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In elementary school, I hated all P.E. Strangely, though, I loved to climb trees:

I also loved to swim in the pool by our house that had originally built as the foundation of another house :


But at school, it was a different thing. Dodge ball, baseball, recess--whatever name they put on it, it seemed to me that they were all the same popularity contest. The kids who were popular got all the attention, and they, by coincidence, got better and better.

The worst thing of all was the yearly mile run, combined in junior high with even more dreaded "fitness tests." They never seemed to test what they actually practiced during P.E. If they had, I would have done very well at keeping my chin up while other people laughed at me. But they tested pushups and situps and chinups and running a mile when they never ever practiced this. Ridiculous!

When I finally got to high school, I joined the swim team. My events were the 100 Butterfly and the 500 Free pretty much because no one else would do these events. My senior year, I set a goal to go to state in one of my two events, which meant to get in the top 18. I started doing double workouts every day, swimming morning and afternoon, over 10,000 yards a day. This would be the equivalent of running 20 miles a day. In the first two months, I saw some impressive improvement. Then it tapered off and I actually seemed to get slower.

This was incredibly frustrating to me, especially when all around me were people telling me that I should just "try harder" or "give it my all" in a race. I worked harder and harder, trying to make myself better. I did not miss workouts. Ever. But I didn't make state, and it seemed there were plenty of swimmers who did who hadn't worked as hard as I did. For you swimmers out there, my PR in the 500 Free was 7:11 (this would be sort of like having a personal best for runnning the mile, after three years of track running, of 7:11). I retired from swimming that year convinced that I just wasn't "built" to be a swimmer.

I spent 15 years swimming three times a week to keep myself turning into a ball of fat, and also, because I felt good when I swam. I tried running very briefly in college, but hurt my knee and decided I just wasn't "built" to be a runner, so I went back to swimming.

Then, in 2003, I had an itch to do more. I went to a sports doctor for pain in my knee. He told me I should run. So the first day I ran a very cautious .1 miles on the treadmill and .2 on it the next, until I reached 6 miles. Then I tried running outside. No knee pain! I got excited enough to sign up for my first marathon, and then when I recovered from that, a triathlon, since I already knew how to swim and bike. The first triathlon I did (Jordanelle in 2004), I won first place in my age group. I had never won first place in anything athletic in my life. I was thrilled!

But more importantly, I began to question all my old assumptions about not being "built" to be an athlete. The more I learned, the more I understood about what I had done wrong before. And also, how badly I had coached myself into classic overtraining, by never letting myself rest enough to get better.

Since then, I have done even more crazy things, like becoming an Ironman (2006 Coeur d'Alene, Idaho in 13:06, for those interested).

Click here to read about that experience.

Click here if you want to read my essay on the importance of failure.

Click here if you want some advice on getting starting on the road to better fitness.

My new book Ironmom is all about triathlon training and life. If you want to know more about what I'm up to right now, I have regular youtube videos and post on tumblr with a special Ironmom blog.

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Copyright Mette Ivie Harrison 2013 all rights reserved.
Last revised March 8, 2013.