Caution: Good Times Ahead by Kristen Gleason

 

HOOD.to.COASTKristen Gleason is currently the Club Sports Director at the University of Oregon, where she oversees a program of 45+ sports clubs, serving over 1000 participants, who represent the University regionally and nationally in everything from dance to rugby.

Kristen earned a BA in Journalism from Saint Michael’s College, an M.A. in Sports Management from the University of Connecticut, and M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Boston College.

Her professional passions include creating accessible sports and recreation experiences that help build healthy, engaged communities. As a leadership educator, she strongly believe that the sports and recreation experience is a pathway for participants and staff to develop personal development and leadership skills. Follow Kristen on Twitter: @kgleasonski

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Did you complete your first 5k as a 2013 resolution? If you conquered that goal–congratulations!  I’m warning you that running is a gateway drug. You are heading down an addictive road! It’s a gateway drug because running is often just the entry point to many more adventures.

The great thing about running is you don’t have to be athletic. The participatory nature of many 5ks means that you can offset any perceived athletic deficiencies with an entertaining costume and a positive attitude. You can be the star of the show, even though you may be the final finisher.  What you will soon realize, is that your running time on your watch as you cross a finish line is not the only important time.

In his book, Spark, Dr. John Ratey describes exercise as a “social lubricant” in physical education classes.  According to the book, physical movement reduces the barriers that social anxiety creates.

“The brains are primed for movement, and they lay down circuits that record the experience, which at first may be painful but which becomes less so in a context of an experience shared by the entire class.”  (Ratey, 30)

Exercise as social lubricant.  This is an interesting concept, and I realize that this is has been very true for myself, as well as many of my sweaty friends.

It’s been twenty years since I entered the world of triathlon. This was after I had started to dabble with the gateway drug—running. I was an athlete in various sports in high school. Some coach was always telling me to run. But, college was the first time that I had started running for fitness.

I was working as a lifeguard with my best friend in the early 90s.  During that summer, we had developed a solid fitness base, conquering the local 5k. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves. Then, the effects of the gateway drug started to hit. We started to itch for our next challenge.

Lifeguards have down time during rainy days.  This leads to magazine reading, and talking about crazy ideas, usually over a pizza, to help pass the time. These were the infant days of the internet.  There were no websites or social media to learn about races. It was like caveman days! That summer, I spent a small fortune at the bookstore buying Runners World magazines to access race calendars.  During a string of rainy days, as we perused the recent issue of RW, we came up with a crazy idea…..

How about a sprint triathlon? This would include a ¼ mile swim, 12 mile bike, and 5k run.

We had a solid cardio base from our running addiction, and we were working at the pool for 10+ hours a day. The only missing link was the cycling portion. But, we were confident we could figure that part out. We can ride a bike. How hard could that be?

We ripped the race information from the back of Runner’s World and mailed in our triathlon registration. In caveman days, it was mail-in registration only.  I have no recollection of our training process. I think we probably did more talking about training than actually following through with each and every workout.

The day of the actual race is the memory that has stuck with me. Our first triathlon went something like this—

My friend and I invited a couple of my sisters to join us in this adventure. We loaded all four bikes on the car one early morning to travel to the race site.  We were almost to the race site when, in the rearview mirror, I noticed our bikes were hanging precariously off the trunk. The safety straps we had quadruple knotted were flapping in the wind, providing no security for our bikes as we zoomed along the highway at 5am.

Once we fixed up the bikes, we arrived at the race to see people already running and biking. Were we late? Had the race already started? Panic strikes us again! We later learned that more experienced racers arrive early to get good parking and a warm up.  Clearly, we had a lot to learn about this sport.

Regardless of the debacles of the day, we had a lot of laughs. I have no idea what my race time was that day. But, I do remember the bikes almost being strewn all over the highway, laughing as we tried to reload them, half naked (we were in our bathing suits, ready to swim!), on the side of the road. During the race, I remember the old man who effortlessly cycled past me, as my twenty year old body gasped for air. That day, I learned that being able to ride a bike and being a fit cyclist were totally different concepts!  I remember the various other folks who passed me, usually with a wink and a high five. After waking up before dawn, swimming, running, and biking together, if Spark is correct, we could consider ourselves socially lubricated and ready for the post-race beer tent!

I thought to myself–I like these sweaty people. This is a good TIME. What followed was twenty years of participation—some years more than others. But the social network I created through these experiences has been important to me.

As a sport club administrator, I see the power of shared sport experiences in my work. Students arrive on campus during an exciting, yet scary, time of change in their lives. They join a campus sport club. For many, it becomes not only a source of physical activity, but a valuable social network. The young people I work with often think that once you turn thirty, you get transported to the nearest nursing home. As graduation day approaches sometimes I hear—“Well, this is it. I’m graduating, won’t be doing my sport, and won’t be seeing my friends. My life is over, I’m OLD.”

I encourage them that although their experience with their campus sport club is ending. It is not the end of being fit and having fun with friends. They will move on, get jobs (hopefully), move to new city, and join a local sports league or club. They will tap into that social lubricant once again–sports participation, continuing to build a network of sweaty friends.

During my triathlon debut, a long-time racer said to me, “Welcome to a wonderful community.” I didn’t understand what she meant by that at the time. Now, looking back on countless road races, triathlons, and multisport variations, I think about the community I have built through shared experiences in sports and fitness. I still keep connected with members of my figure skating club from childhood, my rugby teammates from college. My ski and running/triathlon community is a constant in my adult life.  Wins and losses, and the time on a race clock are long forgotten.  What sticks with me is the time spent with family, and new and old friends, in such adventures.

As 2014 race calendars get posted, what good times do you plan to have with your sweaty friends this year?

References:

Ratey, John. Spark. New York: Little, Brown, and Company,2008.

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