During the winter, training becomes a special breed of difficult. The summer, of course, has its challenges concerning the heat and intense sun, but winter training is especially hard from a psychological perspective. It is just so COLD outside and the headwind SUCKS and I just want to HIBERNATE and oh my GOSH please please please PLEASE if there is a god get me OFF this trainer I am OUT of Netflix shows to binge while I suffer through another 3 hours of Zwift courses.
This is usually the time of year when one sees many posts, blog entries, and books on “finding your ‘why.’” This is a legitimate question and a very important aspect of your training that one must consider! WHYYYYYYYYY do I continually pummel my joints and freeze my ta-tas off and put my very sore rump back on that blasted saddle?
Of course, we do it all because we love this beast of a sport, and we love ourselves. We give ourselves the gift of healthy bodies through training. We find pride in overcoming obstacles so that we can be proud of our accomplishments, willpower, grit, and fortitude on race day. And we continue pushing year after year, long after we have incorporated the self-esteem and happiness that comes from athleticism into our personalities, because we truly believe that our sport makes us better people.
However, in my experience, one of the best ways to pursue self-improvement and to find meaning in life is to help encourage meaning in others. Some of us are lucky enough to get the chance to do that in our career paths, but for others it is necessary to step out of the normal routine to help others. You must be intentional about volunteering time, effort, and money if it isn’t already built in to your life. Which is difficult if you are constantly pouring yourself into work and family while reserving little for yourself and training.
As a recent college graduate making $10.50 hourly and trying to find the time and money to train for an Ironman, all this pushing for self-improvement began to feel a bit aimless. Burnout started to set in as I struggled to pay for this incredibly expensive sport and find the time to push out grueling 10-hour training sessions. This is why I turned to charity to supplement my motivation to continue cycling. I wanted to keep doing it, but as a person who naturally strives to help others, it was starting to feel too self-gratifying to do all this work, eat all these extra calories, and take up all this extra space in life. It felt somewhat selfish just race for the heck of it or to get a medal for my own nostalgic purposes.
Don’t get me wrong, there is NOTHING problematic about doing what you love, like triathlon, simply because you love it. There is an important place in society for indulgence because of how empowering, encouraging, and reaffirming it is to our self-worth and identity. Initially, the confidence boost and the distractions provided by endurance training were what I needed in life. After a few months, though, my ‘Why’ had started to evolve. My ‘Why’ in life has been to help others; it is what led me to a career in psychology and it is what is pushing me to go to graduate school to become a counselor. I felt that I needed my ‘Whys’ to complement each other.
There are many ways to connect your love for running/ biking/ swimming to helping others. For some, it is through the simple act of connecting your GPS devices to charity-centered apps. For example, the app Charity Miles allows you to connect your Strava/Garmin/Fitbit to the app and slowly raise money for your fundraiser of choice. The amount you raise is a function of how many miles you go. For others, there are races for which the proceeds of the entry fees go towards special causes, such as cancer research or homelessness.
Everyone has a unique background, and everyone can find a cause that means more to them because of their experiences. For me, a feminist who greatly values her privilege to attend school, fundraising for scholarships and education resonates with me deeply. I am also an extremist, and I have never done an easy thing in my life (hence the Ironman), so I chose an extreme way to support my charity of choice. Every year, the Ulman Foundation, a non-profit centered around helping young adults with cancer, facilitates three 4,000+ mile bike rides from the east to west coast. I applied and was accepted to the San Francisco team, and I have pledged to ride from Maryland to California during the summer of 2019. Along the route, we will be stopping to volunteer at hospitals and give out scholarships to young people with cancer. I have also pledged to fundraise $4,500 for said scholarships, every single one of which my team will give away in person. I cannot imagine mustering up the motivation for seventy 70+ mile days in a row if it weren’t benefitting something I care about. I can't fathom how I would do such a thing if I weren’t plugging in to a team mentality.
Perhaps one day, I will need to return to the races and finisher medals to remind myself of how much I am capable of. For now, I am finding meaning through giving to others, which I believe will be a more sustainable model. Not everyone can take the time off for or endure a coast-to-coast ride. I certainly cannot continue to do unpaid charity work for months at a time forever, but I am glad to be tackling such a feat while it is still possible for me. What is important is that we do what we can as athletes for who we can. I look forward to this new era of athleticism, where my blood, sweat, and tears all benefit somebody else, which makes that finisher medal all the more sweet.
To learn more about the Ulman Foundation 4K or to donate to the fundraiser, click here. 100% of the proceeds go to the Ulman Foundation; my lodging and food this summer will be covered through donations along the route.
Written by Bethany Gray, Siren Luminary
Follow Bethany on Instagram! @bagsby_avenue