about. I didn’t get it. It was boring. Aside from the enjoyment of being outside, I found it to be pure drudgery.
But somehow, something changed and I suddenly felt compelled to start running. I couldn’t quite understand it myself. When it came down to it, I guess I just started coming up with so many reasons to run that it seemed to add up to something important. Or, maybe it was simply a mid-life crisis. Since I’m a positive person, I decided to call it a mid-life experiment.

You see, there were a lot of transitions going on in my life at the time and I needed something completely new and different to focus on and help manage my stress. About a year earlier there had been a lot of changes in my work/life balance and I needed more flexibility and time with my family. This led to me leaving my full time job, and taking a part time job while starting my own business. Each one of these decisions and steps was, admittedly, quite nerve-wracking. A little over a year later I left the part time job to focus entirely on my own business, and my family. And that’s when I started running.

Here are some of the random thoughts and realizations that went through my head about running:
First of all, I realized that when it came to exercise, I had never pushed myself any harder because I was afraid of getting injured. Getting injured would mean that I couldn’t exercise. Not exercising would mean that I would gain weight. Gaining weight was not in my game plan!

I also realized that I wanted to:
•    carve out time for myself that had nothing to do with work or family
•    spend more time outdoors
•    do something good for my health
•    be a good role model for my kids
•    have specific short term and long term goals to work toward
•    push myself physically in a completely new way (but with a low risk of injury)
•    see how my body responded to more intense exercise
•    lose a few pounds
•    invest in something that might add years to my life and allow me to be around longer for my kids and maybe even their kids someday (as an “older” mom, this really motivated me)

When I first started running, I couldn’t even make it half a mile without stopping. But that first summer I completed seven 5K races – culminating with one on my 44th birthday. My family was very supportive – my 4 year old son would cheer “Run, mommy, run!” and my 12 year old daughter was an expert race day photographer, and my husband even ran a few races with me! It felt really good to share this experience with them.

That summer, I came to the realization that running isn’t hard. For crying out loud, I had survived childbirth and divorce. Having this epiphany prompted me to post this on facebook:

 

So I’d gotten past the barrier that running was hard. Now, I need to deal with the barrier of boredom.  When I got to the point where I was running 6 miles or more I was excited that my body was able to do that! But those longer runs were going on an hour or more and sometimes not even my high-energy playlist was enough to keep me going. I needed something to really occupy my mind. So, I started brainstorming and creating social media ‘mashups’ on these longer runs (sort of like the mashups on GLEE).

Consider Facebook to the tune of “It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore:
It’s my Facebook and I’ll post if I want to, tag if I want to, like if I want to.
Consider Twitter to the tune of “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani:
Few o’ my tweets have been a bit too long so I’m not just gonna hashtag like that
Cuz I ain’t no followback girl
Oooh – This my tweet and retweet
This tweet is bananas – #BANANAS
Consider Pinterest to the tune of “Whip It” by Devo:
Create your boards
Give ‘em catchy names
Follow your friends
They will follow back
When a good thing comes along
You must pin it
Before the opportunity’s gone
You must pin it
Now pin it
on your board
cook it up, get ideas, go for it, move ahead, beware of copyrights, it’s not too late, to pin it on your board
Consider LinkedIn to the tune of “Zombie” by The Cranberries:
A new request
To connect
LinkedIn, LinkedIn, LinkedIn, In, In
And my all-time fave. Consider Instagram to the tune of “Kodachrome” by Paul Simon:
I got an iPhone camera
I love to take photographs
So momma don’t take my Instagram away

So, you see, I was clearly starting to lose my mind! But, seriously, I was learning a lot about myself, my body and my feelings about exercise.
Signing up for different races kept me focused and motivated. The following Spring I did a 5 miler then a 10K. By Fall I had done another 10K and a 15K. Friends were encouraging me to do a half marathon but I honestly had no interest in running any farther than a 15K (that’s 9.3 miles)!

With hubby before the Shamrock Shuffle 8K

After the 15K I knew I could “do” a half marathon and probably even a marathon. But I didn’t want to. I didn’t feel the need to. And neither did my left foot which was bothering me enough to know I wasn’t doing myself any favors in the long run by continuing to pound the pavement and worsen my bunions. When I’m an old lady, I want to be able to walk and try to keep up with my kids and grandkids!
So, when my brother-in-law suggested I do a “sprint” triathlon (500 meter swim, 20K bike and 5K run) I thought it would be a great way to run less but still have a race goal.  Simple, right?  What was I thinking?! I signed up – but I had no idea what was in store for me. I had no idea about wetsuits and trisuits and open water swim. No idea! But I was in for an interesting ride!

Stay tuned for PART TWO of this blog to find out about the next phase of my mid-life experiment. What I was thinking, what I learned, what I liked – and what I really didn’t like about training and race day.
I hope this has inspired you to think about your exercise beliefs, barriers and behaviors! If so, please share your comments below!

For more info on my background and credentials, click here and here.

To check out other posts on my “Food for Thought” blog, click here.

6 Comments

  1. Shelley Johnson on December 12, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    What a cliffhanger!!
    It’s funny how accomplishing an endurance exercise goal can make you feel like you can do ANYTHING. I hope that dance makes you feel that way too.

  2. admin on December 12, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    Thanks, Shelley!!
    That is definitely an important lesson. Like my childhood BFF said before I gave birth to my son, “I have two things to tell you: this will hurt, and you can do this!”
    It’s really amazing what the human body AND mind can accomplish!
    Dance is just a lot more fun – stay tuned 🙂
    Melissa

  3. Deanna Segrave-Daly (@tspbasil) on December 13, 2014 at 1:15 am

    That is a good cliffhanger! Love reading about your exercise journey through the years – as I sit here with a injured butt muscle and not being able to run. The past two years I’ve mixed it up with boot camp classes and some days I bitch about running on that treadmill the winter but now that I can’t, I’m so missing it!

    • admin on December 13, 2014 at 2:39 am

      Thanks, Deanna!
      So sorry to hear about your injury. That reminds me that I forgot to add one more reason I started running – because I still can!
      I hope you’re better soon and back to the treadmill in no time,
      Melissa

  4. Joanne Perez on December 13, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Talk about a cliff hanger! Can’t wait to see what comes next. And from someone who uses running to run off stress (and usually ends up with an injury), being able to run is the best reason of all to do it.

    • admin on December 13, 2014 at 10:46 pm

      Thanks, Joanne!
      Here’s to happy running with no injuries!
      Melissa

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