Saturday, March 8, 2014

Life in Motion

It's strange that I'm not moving, or that's what I think now after a CompuTrainer session which began at 9:00 am this morning and ended around 2:30 pm with 104 miles logged with breaks only to manage hydration (in and out) as well as 2-minute and 30-second planks between 20-mile efforts (gotta get that six-pack, eventually. Even if it's a six-pack of chicken!) The world is moving... still. Even though I'm sitting here, on the edge of my office chair and on the cusp of rumination.

For some reason, I'm obsessed with origins lately-- both mine and others'. Why things are the way they are and how people come to be the people we meet. What are the moments which form a person-- and are they always the same moments? Or, is who we are dependent upon our interpretation of the past, our shifting lens which changes as we change and our understanding of our past-- and of ourselves-- is never the same, but rather a function of the present moment and who we think we are within it.  This is why I love to ask other athletes: "Were you always an athlete?" Often-- mostly-- the answer is no, but what follows is an explanation of personal evolution, of finding one's self (literally) within the physicality demanded by the sport. Of course, my results are skewed because I asked other athletes-- other endurance athletes -- and I can't claim that, say, a painter or a musician would have a similar response.

But who's to say they wouldn't?

The pattern seems to be something like: some general sense of feeling lost and not-a-part-of. Then, a marriage of solitude with the sport itself ("I decided to swim in my free time because I didn't fit in with the other kids my age" or "I started running every afternoon because I couldn't connect with the other people my age and I didn't want to sit at home...") And the reliance on that activity to fill the empty hours (the empty soul?), let loose of companionship and finding solace in the time when time doesn't seem to exist because you are moving through it, or past it with the wind or water cutting across your face.

Then there's always that first race-- or workout-- that moment when all that solitude meets community; when one body is placed against several. The unexpected "win" (this, I gather, is key. This validation that all that time spent alone was not wasted. That there was, instead, something gained by hours of uncomfortable training in the pursuit of.... what? Does the person even know? They won't say they do, but deep-down they do, even it if it's so deep, it's beyond admitting. The desire to win, to be a part-of; to counter the very thing that made the love of the training begin....)

For me, it was running: I'd been rejected from twelve MFA programs when all I wanted to be was a writer. I was in a graduate program (French) I wasn't really passionate about and I was the only graduate student in the program at the time. I was an outsider in every respect. It's not surprising (to me, now) that, at 26 years old, I decided to do a lot of long, slow runs on my own. To think about my life, I suppose, but also to feel like I had some control over it; that I could choose to see the dawn from the top of some lonely sage hill or run through a storm if I wanted.  Through the running, I ran into a solitary, safe place of elemental things: arroyos and rock-faces; trails and clouds; sun and rain and all of it again, and again and again. Morning after morning; nothing filled my mornings but running. No one to make me stop or go but me.

It was the most incredible sense of freedom I've ever felt when I was 26 (nearly 27) and running without limits--- without, even, a race in mind. Just running because I loved it, or I loved how strong it made me feel when every other aspect of my life made me feel weak and pathetic (no teaching prospects, no publications) ; like there was nothing left.

It's no wonder, then, that when I won the Lake Tahoe Marathon, my athlete-life became my life. Or, I think I understand myself the best when I am in motion.  After all, those are the times when I feel I'm pitted against the rest of the world (its people, its ideologies, the reasons why or why not, beauty vs. its opposite, etc.)-- the times in which I shine. Me: Ms. Unexpected. Ms. You-Look-Fat-But-OMG-You're-Strong. Or, when I am more than my body: when I think I can't but, do: out-powering the limits I set for myself.

These are the stories athletes have: it's about how you come better than yourself, or better than you thought you could be. A personal best, yes; but it's more than that. It's about how some of us (the outcasts, the weirdos, the awkward-speakers) enter the world, again. How we learn to speak and stand on our own two feet (or how we kick, stride or circle them); how we learn the cadence of our lives. How we learn to love again and do, with an efficient heart, a good heart, a heart which-- due to the miles and miles, the self-questioning and testing, has come into a knowledge of itself-- a wise heart.

So maybe we endurance athletes feel like we are always moving-- but somehow, I am starting to believe, we are the ones who most know what it's like to be stable. Or, what it means to be truly standing still. Even when we're moving.

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