I did my first triathlon in 2008 because a close & long time friend told me I had to. It was 1 week after completing my 3,000+ cross country bicycle ride, needless to say my muscle fibers were aching & by aching I mean looking for yet another something to keep them busy!
During that first triathlon I vividly remember passing several women riding bikes in the $5,000-$10,000 range, whilst manning my 35lb Cannondale touring bike with the children’s pink rubber horn still attached.
Love at first race? Pretty much. And as life and fate would have it, that friend who made me race said first triathlon is now my fiancé. We have one of life’s most beautiful gifts in our relationship: the shared love for sport.
Love, obsession, sport, passion. Aren’t they all the same dynamic anyway? Two athletes driving one another to our goals, pushing one another to reach that next level of success, building our big dreams of elite level fitness, together. Simply put, its always so much easier to get up at 5:30am for your workout when the warm skin laying next to you is getting up too.
He was a competitive collegiate swimmer, and now a swim coach of 15 years. I was a mildly committed childhood swimmer who used to get out of practice 15 minutes early so that I could get that one shower in the locker room that was really warm. In college I swam on and off, rarely early morning workouts, and mostly just to get the cool furry swimmers jacket with the college logo on it.
The love of my life, Mr. Anthony Madonna, goes to Crossfit at our rad gym (yeah CFCOA!) regularly for 4 workouts a week, sometimes 6. I attend 1 endurance based long Crossfit session per week, and 2 yoga classes. It’s a interesting dynamic to observe the differences in our training as we both seek the 140.6 distance, for different reasons and in such different ways.
His training is simple, regimented, without incident. My training is so far beyond complex and I could write for days about it (and that I have!) Conquering the difficulties of Fibromyalgia, the condition I live with daily, is far from so far from easy it may as well be 140.6 miles from it. Understanding my limits in the process of heavy endurance training has consumed me, and us, together, in a manner of exploration, creativity, and really good problem-solving. In a way this process has challenged us to think alternative, outside the box. It has brought us so incredibly close, and it has brought us to tears so many times, together.
Anthony never has the kind of mornings where his whole body says no and he has to skip the workouts he planned for the day in trade for ice baths & massages & stretching. I never have the kind of weeks he has where everything goes according to plan. And he’s jealous because he never has reason to get 6 hours of sports massage a week. And I’m always jealous because some weeks I wish I could do 6 days of Crossfit.His training plan is: next to flawless, my training plan: extremely flexible. :-)
Last year I said to him, I’m doing two effing Ironman’s in a 3.5 month period… next year, its your turn to do ONE. As a natural coach he embraced that special role with me all of last year through my training. The cheerleader, the dietician, the cook, the masseuse, the encouragement, the shoulder to cry on. It was so meaningful to share the process with him in all of those ways, even on the days when nothing in my body worked and compression gear & Ibuprofen was all I could muster.
And now I’m taking that role with him as he passes the 100 day mark leading up to his first Ironman in Coeur d’Alene Idaho. Its easy to coach him… in all reality that’s a actually a extra large understatement! Its amazing to watch what his body can do, without the throws of the things I contend with. His body just gets up and keeps on going, every day, before the sun rises, no matter what he throws at it. And the wonderful part is that his success in this process is our success. Just like my success in crossing that finish line in Kona last year was our success.
And isn’t that just the perfect outline for the simple beauty of life? Different ways of reaching to success? It doesn’t matter how one achieves their personal form of greatness. It doesn’t matter what steps one has to take to achieve their wildest dreams. For some those roads are that really smooth brand new black pavement, for others the potholes and cracks seem to come relentlessly. In the end the achievement is the dream come true. The struggles are the achievement. The process is where the strength and character and wisdom grow from.
Anthony and I have a little joke amongst ourselves Because if you can’t laugh at life, and all of its difficulties… well then its going to taste like something terrible for a really long time. We say that my training is so shitty sometimes, excuse the French, that I literally go into my races so prepared to battle endless amounts of shit, that nothing can stop me. When everything hits the fan during the last 4 hours of my race in Kona and my stomach looses circulation because I’m severely dehydrated, I just keep on keeping on, because I’m so used to the difficulties of pushing through anything. That’s my life story on a daily basis as a endurance athlete with Fibromyalgia. I know what to do when things go wrong, because their usually always going wrong! Him on the other hand, we like to say that he has all these really regimented training days, where he suffers and pushes and recovers and the does it again and again. It’s never easy for him, that’s not the gist here. Training for a Ironman is nothing even remotely close to easy. However when shit hits the fan for him, he isn’t quite as well equipped to push through incredible, all-consuming amounts of pain as I am. It is said that all men have a substantially lower pain threshold compared to women. We like to say that endurance athletes battling with issues such as what I have, they are a whole different breed.
Grit. That’s the one thing that gets a person past the last step of that marathon in a Ironman. It’s really not about the miles you put in to train. Or the flawless nutrition plan you spent months perfecting that goes out the door when the top of your water bottle isn’t screwed on tight enough. Long distance sports are about the mind. The mental control you have taught yourself to exercise, while exercising. Calming the thoughts, focusing the breathing, positively reinforcing every step of that 26.2 mile run and every pedal stroke of that 112 mile bike ride. Ironman is about listening to your body and yet in the same right & at the same exact time Ironman is about turning off those signals of fatigue and pain and ‘I can’t do another step’. And perhaps athletes such as myself, those working to conquer things that attempt to hold us back, perhaps we are a little too good at going when the going gets tough. As evidenced by my experience in Kona last October… oops, a little visit to the ICU!
On Wednesday before Kona Ironman, it was our two year anniversary. I had arranged with Argon 18 to bring a bicycle for Anthony to ride. We set out on the Queen K together, every triathlete power couples dream. It was crowded with world class Ironmen from every country you could imagine. When we got to the turn around point in our 1hour ride, and we stopped for a minute to take it all in. The sun was beautiful and spicy, lava fields crowded us on either side of the road. The air smelled like love and the ocean. I asked this boy to marry me on that day. I wanted to beat him to the punch and steal his thunder because I knew he was going to ask me very soon. There we were in Hawaii, living our dream, celebrating where we had brought each other. We were laughing together on that infamous road about remembering that exact moment 50 years from now.
And as lucky as I am to have this beautiful “Greek god” of a man, (as my best friend says in her sexy French accent). And as lucky as he is to have me. And as lucky as we both are to have our health, a beautiful set of Argon bikes worth more than our cars, and a love for cooking lots and lots of sweet potatoes.
This boy and I, we are team ready to take it all on, the good, the bad, and often the really ugly and really sweaty. Give us a 100 mile bike ride we can’t do, laughing and pushing a flirtatious speed as we switch off pulling to break the wind. Give us a run in the miniature mountains of Griffith park and the trails behind the HOLLYWOOD sign, up and down, hundreds of vertical feet of climbing. Give us a descent down the steep roads in Malibu that we can’t speed down way too fast to feel the wind and the rush and the ocean air. Sharing the processes of challenge, grit, and the Iron will to overcome. As we conquer our individual dreams of athleticism, together. That is the true love in triathlon.