Seeing race photos for the first time is a moment of truth. I do triathlons for reasons more important and more powerful than looking good, but truly, those photos pretty much sum up the choices I have made during training and the last several years of my life. They don't lie. They have taught me the value of patience, the price of overeating, and the power we have to transform ourselves.My training log is laced with magazine photos of lean, fit triathletes. I know I will never look like them. Family and work obligations are a priority that I embrace. I can live without looking like an elite …but deep inside I would like to look more like an athlete than like a 45-year-old mother of 2. I want to look hot (and I don’t mean sweaty) in those race photos. I want the body that I have developed on the inside to show on the outside. The problem is that I have been overeating way longer than I have been training hard, so I have to be patient. I have only been at Weight Watchers (yes, an athlete can fit-in among the WW crowd) for 5 months, and that is just one of many weight-loss programs over the years. Although I want that athletic-looking body now, I have to remind myself that the body of an athlete reflects genetics as well as years of consistent training and attention to nutrition. These folks don't get fat every winter then suddenly decide to become athletes because swimsuit season is approaching.I view each new batch of photos with apprehension because I am impersonating an athlete, I am not wearing much, and I am in motion. No amount of spandex can compress 30 extra pounds on a run, even if I am “all muscle” underneath. Although I focus only on "problem" areas, the layer of bodyfat is everywhere, like frosting on a cake. The saving grace is that in real life, the juggling is momentary and not frozen in time. The camera captures but a moment, a flutter, a flop, a ripple. I want to get to the point that most of what rippling is muscle, not fat. This being said, I always buy a race photo, no matter how unflattering. They are an important piece of personal history. I never display them because they show a heavy woman rather than an athlete. Now that is changing. Having lost some weight, I can usually find at least one acceptable shot per race. No matter what the scale says, I can gauge my progress in those photos. When I put them in sequence, they show how far I have come....and how far I have to go. The disconnect between the “real” me and the me in photos is disappearing. I can even see some muscles in these last ones….. Imagine, one day I will have race photos that show the lean, fit athlete that I TRULY am. When that day comes, I will happily spend a hefty sum to have the photos enlarged, framed, made into Christmas cards and coffee mugs. Will that be the end of triathlon for me? No way—imagine how fast I will be.
Author of the latest in the Ironman Series of books,
"Ironplanner: Iron-distance organizer for triathletes", USAT level 1 coach.