Friday, June 19, 2015

Exercising the Writing Muscle: On Trying a Tri

“Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.” -Jane Yolen

I think having inspirational writing/work space is always nice to get the creative mind flowing!  I had this space all set up when we first moved in at the end of last summer.  However, since then, it has been taken down to be moved into another room (the home office that my husband is no longer working from) but I haven't set it up again.  Creating this space (as soon as I paint my office) is a must do on my summer list!  

It's no secret that I love to write.  At least I used to love to write.  And I'm pretty sure I still do.  However, somewhere over the last year or so, my writing has become less and less frequent.  Even my personal journaling.  Dusty.  Rusty.  Out. of. Shape.  So much so that I've gone from thinking of myself as a writer for the simple fact that I wrote daily and loved to write to almost delivering a disclaimer whenever writing comes up in conversation.  I say something along the lines of: "Well, I like to write.  And I used to write a silly running mommy blog and have started writing a book BUT...." There's always that BUT lately.  As if I'm a pretend writer.  A poser.  But what makes a Real Writer?  I'm sure this question would be answered in several different ways depending on who you are. It's certainly a question I've considered recently.  There's this voice in my head sometimes...that little voice of perfection and "not there YET" that whispers:  "Ha!  Why do you call yourself a writer?  You're not paid to write (consistently).  You don't have a long list of publications. You're not listed in any notable magazines...."  The list goes on.

But here's the simple truth:  I love to write.  I enjoy using words to tell my story, thoughts, observations, and reflections.  Writing daily is fuel for my life.  It makes me happy.  Clears my head.  Leads to connection and depth with relationships.  Writing is something I used to and want to continue to do daily.  As I teach my students when I teach writing workshops:  To be a better writer, you need to live a writerly life.  To be a writer, you write.  And just as with anything you want to be better at, you practice...or as author Jane Yolen mentions above,  you exercise!  As with running (or any sport), you don't have to be elite or at the top of your age group to call yourself a runner.  You RUN!  You practice.  You get out there and move your legs and arms! And if you make running part of your life, you're a runner. It's about your personal relationship with running and what it adds to your life.  There's no such thing as a "real runner" as I hear some people say when they are giving their I'm not good enough disclaimer when asked if they are a runner and they say: "Well, I run sometimes.  But I'm not a real runner."

So, here I am, missing writing in my life (public and private) and exhausted with the disclaimers we give to make ourselves less vulnerable.  As I exercise my body as an athlete, I'm exercising my writing muscle as a writer.

Running: Run, Bike, Swim
Running used to be my main way to exercise this body (and mind) of mine.  It still is.  However, since moving to Bend, physical exercise has involved so so much more.  Currently, I'm considering jumping in my first triathlon in just a few weeks.  I have never done a triathlon of any kind and it is certainly something that scares me a bit.  I've considered a triathlon a couple of times but never seriously followed through.  So why now?  Why not?  My body feels strong and capable from all the trail running, and after Boston and my trail 50k, I feel pretty strong in the endurance category!  So, it feels like a perfect time to do a first triathlon for fun without any expectations other for the experience.

Two things I'm pretty scared of when it comes to trying my first triathlon in these mountains:

  1. Steep downhills.  Climbing the mountain roads is no problem.  I can power/endurance through this!  But then you have to turn around and come down!!  I will burn through my brakes.  And with traffic and a narrow bike lane,  it scares me to think of fearless flyers zooming by me while I grip my handles, clench my body, and repeat my mantra: "Trust you bike. Trust your bike. Trust your bike."
  2. Cold open water swim.  Yes, I was on the swim team in HS but I was never the best swimmer and open moving water is way different than a pool!   
I think the ripping off the bandaid approach might be best for me here.  Not over thinking but instead, giving myself permission to go as slow as I pressure.  And lucky for me, I have some great resources here in Bend.  My friend Corie (also a triathlon/endurance coach) has been such a huge support for me with my consideration of stepping un-tri-trained into an olympic or sprint distance Triathlon.  She's offered to take me out for mountain rides and river swims, loaned me her wet suits, and so much more.  Thankful for her!  

What little progress I have made towards this thought of jumping in a triathlon:
  • I bought clip-in shoes for my bike!  And so far, I have not crashed but I know just by typing this, I'm jinxing myself.  Knocking on wood now.  
  • A couple longer bike rides.  One was last week where I rode from Sisters, OR to the top of McKenzie pass.  This was about 30 miles of riding from what I was told so not too far but long enough to give my body a taste.  Climbing up the pass was no problem but coming down was a little scary for me.  Luckily, there were no cars on the road so felt ok about my awkward brake riding on the steep, windy decent.  
  • I tried a couple cold water lake swims recently.  Two of them were with a wet suit.  The wet suit was really a big pain in the butt ...what a process!!  However, it kept me warm and more buoyant so I didn't get the same panic feeling like I did the week before when I thought I'd just swim half way across the lake in my swimsuit no problem.  
What I'd like to work on in the next couple of weeks:
  • At least 2 more longer bike rides on steep roads.  
  • Trying to run right after a longer bike ride so I can get a feel for this. And riding after a swim.  
  • Two or three swims in the cold Deschutes River to practice how it feels and get more comfortable with my strokes.  However, you bet I'll be the breast stroker and back floater!  No shame.  
  • Actually wearing a swim cap next time I swim in the rivers or lakes!  Otherwise, the water in my ears leads to crazy vertigo that has me stumbling around like a drunk toddler. 
  • Maintaining endurance.  
If I don't feel comfortable and SAFE after practicing these points I listed, I will wait to find a triathlon further out.  But if I do feel ok at them even though I'll likely be super slow, I will certainly jump in and see what happens.  It might be my first and last.  However, it might spark a fire!  

My first road ride with my friend Corie.  She took me out to some less traveled roads but I was still pretty chicken!  And my crotch was angry (I need a better seat) even with the padded bike shorts.  This bike is so old but it does the trick for what I need it for right now!  

I'd considered typing up this post with a bit about running, motherhood and life in general but as I'm writing, my kids have stepped out of their beds and the RUMPUS has begun.  I have two girls in the kitchen (my eight year old and her friend) making pancakes, one rowdy almost six year old boy antagonizing his oldest sister, and a very non-morning person ten year old ready to eat said little boy/brother for breakfast.  Besides, in my attempts to exercise my writing muscle again, I think shorter is better.  I'll write on Motherhood and Life next time!

A quick shout out to my sweet friend (and amazing runner) Marci as she races Grandma's Marathon this weekend!  So glad to call her friend...such a beautiful and wise woman!

Marci in Duluth running Grandma's Marathon last year in 2:35

  1. Have you done a triathlon of any distance?  What one?  What was your first?  
  2. Any triathlon tips for a beginner who is potentially jumping in an Olympic distance mountain (steep ride, cold river swim) triathlon?  
  3. What's a "muscle" or habit in your life you miss that you'd like to spend more time exercising?  

Mostly on Instagram with my blog these days with pictures and long captions.  :) 


  1. Why do we feel the need to validate ourselves when we talk about what we are passionate about, whether as runners or writers? I'm guilty of the same.

    1. Hi! I know what you mean... I meant more feeling the tendency to discredit myself rather than needing to validating myself but that's just me lately. Instead of coming up for reasons why I'm not as good as _____ and ______, I want to own and value my accomplishments more.

  2. Glad to see you writing again! I liked this post. I have, too, toyed with the idea of a triathlon but have the exact same #1 and #2 fears as you have. I hope you stick with it (the tri training and the writing!) and let us know how it goes!

    1. Hi Katie! Thanks...good to see your comment. I think I will stick with this one this time! And I'll be sure to post about it. :)

  3. Amanda, this excites me for so many reasons. As pregnancy has prohibited me from doing any triathlons this summer, I find myself wanting to support and live vicariously through friends and other athletes who are training for their respective events. I actually have a friend who, like you, has up and decided to train for her first Olympic distance triathlon (she is doing the Deschutes Dash). I have loaned her my bike and wetsuit, and she went out and bought shoes for the clipless pedals and bike shorts. It’s been fun supporting her and watching her overcome fears in the swim/bike legs. We are actually going up to Elk Lake today for her first open water swim. I think it’s important to have supportive, knowledgeable people around you when training for something new (it sounds like you do). We all have to start out new to the sport and have been there. One thing that I love about triathlon is how welcoming and “community-like” the environment and people are.

    Are you doing the Deschutes Dash? If so, the river swim is actually awesome because of the downstream current. You’ll be out of the water in no time. I would say for the bike, to ride the course in a “simulation” training day beforehand and practice the bike to run transition. Running off the bike can feel really weird. The nice thing about racing vs. training on a bike is that during a race you often don’t have to deal with the cars/traffic as much because they are very mindful of the cyclists.

    Ok, now that I’ve written a novel… I’m just very excited for you because I was new to the sport last year and know the feeling… :)

  4. Best of luck with the Tri. If it makes you feel any better the first time I rode my bike with clip in shoes I went out with a group and sure enough at a stop sign we all came to a stop, someone next to me zigged when I thought they would zag and my weight shifted from left to right and I could not get my foot out of the pedal. I toppled awkwardly to the pavement, foot still connected to the bike as I lay on the road. The only thing hurt was my pride and my buddies laughed at me and assured me that it was a right of passage, that they had all done the same.
    So hopefully that doesn't happen to you, but if it does just smile and chalk it up to being an experienced cyclist :-)