I’ve been dabbling with triathlon, training and racing, on and off for a few years now, but today, everything changed.

It’s 4 a.m. and the sky is dark, dark, dark. Penelope awoke in the night and she is cuddled in close to me now; she’s wedged herself firmly between Dan and I and she’s breathing on the back of my neck. Every once and a while she coughs, ferociously, like a dragon is trying to come out. Needless to say, I’m awake.

Being awake isn’t the end of the world; I lie there with my eyes closed as my mind warms up with thoughts of the day ahead. Today’s a big day. I’m starting my new triathlon training schedule, and this time, I have a coach.

I rise at 5 a.m., quietly pack my bags. The game of musical beds that began during our travels continues. I leave Penelope and Oreo, our dog, sprawled out on my bed. Dan has moved to Penelope’s room. I drive through the still morning, not a soul around, make my way to the gym.

My coach uses the program Training Peaks to load my schedule for the week. She is tailoring this schedule for me, so that not one iota of my energy is wasted. I have faith in my coach; she’s an elite athlete, and a mom to three, just like me. The workout for the day is a forty-five-minute cycle divided into intervals of various effort levels, followed by a twenty-minute cardio, core and stretch regime.

It’s 5:30 a.m., no sign of any sun outside, not even one that has ever existed. Inside the gym, I walk into the spin room. Turn on the light. I’m wearing my special cycle shoes, the ones that I my feet clip into methodically, one, two. My legs are pumping, one-two-three, one-two-three, easy, easy. I find my rhythm. I’m listening to an audiobook, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni, one hell of a book, and keeping an eye on the clock. At a certain point, about thirty-five minutes in, I feel a bead of sweat materialize in the middle of my forearm and slide its way down to my elbow. A simultaneous drop forms along my neck and snakes its way down my chest, dividing my torso in half. Still, when I finish my ride, I know I haven’t exerted myself enough. What does 75% effort on the bike look like versus 80% effort? I’m learning.

I click off my cycle shoes, one, two, and slip back into my reliable runners. Running, I can do. But I’m not running today, I’m hopping. I’m hopping one hundred times, times three, in all directions, and the strange part is, in this gym of people working out, all these weirdos in here at 6 a.m., I don’t feel weird or self-conscious jumping around at all, because I know what I’m doing. I have a coach, and she told me so.

I’m the exact person who should have a coach. I’ve been told I’m very coach-able; I respond well to instruction and especially, ahem, praise. In the context of sports, I like being told what to do. The main thing that stopped me from getting a coach sooner was my own hang ups, the spiteful doubts parading through my brain, sticking out their tongues. You don’t deserve a coach. You aren’t good enough. You haven’t shown you’re committed enough. You don’t make enough money. You aren’t giving enough of yourself to others. You don’t have enough time. Enough, enough, ENOUGH. I’ve had enough of excuses, and so I let myself be myself.

My true self is an athlete. Somewhere deep inside me is a competitive gymnast and she remembers what it’s like to push herself; to improve fitness and learn new skills. She needs a challenge. She is strong and fierce. She beats boys in arm wrestles. She is the person I am, because she formed who I have become. I can’t ignore away my physical ambitions and desire to compete. I don’t want to win, in any race, I just want to make myself proud, the inner gymnast in me proud. I want to stretch the bounds of my limits a little bit more. Earn the sweat dripping from my elbows. I want to fully live as the person I truly am. An athlete.

I had a funny thought, it made me snicker. Athlete mom. I’m an athlete mom! Why does that sound so funny? It isn’t funny! There are tons of moms out there working it, working out and working at this thing called life, and I just want to give a shout out and say, hey. I’m an athlete mom, too. We’re doing it. It isn’t easy to put yourself first for that one hour of the day, but my god, if you don’t, who will? Not your husband. He means well, but it’s probably a struggle for him to get his own shit together. Not your kids; the neediest, attention suckers in the world also known as my sweet darlings whom I love very, very, very much. Not those people, and those are your people. You. You are the only one who can put yourself first.

When I arrive home at 7 a.m., my crew has come to life. My husband did get his own shit together and made time for a run on our treadmill before work while the kids played merrily by his side.* I grabbed myself breakfast on the way home.

I bite into a toasty warm egg sandwich and sip my English Breakfast tea misto. I sit and enjoy myself, taking a moment to jot down a few notes from the essay I read the night before. I shower. By 7:40 a.m., I am making lunches and cleaning up and getting the kids ready for school and I feel nothing but gratefulness and so joyful. Exercise makes you feel good, so good, and so does looking after yourself. The time away for me and the treat breakfast were equally essential to my great morning.

I think this morning was the first morning since we’ve been home from our trip that I didn’t have to lose my shit to get the kids out the door. When it was time to go, Elyse was still sitting at the table eating, saying “no”, poopoo to school. My bucket full, I didn’t bat an eye at her belligerence; I packed the lunches I prepared into their respective bags then helped load Penelope and Ariel and the backpacks into the car. When I came back inside, Elyse had her coat and boats on, ready to go. I kissed the top of her head. We jammed to our favourite tunes in the car and had pleasant chit-chat like this is how every morning goes. I got everyone where they needed to be on time. ON TIME.
Maybe the moral here is that we all need support. We need to take time for ourselves, and we need the support of others to do it. Maybe you need a team of people like I do. A husband, a coach, a teenage babysitter. That’s okay. Maybe exercise isn’t your jam, but if you like to paint, or knit or fly a kite – I don’t know – whatever your jam may be; who can help make that part of you a reality? By putting the supports in place in my life, by asking a coach to help me, I feel better able to help others and care for my children. I feel like a better mom and a happier person. Those two things need not be mutually exclusive. Nobody else could make that decision for me. I had to figure it out and make it happen.

Admittedly, we’re on day one here, folks. But every day counts when you’re training. I have a long road ahead, about six months until my actual race, my first 70.3 Ironman, and I chose this route. This route that suits me. I chose this route and today was the day I realized how happy I am not to be going it alone.

*To be fair, my husband usually has his shit together and coaches and supports me in many aspects of life. Love you babe!

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