How Raising a Toddler is Like Training For a TriathlonHeather Neal
This past Sunday, my mom and I completed a sprint triathlon together. If it hadn’t been for the desire to go on this adventure with her, I more than likely wouldn’t have shown up at the crack of dawn that morning. To say I was unprepared is a drastic understatement — a broken toe had derailed my training and a busy summer without childcare more than disrupted my regular gym routine. My lack of triathlon-specific preparedness meant I should have crashed and burned at Sunday’s tri (quite likely literally on the crash part), but to my disbelief, I not only survived but finished feeling pretty good.
I’ve often joked about how chasing after a toddler all day long is a workout in itself, but this shows it truly is. If I had sat on my butt for the last three months after breaking my toe (a stupid, dumb injury in the grand scheme of things), I would never have made it to the starting line. I would’ve been gasping for breath in the pool during the swim; I would have struggled through the bike ride if I managed it at all; I would’ve been huffing and puffing as I slowly walked the “run,” wishing it to be over or wondering why I even started.
Instead, I underestimated myself on the swim. I passed people with each lap I swam. My bike was slow and steady, but I managed to make it up even the steep hill at the end of the ride without having to hop off or completely killing my legs. My run was probably more walk than run, but to my surprise, it wasn’t because of my lungs, it was due to an old knee injury rearing its ugly head like it loves to do. I crossed the finished line in the middle of a field feeling strong and accomplished.
My secret? Toddler wrangling. My un-official training program. I chase my son down the street and around the neighborhood no less than five times a day. I inevitably carry his 28-plus pounds back to the house — the only way to get him to go where I want. We literally run circles around our house — through the living room, around the corner through the dining room-turned playroom, a quick pass through the kitchen, and repeat, repeat, repeat. Our spontaneous dance parties leave us both lying breathless on the floor, only to get right back up and do it all over again. Anytime I need to go upstairs or downstairs I have to carry my miniature human-sized weight, giving my quads an extra run for their money. Sometimes I end up hauling him up the stairs on my back or swinging him up the stairs with my arms. All in all, by the end of the day, I’m exhausted. I haven’t been to the gym aside from an occasion or two in months, yet I’m just as strong — if not stronger — than I was at my last Pump class. And needless to say, pushing a kid in a stroller is a lot harder than taking a leisurely walk on your own, especially when your cargo is yelling at you to go “fast, fast!”
More than anything, raising a toddler prepared me fully for the often overlooked mental aspect of competing in a triathlon (or any race for that matter). Just like you can’t cash in a sick day when you’re under the weather when it comes to taking care of your kids, you can’t up and quit in the middle of a tri just because it gets hard. Raising a toddler is a constant dry run for switching between disciplines like you do in a triathlon: swim to bike, bike to run. It’s like a toddler’s version of bounce the ball —no, play with the train —no, blocks! Spending my days with a toddler has taught me to always be ready to be caught off guard; to expect the unexpected; to go with the flow. It’s the same with a triathlon. Race number got mixed up in somebody else’s stuff? No big deal, just go back and find it. Somebody cuts you off on the bike? Brush it off. Your legs feel like lead when you get off the bike? Too bad, just gotta keep going.
And most of all, at the end of the triathlon is the finish line. The moment of accomplishment, pride, and euphoria. That sensation is exactly like the end of every single one of my days, although I experience those feelings while stumbling into bed instead of across the final timing mat: pride in my son, delight in his smile and adorable habits, and a sense of accomplishment that we made it through another great day together, me hardly believing that this wonderful creature is my creation and my life — my whole life.
So what are you waiting for? Step up to that starting line —whatever it might be. You’re more prepared than you know. Whether it’s training for a triathlon or raising a toddler, you’ll figure it out, trust me.