Friday, December 27, 2013

The Ironman: A New Journey

I can’t believe it’s post-Christmas and nearly 2014... and I haven’t posted a thing on this blog in quite a while. Truthfully, I’ve been avoiding it because it’s been a difficult year and I don’t know if everyone wants to read about my problems (we all have enough of our own, right?) Plus, I was busy with the demands of teaching-- new demands that, even at the end of the semester, I was still getting used to. And, of course, the training-- but that’s hardly new. 

But I’ve also been wary of writing for another reason: the hardest part about last year wasn’t some of the things I’ve written about in previous blogs or even the end of my seven-year long relationship with S. What was the hardest, I think, was realizing that I’d lost belief in myself as an athlete... and, truthfully, in myself period

Looking back, I’m not sure I know quite how or why this happened, I only know that, day by day, the world began to darken and nothing much mattered anymore. Was it the injuries? Or, was it the time spent apart from S. because I was living in the Bay Area? Was it the move to Reno and all the drama that entailed? Was it the heavy teaching load? I only know that, by November of 2013 I felt old, ugly, and basically worn out with everything. Which is not a good place for anyone to be. 

So, I’m doing something slightly crazy, but something that I need to do because you can’t go through life not believing in yourself. Or, you can’t be defeated and sad all the time. Or, you can’t wake up and wish you could just go back to sleep again because there’s nothing you are good enough for. (Yeah, that was me.) 

What changed was something small. After too much crying one night, I decided to recite, to myself, all the things in life that I was grateful for. I started talking to myself, really, so that I would fall asleep and not cry anymore, and granted, the first night my list wasn’t very long. Ever since, however, the list has grown. It started with small things like I’m grateful for the beautiful colors in the dawn I saw today, and I’m grateful my cat purred when I pet her. But then my list also contained things like I’m grateful for my ability to write and run and swim and cycle, as well as, I’m grateful for unconditional support and love of my family. But as I said, the list grew to include the very big and the very small and all those things in between. I began to realize that there is so much in this world to be grateful for... and so much love, if only you take the time to notice it. 

And you know, little by little these inconsequential words began to change my perception of the world. The dawns became more dazzling and the time I spent with family and friends became more precious. And-- oddly-- I began to feel my old self again on the road/trails, on the bike and in the pool: that ability to push the fear and the pain down beyond feeling it, to feel powerful and strong and worthy.  

So on Christmas Day after a wonderful morning with my dad and stepmom, I took a run in an area called Franktown in Washoe Valley. It’s a two-lane loop at the tree line with ranches on one side and spectacular homes at the foot of the Sierra Nevada on the other. And out there in the pale winter stillness, a fire rekindled itself: I decided I truly want to be an Ironman. 

I have wanted to do this for a while-- since 2010, actually-- but never thought I was good enough. Not fast enough, not strong enough, not fit or brave enough.  At first it was the water rather than the distance which scared me most. Watching the waves of the Pacific break on the Kona coast on vacation with S. was more than enough of a warning and slicing a large chunk of my finger off on a stray bit of coral or the ragged rocky coast was enough to prove me right (then, in 2011).  But the doubt spread to all the sports: running was out of the question because I “couldn’t run” anymore (or, I couldn’t run 70-mile weeks which I equated to “failure”, then). And then, cycling (the old excuses: too fat, too heavy, too much of a body for the miles...). Until there was not a single reason I believed I could do anything at all.

But on that run on Christmas Day, there was none of that doubt. There was only the cold, still air and the pale sun and me on that open road. Maybe not running the fastest I ever have, perhaps not doing anything remarkable, but the thought came and it stuck: I want to be an Ironman. 

And now, the difference is that I believe I can. 

I am grateful for everything--- even the things which, on the surface, are not so great. I am grateful that I found my best friend, S.-- my guiding light who told me, again and again, that I was meant to do something incredible. And grateful for the MFA program which taught me to trust my words (I do, I do) and for all the wonderful people that have, somehow, found their way into my life (all my coaches who are also my friends, my training partners, my colleagues, my old and new friends, everyone...) For all of that-- that’s why I’ve decided to take on this new challenge. 

So many people believe in me and I think it’s really time I do, too. 

I signed up for the Boise Half-Ironman first-- a race which will be held in June where many of my teammates will be competing as well. I don’t have any specific time goals in mind; I really want to focus on training at the highest capacity I can and crossing that finish line. Beyond that, Ironman Arizona is calling me. And I hope to meet that challenge with all of me next November. 

Recently, I read an essay by David Foster Wallace (the title escapes me now) in which he claims that sports writing is (basically and essentially) sub-par because there is something about the physical-- or the physicality of elite athletics-- which necessarily escapes words. I believe that to a point, which is why I wince at the obvious metaphor I’ve committed to. I want to be an Ironman. A body as strong as iron (with a mind and soul to match.) It’s obvious and perhaps the parallels aren’t always true.

But maybe, sometimes, we need the cliché. Clichés are clichés after all, because they are so true they are the shorthand for talking about complicated things. I need to be an Ironman-- I need to do something I don’t know I can; I need to try and sweat and cry in the pursuit of a passion, a dream; I need to trust this beating heart of mine and know that I am OK just as I am no matter where I am: running, swimming, cycling, writing, sitting, single or married, young or old.  

I know this is going to be so hard, but I am ready for it. Ready for the journey, I mean. It’s a new chapter (another cliché, I know), but the page has turned and I’m in new territory now. A land of me against myself. And you know, I think we’re going to do all right.

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