I wasn't sure what to name this post, so I went with a song title. "Strange Condition" is a song by Pete Yorn I've loved for too long, probably, but that always gets me with its familiar beat and the way that life does become a strange condition whether or not you're in a literal prison (like the speaker in the song) or you're in one you've made yourself, which is the case for most of us. This week I've been sick-- I got the lung-crud that settles in and makes breathing a chore. I'm mostly out of it now, but it was the PITS since I've been trying to up my mileage in all three sports and I had TWO READINGS to read for this week: Literary Arts & Wine in Truckee which I organized (wow, right?) and The Salon, in Reno.
And in the midst of all of this is cycling. Which makes no sense, except to say: cycling! My unknown foe and uncharted territory. Here I was: ready to hammer and then (if I'm going to believe the commercials on TV) some really awful musical band of mucus-guys decided to play on a while in my lower lungs (and boy, are they heavy on the tuba) and changed my plans for me. In a way, though, it wasn't as bad as I thought: I got an extra day of rest and came back strong for a 40-mile effort on Friday and a 60-mile effort on Saturday.
But that's not what I want to write about. Or, it is what I want to write about, in part: but it's also how every time I've hopped in my car this week, I've heard a song whose chorus tells me: "Your awful, lonely life/ your awful, lonely life now..." (the actual lyrics are: "You're holding on for life/You're holding on for life now....") and how I wondered about how the world can sometimes seem so full of people and things to do and at other times, feel so empty. I remember, long ago (or, years ago) when I was running much more that I accepted that part of my life would always be lonely. It feels different now, though: now that I'm not such a great athlete; or now that I got used to having another person in my life. Mornings and dusk are by far the hardest times: the times I had someone to talk to about my day, about the miles or, even, about nothing at all.
What else is hard, too, is finding my place in these new training groups. I'm not out in front in any of them. I'm in the middle at best, or most times, dragging behind. Part of that is being sick, I know; but part of it, too, is the discovery of my own abilities; can I push harder than I think I can? Should I hold back? It's always easier to err on the conservative side, but that is also the most boring. And what fun is anything if it's boring?
Friday wasn't boring, though. I came into the cycling gym minutes before the class, changed in record time and hopped on my bike with my bling-bling earrings in place and enough juice in my legs to run an entire city (an actual city like New York or Paris.) My hair blew back from my face from the fan and no one could keep my legs from turning. I more or less felt the same in the second hour when I teamed with Rich and Jay against three of the other guys to lead a pursuit-type tempo ride. I averaged 217 watts for that first hour; 198 the second and felt as though I hadn't done anything. HOWEVER: I should admit: this is NOT AT ALL how I felt this morning (stairs hurt.)
But whatever: my "lonely, awful life" song took me to the cycling gym again at 9:00 am (better to be in physical than emotional pain!) and I rode and rode and rode until I didn't want to ride anymore and Rich told me to keep my bike on the stands and ride; I didn't want to-- but he and this monster with a scorpion on his jersey named Steve were there and if they didn't quit, I couldn't quit, either: ride, ride, ride. Low watts: whatever. Ride. Suck on someone's wheel and be no help at all until I just can't stand it anymore and I'd rush out in front and pull and pull, die a little bit (feel those mitochondria slipping into the great abyss) before slugging another gulp of water, another attempt at not-being "another lonely life" if only by hanging on by the numbers on a digital display of a screen.
The athletic life is exhilarating and it's sad: it's about community, but a transitory one filled with bodies who'd hardly know me as myself... but also other bodies-- my friends and family-- who cannot know the hours of swimming, riding, running; who do not see the dawns I see or feel the pull of a particular finish line as thought that matters more than, say, changing the oil in my car.
I'm not sad; but unfortunately, I'm also (not) a pragmatist: I'm a romantic and those quiet moments are defining ones; alone in the body, there are vistas to overcome. Ideas and emotions I can't always articulate (no wonder I'm alone); how much I wish I didn't have an "awful, lonely life"-- this "strange condition" I've made of hours and races and goals I believe in (I believe in me) but which endear me to no one on the face of the earth.