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Bring On The “Funishment”

How often, when explaining your sporting practices, have you used the disclaimer: Because it’s fun!

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Fun-ish-ment. Noun: The frequent phenomenon in the transition back to fitness: Getting back into shape after the off-season requires a fair share of funishment.

You know that look your non-triathlete friends and family members give you when you tell them the details of your training, or the distances you’ll cover in a race? It’s the same look you sometimes give your coach when you first glimpse your training plan. It’s a mix of recoil from the portended pain and utter incredulity at your endeavors, the anticipation of agony on the path to accomplishment.

A lot of what we triathletes put ourselves through does seem—and feel—like physical punishment. But along with the beating, hand-in-hand with the hard work, it’s also, well, pretty awesome. How often, when explaining your sporting practices, have you used the disclaimer: Because it’s fun!

“Hurts so good” is another triathlete-favorite phrase. We welcome the punishing pain. We seek it out and revel in it. That’s because we’re all gluttons for what I like to call funishment.

Funishment is a particularly frequent phenomenon in the transition back to fitness from the off-season. I, for one, have a tendency to put myself in situations that I’m nowhere near ready for, simply because I know I need a motivational—and punishing—kick in the pants. This year, for example, I signed up for an early-season Smashfest training camp led by Ultraman world champion Hillary Biscay. I could have chosen to kick off my 2014 training with any number of coaches, but no—I went straight for the woman who came second overall (guys included) in one of the most grueling races in the world, who logged her 63rd iron-distance finish in 2013 and who regularly swims, rides and runs ridiculously far just for fun. She even ran a 22-plus-mile tough-as-nails trail run to kick off her wedding day. That, bookended by 10-kilometer swims the days before and after. The woman wrote the book on funishment.

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I remember the moment I decided to attend her camp. I was snuggled under a blankie, one hand holding the TV remote and the other a chunk of chocolate, clad in cozy sweatpants because my jeans were all too tight. I had logged exactly three swim sessions in almost as many months, and there were merely six weeks remaining until camp. I glanced at the sample syllabus. “100 x 100-meter swim,” it read—and that was just one session amid a jam-packed four days of fierce rides and runs. Talk about intimidating—but I was tempted. Never in my life have I swum farther than 4,200 meters in a day, much less a single session. I signed up straight away. Because how darn good would I feel if I actually conquered that 10,000? That is, assuming my arms remained intact. Hurts so good, indeed.

We’re fueled by a fascination for funishment when we select our race schedules. How many triathletes do you know who choose a race because the course is rumored to be easy? How many do you know who choose a race based on its beastly qualities? Far more of us shun the former, choosing instead to test our mettle on the most trying courses and under the most adverse conditions. It’s just in our nature to tackle the hard stuff. I’ve traveled to Laguna Phuket in Thailand twice now—a posh beachfront resort that hosts two of the toughest races on record, where I could have easily spent my time chillaxing in the surf and sun. But both times I opted to race, knowing just how much sweeter that surf and sun would feel when soothing my swim-bike-and-run-battered body. The Laguna Phuket races are funishment in its purest form.

An iron-distance race, the crux of many a triathlete’s competitive season, is the ultimate funishment. Even just deciding to do one kind of hurts. The roller coaster of emotions, the foreseeable suffering and all the unknowns that accompany such a choice (not to mention the painful ping to one’s wallet) create a platform for punishment. Consider this: have you ever heard anyone say they plan to do an Ironman because of how good race day will feel? Yet through all the self-doubt, sacrifice and seemingly endless hours of training, fun somehow factors in. It’s the thing we always fall back on. We may struggle with our sessions, we may feel unbearably burdened with sport/life balance and we may have the occasional emotional meltdown, yet when asked by concerned onlookers why we continue our self-inflicted torment we answer without pause: “Because it’s fun!”

Opportunities for funishment are all around us, in nearly every setting. And when we grab hold and go—headfirst into the hard work, the physical grind and the emotional struggle—they’re the things that make us feel most alive. So bring on the funishment. Because ultimately, it really is fun.

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