Relax and Enjoy the Ride: Advice for the New and Passionate Athlete
So you’ve found a new passion and now want to go all in? Congratulations on being part of the minority on the planet who are actually keen on exercise. In all honesty, it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it stops you from becoming part of the globesity problem. But when you’re a newbie and you’re all fired up, there are some things to keep in mind.
First and most importantly, just because you’re in love with your new thing doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same way. And even though you know that the rest of the office would benefit from being more active, it doesn’t mean they want to hear about your new “Fran” time, the new pair of bike shoes you bought, or hear you explain for the tenth time today why going paleo would solve all their problems. Just chill bro’. When the horses are ready they’ll find the watering hole on their own. If they’re not ready yet, they’re not ready and all you’re doing with your preaching is pissing them off and turning them away from exercise of any kind.
One of the things I admire most about CrossFit is how passionate people are about it and the strength of the community. But as a newbie who is trying to fit in, it doesn’t mean you need to go out and buy one of every t-shirt Rogue or Reebok has so you can fit in. The same goes for shoes. Just buy one pair that you can wear for just about anything. If I had to pick a single pair of shoes it’d be my beloved Saucony Kinvaras. They’re reasonably flat so I can lift in them, and I know I can run an entire Ironman marathon in them without getting even a single blister. That’s value for money right there.
And this is a big lesson for those entering a sport like triathlon, too. It can be incredibly daunting when you turn up to your first race and see bikes in the transition area that are more expensive than your car. You don’t need one of those for your first race, though. In fact, you may not ever need one. I have a friend who is a serious triathlete. She travels all over the place to attend races and trains every day, yet she doesn’t own a time trial bike because she recognizes that it won’t make her any faster and she’s more comfortable riding a road bike. And when it comes to distance, comfort is king, because even the smallest thing can be massive after five hours. Likewise you don’t need a disc wheel or an aero helmet either.
Sticking with triathlon for a moment, you also don’t need the most expensive wetsuit you can find if it’s your first race. Many places rent them out so first-timers can get a feel for what fits and what it’s like to swim in a wetsuit. The only thing you actually need to be careful about is that it fits securely around the neck - otherwise it’ll fill up with water when you swim and act like a parachute. Like with whatever bike you end up with, the most important thing is fit. Even small things will become incredibly uncomfortable after they rub you for a few hours.
One of the biggest issues you may face, particularly if you have experience in other athletic areas and are just starting a new sport, is that you may be just strong enough to really hurt yourself. Olympic lifting is a prime example of this. If you have some experience lifting weights, it’s quite likely you can get some decent weight overhead. But do you have the mobility to do it correctly and is your technique sound enough to allow you to do it safely? There’s a reason you can find clips on YouTube of eight year olds in China working technique - because it takes a lifetime to master. Patience is a virtue when it comes to learning new skills, and just because you have skill in another physical area doesn’t mean you’ll have skill in a completely new one.
This applies to running more than any other discipline I can think of. You can be a monster on a rowing machine, be able to smash the pedals on a bike, and squat the house down, but if you haven’t been running you’re going to need to be patient. Even top aerobic athletes like Lance Armstrong had to be patient in building up running muscles. The best piece of advice I ever received was to imagine how far you’d be able to run barefoot on your first day of running before your feet would hurt and then run that far. If you want to train longer then you’ll be reduced to walking for the remainder of that session. Gradually build up the time you spend running, adding no more than ten percent to your total time each week. (And yes, I’m aware that this will take a long time, but it’s better than tearing your calves multiple times or suffering Achilles issues.)
I’ve seen this same problem in martial arts, despite all the warnings to people to leave their ego at the door. It’s common to have a new, relatively fit person start a martial art and wonder why he or she is so damn sore after the first few sessions. It’s going to take the body a long time to get used to the impact, the speed of movement in fighting arts, and the non-stop movement. In the book The Path to the Black Belt the Gracies advise not training more than twice a week for the first two years of BJJ. That sounds a lot like the running advice - do a little and stop before it starts to hurt. Very gradually add time spent doing the activity and then increase the number of sessions to prevent the body breaking down.
And that’s good advice for the first time CrossFitter, kettlebeller, triathlete, or runner too. It’s great you’re in love with this new thing, but take it easy because you’ve got the entire rest of your life to enjoy it. You’ve also got the entire rest of your life to build up your wardrobe of sport-specific t-shirts and other clothes to let everyone know just how into it you are. You don’t need to try to train for the CrossFit Games team on your first week in the box, nor do you need to worry about what it will take to qualify for Kona in your first triathlon. Relax and enjoy the ride, my friend.
Photo 1 courtesy of CrossFit Impulse.
Photo 2 courtesy of CrossFit LA.