Oh dear, all the January magazines and shop displays are about losing the Christmas bulge and getting fit.

Normally I’m immune to this pressure but I’ve just been informed that I have 21 weeks and 2 days to go before I take part in my first ever triathlon! That’s just 5 months. What felt like a ‘bit of laugh’ when I agreed to this last October is suddenly feeling a bit serious.

I need to become accountable: I need to loose a stone in weight, learn how to swim more than one length of front crawl without drowning, run 5km in less than 40 minutes and cycle 20 Kms in less than an hour. Then I just need to put all three disciplines together.

So I’ll write you a monthly report on my progress. Do feel free to join in, pass on tips, cheer or boo!

Meanwhile, to get us started here is the reflection I wrote when I first signed up:

I’d like to make a confession.

For the last month or so I’ve been meaning to admit this to someone but saying this thing out loud feels a bit like being in one of those meetings that begin: ‘Hello. My name is Sheila and I am an……

But this confession is not about an addiction. On the contrary it is something good and positive, something I’ve been quietly excited about for the last 6 weeks. Something that has raised my levels of hopefulness and become part of my way forward out of the slough of despond brought on by my empty nest this summer. It’s linked me to old and new friends with a new sense of focus.

So what is it? (And why am I being so coy about it??)

Okay, here goes….

Are you ready for this?

could you try not to laugh?

It won’t be anything you’re expecting….

I AM A TRIATHLETE!!!!

Well, that pretty much explains why I’m being coy! The idea of a dumpy middle-aged woman donning lycra and calling herself a triathlete is ridiculous and I will allow you to laugh but only with me, not at me because I too am laughing over the sheer lunacy of this plan.

Here’s what I have to do (next May): swim 400m, cycle 20 kilometres, run 5 kilometres, all as fast as possible, going straight from the pool to the bike to the running track with no changes of clothing allowed. The idea is to finish in less than 2 hours and as near as possible to 1 hour. This distance is called a ‘sprint’ distance. (cue hysterical laughter)

Here’s how things stand at the moment: overweight and with a dodgy left ankle I can ‘run’ for 5 minutes at a slow jog. The swimming and the cycling bits are a better but I’m not built for speed and although I’m trying to learn front crawl, I can’t do more than one length before I begin inhaling water.

For all these reasons it sounds ridiculously pompous and self inflated to declare myself a triathlete. But that is what our coach told us we had to do: buy a diary and write ‘Triathlete’s Training Diary’ on the cover. Thinking yourself into the role is a key part of the process…apparently.

I know this to be true because this isn’t the first ‘I am’ phrase that I’ve had trouble with. Years ago when I first began to write someone encouraged me to say ‘I am a writer’ instead of mumbling ‘I do a bit of writing’. Now 17 years, 6 books and a lot of columns later, I still become hopelessly self-conscious saying it and very rarely do.

This is not the only ‘ I am ‘ phrase that gives me grief. I can’t yet say ‘ I am a trainee vicar’ without first taking a deep breath and checking for bolt-holes.It tends to be a bit of a conversation stopper that one! Not unlike the phrase ‘I am a Christian’. But why should I be coy? These are all good and positive things in my life, they express something very close to the core of who I am so why am I so self-conscious? I suppose fear is the biggest factor: the fear that I’ll be misunderstood (‘who does she think she is?’) fear of being pigeon-holed or sounding pompous and big-headed. And below the fear, in all these cases is self-doubt: ‘I’m not sure I’m up to this task, there are so many things I don’t understand about God, some days I don’t feel full of faith at all’ and so on and so on.

But the way to overcome fear and self-doubt is not to blindly pretend they aren’t there, but to’ feel the fear and do it anyway’. Yes, I’m unfit, overweight, with dodgy joints, wobbly thighs and flabby arms but I AM a triathlete. Yes, I may have doubts and feel inadequate as a Christian but I AM loved and known to my Creator.

In Romans 10 Paul tells what it takes to become a Christian. Wisely he talks about two things being necessary ‘believe in your heart’ (private commitment) and ‘confess with your mouth’ (public statement). In other words, as you say something out loud, an internal hope changes into an external reality. It’s about believing what you are becoming even if you feel yourself not quite there yet.

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