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msnbc.com
updated 4/21/2005 10:10:41 AM ET 2005-04-21T14:10:41

My best friend, Jennifer, has declared 2005 The Year of Denise. According to her definition, this is my year to put my total energy and attention into reaching my goals, most notably my Ironman goal. In The Year of Denise, according to Jen, I will not waste emotional bandwidth and precious time on people who are not supportive of me or my goals.

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In many respects, it's not that hard. I am a single woman with no children and few demands on my time. My job is not a standard 9-to-5 gig, and I am frequently required to put in long hours, but not as often as when I worked in the sports department. In terms of time, I am an ideal candidate for Ironman. And as the hours of training increase, I have a greater appreciation for how hard it must be for athletes with spouses and children. There are no shortcuts. Your success in this pursuit is largely about putting in the time. So what was once a fun hobby — triathlon — has become in many ways a second job.

Make no mistake, Ironman is my No. 1 goal in The Year of Denise. But it is not my only goal, and all work and no play could make this period in my life less than enjoyable for me and all the people who have to be around me. (Naysayers, here is your first "shhhhhhhh" of the column. I already know that training for the Ironman requires a huge amount of time and commitment).

Balance. It's about striking a balance. It's about finding a way to do my job and get in my training with full energy and enthusiasm, not fatigue and resentment. And how do you do that? By not making Ironman all consuming.

Have you ever met one of those really serious runners or triathletes? You know, the ones who talk incessantly about heart rate monitors and nutritional supplements and what their splits were on the Saturday brick? Yeah, I dislike them too. You know why? Because that's all they talk about and it's boring. Plenty of people ask me about my training, and I'm more than happy to share my stories — to a point. Then even I get bored with it.

And Ironman training is often a lonely pursuit. Even when you are working out with a group, when you are on your long ride or run, it's still all you, with too much time in your head. I've lived far too much of my life in my head, and it wasn't fantasyland, let me tell you. In my overly thought-out life, I analyzed my hopes and dreams to death, killing relationships and opportunities before they even had a chance to germinate. I've been battling “the voice” since long before Ironman. I don't intend to live in my head anymore. The Year of Denise is a year of action.

It's all too easy to let training overtake your life, physically and mentally. A friend and fellow triathlete recently told me that she had decided to end a budding relationship with a new potential love interest because, with a vigorous training schedule, she just didn't have the time. “Is that normal?” she asked.

I shuddered for her. Not because I thought she was abnormal, but all too typical. The demands of training are the perfect excuse to avoid taking risks in other parts of our lives. “The voice” keeps telling you to stay focused on training because nothing will ever come of that other situation anyway.

The topic of balance came up during my last long run ahead of the May 1 Vancouver marathon. As always, I was joined by my trainer Jeff along with Laura and Bert. This was a three-hour run, so we had plenty of time to talk.

We covered the usual host of running-related topics (the etiquette of air blowing your nose, the correct number of times you should need to stop to use the port-a-potty during a marathon, how many Endurolytes to take during a long run) before moving on to the idea of having more in our lives than just training.

That's when I dropped my new bomb on them. “Triathlon is not a hobby anymore. I need a new hobby.” That's when I told them I was taking up golf. If you listen closely, you can still hear them laughing.

I'd been promising my dad for years that I would take golfing lessons and join him on the links some day. Well, neither of us is getting any younger and it just felt like time. My legendary lack of patience was the big reason I had avoided it, but mostly it was because I'd convinced myself that I wouldn't like it and probably wouldn't be good at it anyway.

Who cares? The point is to have fun. To get outside with my dad or some friends and enjoy the battle of trying to get the little white ball in the hole. I had my first lesson this week and I really enjoyed it. Will I still enjoy it a week from now? Two weeks? A month? Who knows, but I'm going to give it a try and see what happens.

In The Year of Denise, I'm open to (almost) anything.

Countdown to Vancouver
The three-hour run went well. We covered about 17 miles and I still had plenty left in the tank to push it on the last mile. I felt like I could keep going, which is a good thing since I'll have another 9 to 10 miles to run in Vancouver on May 1.

When I got home (after a very BIG breakfast), I rode my bike on the trainer for about 20 minutes to loosen up my legs. But after a cold shower and a brief lie-down, my legs stiffened up big time. The good news is that by Monday morning I felt pain-free and full of energy.

In my next journal, I will recount the outcome of the Vancouver marathon and how I prepare to make the shift to full-on Ironman training — while still maintaining a shred of balance in my life.

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