March 23rd, 2010
01:58 PM ET

I do not have time to train for a triathlon

By Meredith Clark
CNN Fit Nation Challenge

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/03/23/meredith.image.jpg caption="Meredith Clark attends a kettlebell class to build stamina for the Nautica NYC Triathlon"] “I do not have time to train for a triathlon.” That’s the reality I face every morning when I’m up at 5:30 a.m., trying to squeeze in strength and cardio workouts before the day really gets churning. Those words are a mocking mantra when I make my way to the pool after work instead of catching a half-hour of rest before Bible study, community meetings and events begin that evening.

I do not have time to train – but a recent e-mail from my trainer, Ian Briggs, says otherwise.

“We basically have 16 weeks to have you ready for NYC Triathlon. It is doable but now it is critical time for you to commit to workouts,” he wrote. “I understand that you have and have had an immense amount going on but unless you are able to make this opportunity a priority it is going to be very difficult for you to complete the event.”

Translation: Making only three out of five workouts per week isn’t going to cut it anymore.

His final words gave me a slight boost: “You have the physical ability to do this (and well if you want) but crunch time has finally come.”

I entered the Triathlon Challenge with twin goals of losing weight and completing the Nautica New York City Triathlon. To date, I haven’t lost a pound. I’m admittedly a little green-eyed after hearing two of my competitors (ahem, teammates) have each dropped 20. If this were just about quick weight loss instead of building a new way of life, I’d quit now.

But the efforts I’ve put into my sporadic workouts are paying off: My running form is improving. An out-and-back is an energy boost, not a chore. (It helps both my time and my ego to dust my running partners.) No matter how I feel about getting into the pool, my endorphins come out to play as I reach and pull myself through the water. Two full months into this challenge, I’m finally ready to trade 30- and 45-minute sessions on my spin bike for a 13-mile ride Friday after work.

I’m battling to balance my career, community involvement and relationships with friends while trying to train. I’ve had to choose between hanging with friends and getting rest, or forsaking meals out for workouts. There have been broken dates, hurt feelings, exhaustion, fatigue and moments when I just don’t want to drag myself to the pool, the gym or the track.

My edge is the experience of having been here before. I lost 30 pounds two years ago, and though I’ve gained quite a bit back, the knowledge of what it took to get the weight off has stuck with me. I’m using some of the tactics I used then to get myself back on track. My two goals are still in sight, and as my trainer said, I do have time to make them a reality by my July 18 deadline. What matters now is that I don’t count the days, as boxer Muhammad Ali has said, but that I make the days count.

Here’s how I’m making each of the 117 days until the race work to help me meet my goals:

First, I used the calorie target tool on Calorie-Count.com to estimate my daily caloric intake in order to meet my weight loss goal - about 1,600 calories per day. I’m also keeping a food journal and taking 10 minutes in the morning to plan the day’s meals. Six days a week I’ll focus on eating like an athlete. (On the seventh day there will be rest and pancakes. And those will be good.) I eat when I’m physically hungry, not on a schedule, and get in fruits, vegetables and adequate protein at every meal. I’m reminded not to forsake good carbohydrates such as oats, quinoa, brown rice and bulgur. My body needs the carbs to fuel workouts. As any survivor of a low-carb diet can tell you, cutting good carbs is a fast ticket to lethargy.

My second step involves more planning to fit in my daily workouts. I wake up knowing that I’m going to train each day – sometimes in the morning, which I prefer, sometimes after work and sometimes, even as the last thing I do before bed. Yesterday I hit the lap lane from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. I was in bed just after 11 so I could make a 6 a.m. kettlebell class and fit in 20 minutes on the elliptical trainer. After work – or whenever my day is finished - I’ll ride for 30 minutes.

My third step is to keep my mind focused on the little things that make a difference. Every bite counts. So does every sip, and every minute I spending sweating. My form, my breathing, my rest – they all matter. There are 117 days left until race day. I don’t plan to let another one slip by in a blur of meetings and business trips and I-don’t-feel-like-it moments of procrastination. I plan to make every day count.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.