The quiet pleasures of the athlete’s life

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!

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30 responses to “The quiet pleasures of the athlete’s life

  1. - Sitting on the park bench watching the river, after a great run.
    – The quiet and stillness of a early morning or late night run. Feeling like I have the city to myself.
    – Letting the kayak glide and noticing the fish and water birds all around me.
    – Ditto on what you said about calluses and bruises – absolutely! Also in complete agreement on nods from other runners, the feeling of sweat on my body, and a barbell in my hand.

  2. The cup of coffee that always waits for me at the end of a long run. It is especially good in the winter when my core is still warm but my fingers and toes are frozen.

    The way the sweat seems to almost leap out of my skin about 15 minutes into my yoga class.

    I’ve read that the runner’s high is very similar to the feeling people get when they stare at a horizon for a long time. One of the places I often run is a rails-to-trails path, which means it is very straight and I get to look a distant point on the horizon. There is nothing like that blissed out feeling that happens around mile 10 for me on that trail.

  3. - The hot water of a post-workout shower on my skin
    – cruising home on my bike after an evening workout, enjoying how my legs are still going after an hour of weightlifting
    – that moment when you realise that something you struggled to do a week/month ago is now doable and even enjoyable.

  4. I love the physical sensation of lifting something heavy, feeling the strength in your body come together that first few nano-seconds of the lift, and knowing you are going to do it well. (It’s like a little respect nod from gravity).

  5. - Waking up early for a run when it’s still a little dark out and feeling like I’m the only person alive in the whole world. (And then I show up to the trail where the rest of the running group meets, ha)
    – Getting into the zone in a long run and feeling like I can run forever.

    Love this post!

  6. OK, so y’all are HARD CORE.

    But I’m still pushing myself…now doing 90-minute dance classes, which (as every dancer knows) are athletic in their demands for grace, strength, flexibility, agility and stamina.

    — watching my arms and shoulders change shape thanks to recent weight-lifting
    — enjoying much better posture (and dance ability) as a result of same
    — enjoying keeping up with the 19 yr old in my class who almost 1/3 of my age

    Nice to know there are many pleasures in it all beyond medals and awards.

  7. - Returning home from an early morning run on a weekend and having that feeling of having accomplished something earlier than I would have even be starting my days, a few years back.
    – The hot shower after a long run.
    – Realising that I can go further than before or go the same distance but with less effort. The almost palpable feeling of transforming my body into a finer-tuned machine.
    – Waking up in the morning and feel my sore muscles reminding me of the kickass run from the day before (yes, I do love that).

    Love this post. Thanks for getting me thinking about the little pleasures.

  8. - the feeling of taking a brick of chalk and getting your hands ready before a pull.
    – the big breath you take before a squat, like you’re about to dive into a pool of water and you know that for the next three seconds you’re going to challenge gravity with everything you’ve got.
    – that moment during a run when you realize that you have completely lost track of time and distance, and you have to check your watch and your surroundings to figure out how long you’ve been in the zone.
    – post-workout food. it always tastes the most delicious.

    • Love this, especially the food! The effort and the hunger really heightens my taste buds, I’ve found, and everything tastes amazing.

  9. If I wait until the next morning to shower – the smell of chlorine then. Also, the floaty feeling my arms and legs develop after swimming across the river. My current DOMS. Breaking into spontaneous dance in my living room after Zumba because I’m not done dancing yet.

    • Glad to know I’m not the only weirdo who likes the smell of chlorine. Something about it makes me sleepy and hungry – maybe a throwback to summer days as a kid spent splashing around in pools?

  10. Chalking up my hands in anticipation of a lift, whether it’s a complex or a big heavy lift. That moment when you’re finished, and the sweat is pouring off of you, and you know you’ve done well (no matter your mindset when you start). And most importantly for me: the moment going down for that heavy deadlift and telling myself I can do it. (I’ve had some recent gluteal-area knots and the like, so heavy deadlifting has been tough, but I’m getting out of that hole.)

  11. Today it was finding that extra gear with about half mile to go in my 8.5k run at lunch. Then finding yet another with about 1/4 mile to go. Then when I was at the end, when I thought I should be pulling up, I felt like I had even more in the tank. I had to tell my wife about it at dinner tonight :)

  12. Word to all that, though I ain’t no athlete (just had a crappy short run this morning). My list:

    – Pre-dawn runs in the dark (usually my best runs. Any time beyond 8 a.m. and I wilt in the heat)

    – Rainy runs (bonus if it’s a pre-dawn rainy run)

    – Watching the country’s skyline unfold during a run (yes, it’s a very small country I live in)

    – Stretching with stray kitties (one of the joys you will never get running on a treadmill)

    – First drink after a workout (usually just ice water with some lime)

    – Swimming on a sunny day (lots of those in the tropics where I am, though really should be more mindful about the sunscreen)

    – Dat arm thing. This is despite poncing about with one 11-kg dumbbell for over a year (would like get jiggy with proper weights but am too cheap to join a gym and don’t like working out in air-conditioning). I don’t have any major body-image issues (all solved in my youth by being a nerd and dressing like one, i.e. in bags. Bless the ’90s!), but was always really self-conscious about my upper arms. Suffice to say I was surprised that there was actually some shape lurking under there. I now wear sleeveless tops with a childish vengeance.

    – Calluses. Again, refer to poncing about etc.

    – Blissed-out post-workout haze. Only after running or poncing about with my dumbbell. I can’t seem to swim hard enough to get that after being in the water.

    – Heightened sense of transience. Somehow this always strikes after a workout.

    Yep, and I came to exercise etc. late…didn’t move at all for the 13 years since I left junior college (high-school equivalent).

    Anyway, been lurking about for a few months and enjoying the reads. Thanks for the posts!

    • First, your username! OMG! I am such a huge Ghost World fan, both the movie and the book. Loooove.

      Also I can relate to so much of your list, especially the part about the arms. My arms were always really skinny and lanky and I was embarrassed of them, but now you practically have to wrangle me out of tank tops and halters.

      Thanks for commenting, and welcome!

  13. That feeling of total delicious exhaustion for a few hours just after a hard workout.

    Or the daily feeling of tallness and strength that comes from well developed core muscles.

  14. I love this post! A couple of mine would be:
    Running in the snow
    When riding the horse through the stubble fields fully controlled cantering, looking around at the views
    The point after you have run the last little bit up a hill then stopping to look back and think ‘Yeah, I climbed that’
    When new muscles start to go – ‘Hi, I exist’ after I try something new
    Flat out gallop on a beach, through the surf – awesome
    Stretching out on the grass after interval sessions

    Thanks for the reminder that PRs aren’t the only thing to take pleasure in, while still injured it is a perfect time to think of all the other reasons to be active :)

  15. Pingback: Invincible | A Fast Paced Life·

  16. - That feeling when you hit the pool wall after your last sprint set
    – Seeing all the other people of different ages and fitness levels (both slower and faster than me!) when I go to my favorite running track
    – Having better form than the curlbros at the gym

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