You Can't Run Away From the Quantified Self

When I first started my health and fitness journey with running a few years ago, I logged every mile and for a stretch, logged every morsel I ate. I think that measurement gave me a barometer by which I could measure progress. I could see when I stalled, when I made progress, when I was slipping and when I was succeeding.

One of the things I’ve been ignoring pretty heavily has been my personal finances. Actually, I’ve been ignoring the problem for almost 14 years. 14 years of bad spending habits, lackluster saving habits, poor judgements, and more. There are things I spend my money on, and then there’s the things I bleed money on. You could probably say that triathlon is one of those things, but believe it or not I think I balance the cost/benefits pretty well.

The thing about the quantified self is that there are no judgements. There are only numbers and trends and forecasts, and they do not lie. It’s like looking at a training plan and seeing a bunch of missed days, or looking at a food log and seeing five-too-many Ferrero Rochers logged. (Guilty on both charges.)

This morning, I crunched the numbers. I took a long hard look at one of the things that make me the most uncomfortable — my student loan debt. The principal wasn’t budging much in the last few months and I needed to take a hard look at it to see why. I was appalled to see that 80% of my payment was interest. It’s like training at low intensity for 16 weeks hoping to run a really fast and speedy marathon. It just doesn’t work that way. I was already getting really fed up at where I was financially. My peers are buying homes and raising families. I felt like I was stuck in the same rut I’ve been in since I got my first job when I was 15: trying to hopelessly budget my money and save cash here and there. It wasn’t working.

So, as with many things in my training and on my journey to self-improvement, I’ve made a commitment to myself. This $62K horse I have on my back really has to go. That’s right — $62K. About a third of it was for my undergraduate and the rest of it was for my private grad school degree that I’m only halfway done with. My goal is to be done with paying off these student loans in 2 years. And, if I want to go back to school, I will pay in cash. Just like my training, I will stay connected to the details and make up where I am deficient. I will learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Does that have to put a dent in my triathlon dreams though? Absolutely not, and here’s why:

1) I can pare down my coaching and training a bit — maybe opting for training 1x a week instead of 2-3x a week. I could stretch out my paid training blocks over two months instead of blowing through it once a month. The sessions might be a little more per hour but I will still get the benefits of strength training with the team once a week. This will also give me a chance to work on yoga or rowing once a week, which is perfect!

2) I could budget for specializing coaching on the bike and in open water as needed. I am finally getting the hang of open water, and if I get more practice, it’ll be great. Once I burn my private lessons I can stick to group clinics (which run me about $20 a pop, not to mention the gas money it takes to drive all the way down there). For the bike, I really need a few sessions to get the hang of things and then I need to practice, practice, practice! A way to do this would just to ride more!

3) I could register for my BIG triathlons way in advance and save lots of money by going with the HITS Triathlon race circuit. They race at less commercially popular venues so travel is a bit cheaper. If I can fly with Southwest then even more brownie points.

4) If a large Ironman is in my future, I can race via the Ironman Race For Free program. I pay $50 to register for an event and commit to raising $3,000 for the Ironman Foundation. That’s a pretty sweet deal! I already love fundraising for charity and a $3,000 commitment would definitely be a challenge. They have openings for Ironman Canada and Ironman Lake Tahoe, both races that I am very interested in. It’ll be difficult to have back-to-back fundraisers though.

5) I could test around with more natural foods on my long rides and runs, rather than relying on expensive Gu. (I’m already finding that orange slices and bananas are working great for me…and they are probably much healthier anyways, not to mention cheaper!)

6) I can race in a lot of small, local community races here in the summer. The small community races aren’t too expensive and if I plan ahead enough, I can make space in my budget for them.

So, yes, it is less of an athletic challenge but this goal will definitely effect some of my other plans as well. I look forward to finding creative ways to still enjoy racing but doing so on a budget. The days of limitless traveling and racing may not necessarily be over, but perhaps a bit more controlled and planned. Looking back at my race recaps, it looks like my first year I amassed 12 races. The year after that it was 5. It looks like I’ll cap this year at 5 as well. It might be a tradition worth keeping around!

But, enough stressing about finances. I have an 1-hour open water swim, a 1 hour ride, and an hour and a half run tomorrow. Isn’t that technically an Olympic distance tri? And isn’t that a self-tri a week before my next Olympic distance tri?!

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