I’ve realized recently that I have a tendency to talk about my life as an athlete in terms of achievements, goals and, sometimes, failures and difficulties. I imagine that it gives the impression that I am always chasing a new PR or always pushing for longer distances or trying to learn new skills. This is true to a certain extent, but focusing too much on that obscures the fact that there are a lot of things I love about being an athlete, and not all of them are dependent on measurable goals and achievements.
I began considering this on Tuesday night, when I was driving home from the pool after a swim workout. I’ve come to love the thirty minutes or so between the time I leave the pool and the time I get home, so much so that I don’t even mind sitting in traffic on the way to the pool. Every Tuesday night, I roll down the windows to my car, change the radio station to one of those easy listening stations (the ones with names like “The Dove” or “Magic” and that always play Delilah at Night) and luxuriate in the calmness that envelopes me as dusk falls. As strange as it sounds, it is one of my favorite moments of the week.
It occurred to me that my life as an athlete is full of these quiet pleasures, the ones that are rarely talked about, mainly because they aren’t as flashy as some of the other things we athletes like to talk about. But I think these little things are just as important as the big ones, if not more so, because big accomplishments can be so far apart, while the smaller pleasures happen nearly every time we train. Those are the things that keep us coming back, not the glory of smashing a PR or snagging an age-group award.
So I decided to make a list of my quiet pleasures, as sort of a celebration of the quotidian aspects of life as an athlete:
- That first pull of ice-cold water or Gatorade from the refrigerator after a hot run outside.
- The smell of chlorine lingering on my skin for hours after a pool workout. In fact, the smell of chlorine, period.
- Tucking in on my bike when riding downhill, which I have only recently worked up the courage to do without touching my brakes even once.
- Taking an afternoon nap after running a half-marathon or a full marathon. Sleep rarely feels as good. (And sleep usually feels amazing to me. I sleep so hard, all the time.)
- The first time I put on a racerback tank top and noticed how muscular my traps and shoulders had gotten. In fact I am often awe-struck by my arms and shoulders. They aren’t anything spectacular in the grand scheme of bodies, but to me, they mean the world.
- The last mile of a long race. Not just the knowledge that it’s almost done, but the fact that somehow I’ve gotten to the point where my body can summon up enough energy to run a bit harder and a bit faster, no matter how long I’ve been at it.
- The first real meal I eat after a long race. At that point my hunger is bottomless, and everything I eat tastes like manna.
- The way my muscles ache after a good lifting session. I’m not talking DOMS, but that nice, pleasant dull soreness that makes me feel like my muscles are swelling slightly.
- Slowing down after doing a speed interval, either on the bike or on foot. My legs and lungs are grateful for the relief, and they repay me by running/cycling faster than ever during the next training session.
- Noticing new bruises on my legs after a pole class. I also like seeing new callouses on my hands and feet, finding scrapes on my shins from the barbell and cataloging all of my bizarre tan lines.
- Pedaling effortlessly at the top gear on my bike, and wondering if this is what it feels like to be Evelyn Stevens.
- Swimming outside on a clear summer day. Being in clear water with the sun shining over my head feels like being suspended in a sapphire.
- The feeling of a barbell in my hands as I prepare to deadlift.
- The nods of recognition from other runners and cyclists.
- The sense of satisfaction that comes when I’m doing a challenging workout and I actually do the whole thing. Even better if I end up laying in a puddle of my own sweat at the end.
- That moment during the run leg of a triathlon when your body takes over operations and your mind retreats into the background and you begin to feel less like a human and more like a machine.
- I used to be one of those people with sweat allergies, but now I’ve come to appreciate the sensation of clean, healthy sweat pouring from my body. It tells me my body is alive and healthy and working exactly as she should.
Share some of your own in the comments below if you want. I’d love to hear them!