The first year that I did a triathlon, I was in love and love made me a solid triathlete.
Her name was Jenny.
No, that wasn’t the name of my bike. Her name was Black Lightning and I loved her too. She was all black with gold flecks mixed in with the clearcoat and she would catch the summer sun and smile it right back at you. Cannondale named her and it seemed like a good fit, so I kept it. But, I digress….
Jenny was my girlfriend who was a kick ass swimmer in high school. That is until her shoulders decided that she shouldn’t be a butterflier anymore. Once she was done with swimming full time she was looking for something else to do. That something else ended up being triathlons. I had the interest to start after we graduated from high school and she decided that being a triathlete would be a good challenge. That summer our training began.
I was not a swimmer. I mean, I could make it to the side of the pool after jumping in off of the diving board, but I couldn’t make it 25 yards without stopping. I was a runner who also really liked to bike. I ran on the school’s track team. I also road my bike a few times each week to commute to places, but I liked to commute as fast as I could and feel my legs burn and my heart pound with the effort. In both running and biking, it was always From the Gun. Driveway to Driveway. All in and take no prisoners. Push hard and feel the speed. Faster than yesterday.
Jenny really couldn’t swim with me, because, well, like I said, I couldn’t swim. She couldn’t really run with me, because running didn’t involve water, lats or triceps. So the one sport that we could meet half way and enjoy the time together was the bike. She would be working really hard and pushing like she did back in her swimming days. She was all in and it was great for her. She got stronger and more fit and ended up riding at the top of her age group and faster than most. But for me….even though it was a solid pace, it felt smooth and comfortable.
Day after day, we would go out and ride. Day after day, I would ride with envy as she had opportunities to push herself and be challenged. Every once and a while, I would arrange a ride with one of the other two male triathletes in the area, Bill or Mike and I would be able to get in a nice hard ride, but not very often. Why didn’t I ride with the guys more? Because I was in love.
It was the only activity that Jenny and I could really share together. We started the triathlon journey together as something to share as a couple. I felt like I couldn’t skip out on our rides to ride with Bill and Mike every time, because I would be abandoning her and backing out on our adventure. So most days, I road with Jenny. The thing that helped me be at peace with our time together on the bike was the fact that when I did get a chance to ride with the guys, I did alright and at times, even pushed the pace.
It was about 10 years later in my USA Cycling coaching certification class that I realized Jenny was the best endurance coach I ever had.
It wasn’t that she wrote killer workouts for me. It wasn’t that she challenged me to go faster. It wasn’t that she helped me establish my race pace zone. She helped me go slow. She made me ride at an intensity that was low enough to build my aerobic/oxidation system which is the anchoring cornerstone to every successful endurance athlete. Had I been left to my own devices, I would have pushed hard every day and ultimately experienced limited aerobic growth.
I didn’t ride slow to build my capillary density. I didn’t ride slow to increase my oxidation enzymes and hormones. I didn’t ride slow to increase my mitochondria population and size. I road slow for love. Because I did so much riding with Jenny at that lower intensity in that first summer of triathlons, all of those critical adaptations were taking place and my aerobic/endurance system was becoming strong and robust.
I started my triathlon career on one of the best crafted training plans I could have ever asked for. I just didn’t know it. I would be so fresh, rested and hungry to go fast when I had the chance, I would really push knowing that I would be back to the more relaxed pace for the next few days. I would recover and build my endurance until the next fast opportunity came my way. I still marvel about how balanced and appropriate that first summer of training was.
Love will make you do some crazy things and I am eternally grateful that love helped me do something as crazy as going slow.