Health

Setting goals, big and small: My triathlon project

Goals. I've set myself a big one, a challenge for a not-particularly athletic mother of small children: complete a triathlon. But I'm starting from scratch and will need about a year to prepare. As I ease my way into training, the big goal seems to stretch farther and farther away. It becomes a maybe-triathlon, a haze on the horizon. "I don't feel like getting up for a run," I say to my husband. "So stay in bed," says he. "But if I don't get up every time I don't feel like it," I say, "I'll never go for a run."

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Goals. I’ve set myself a big one, a challenge for a not-particularly athletic mother of small children: complete a triathlon. But I’m starting from scratch and will need about a year to prepare. As I ease my way into training, the big goal seems to stretch farther and farther away. It becomes a maybe-triathlon, a haze on the horizon. “I don’t feel like getting up for a run,” I say to my husband. “So stay in bed,” says he. “But if I don’t get up every time I don’t feel like it,” I say, “I’ll never go for a run.”

What I need is something to get me out of bed. Something urgent. The big goal is too big, too distant. I need a small goal, something reasonable and short-term, something to grab onto.

Impulsively, with pounding heart, I sign up for a local race. It is an eight-kilometre trail run, the very longest distance I can manage at one go, and I have slightly less than a month to prepare. Ah, there it is: a reason to get out of bed.

On race day, I declare three basic goals: finish the race; no stopping to walk; and please let me not come in last. But as we drive across town, kids packed in the back and complaining because their distracted mother has forgotten to bring snacks, I am cursing my own initiative. “Why am I doing this? Remind me?”

Arriving, we are overwhelmed by crowds, music, and line-ups for the porta-potties: flashbacks to terrifying high school track meets. There are details I know nothing about: how to check in, where to pin my number, and what the heck is a timing chip? My husband departs with the kids to search for food: “Remember not to walk, Mom!” my eldest daughter shouts.

I start the race at the back of the pack, moving slowly, hoping to avoid a too-quick beginning followed by a long and painful fade. We are running on a beautiful trail under late-September leaves. A collective gasp marks the sight of a deer, standing still to watch us pass. Feeling light and strong, I let myself run a little faster. Slowly, steadily, I’m passing people; already it’s better than high school.

At the five-kilometre mark, I’m shocked: already more than halfway there! Still feeling sprightly, I run just a little faster and just a little faster, speeding up until I’m pushing myself harder than anticipated. Yup, it’s starting to hurt. This is when, in high school, I would have stopped to walk. But there is no way I’m slowing down now — I’ve been through childbirth; this is nothing! And speaking of children, there they are, waving and jumping up and down and cheering me on. I discover a hidden cache of energy and sprint to the finish line.

Elation? Excitement? High? Those words don’t do justice to what I’m feeling.

The time on the clock is respectable, and I’ve achieved my three basic goals, but that isn’t what thrills me; it is the joy of the race itself: the unexpected camaraderie of the participants, the simple act of running, and of finding within myself more courage than I knew I had.

What will my next “small” goal be, on the way to the big one? All I know is, this isn’t going to be my last race.