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There's always more to learn

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How triathlon helps me feel less lonely

I'm an introvert. Back in March when everything shut down I was secretly relieved that the pressure to go all the time was lifted. Of course it's terrible why we were on lockdown, but as someone who is easily drained by too much action, I could see the silver lining.

Triathlon is perfect for a person like me. The planning, the scheduling, the execution of the workouts, the recovery, they can all be done completely on my own. I'm in control of when, where, and how I practice my sport.

But even though it can all be done individually, there are opportunities to connect with other people in so many ways. Sometimes I run with my friend in town, sometimes I meet up with my cycling friend and we head out into the county. When I go to the Y, I see fellow swimmers in the pool and other people wearing race shirts in the strength training classes. Even if we don't speak, I get this comforting feeling of being a part of a club, of something bigger than myself, of belonging.

Balancing the solitary and the camaraderie is sometimes a challenge.

Yesterday I wrote a little story about what it was like for me learning how to swim at age 40. I was absolutely floored by how many people took the time to read it and comment about their own experiences and to offer encouragement. I learned two things from this: 1) interacting with people about something I care about improves my mood tremendously and 2) there are a lot of people out there who like what I like and want to talk about it, just like I do.

It's hard to admit to being lonely. I think a lot of people struggle with this but don't really know what to do about it. It's a weird situation because you can feel lonely when surrounded by people but if you're not really connecting in the ways that matter to you, it almost makes it worse. You might end up feeling like there's something wrong with you; why am I feeling so down when everything on paper is fine?

For me, it takes zeroing in on the moments when I don't feel down and tracing it back to what was going on that may have contributed to my feeling more optimistic, energized, or content (sometimes all three). It's kind of a hard thing to do and for me anyway, it takes deliberate attention to pick out the happier parts of my days or weeks or months. As I've been paying closer attention to the times I feel the best mentally, I'm realizing that very often it's in situations where I've been engaging in my sport and connecting with people at the same time. For example, running and chatting with my friend Amy, at cross country practice with my middle school team, listening to Triathlon Taren while out on a walk, or chatting with the bike mechanic at our local sports store. It's the intersection of passion and people that invigorate my spirits and revitalize my optimism.

I'm so thankful that I have the ability to participate in this sport that offers so much to improve my mental and physical health. Training for and completing Ironman strengthened me as much emotionally as it did physically. I did not anticipate that. I know it's not unique, but it was still eye-opening to me. I think that happens anytime you get outside your comfort zone and take the time to look back at how it helped you grow.

It's the off-season (TBH, all of 2020 has been an off-season for me) but that doesn't mean that triathlon ceases to influence my life. Triathlon is not the be-all-end-all. It is not the destination for me, but instead a tool I use to make the most out of my life. Today especially, I'm noticing how grateful I am that triathlon can provide the connection I surprisingly crave.

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