Thursday, April 10, 2014

Letting Go: A Necessary Training (and Personal) Progression

I've decided this is the year I let everything go. 

I admit, when this thought came to me, it wasn't the happiest moment: I was staring at the shadows flickering on my bedroom ceiling and I was remembering all the things my ex had said about me. And all the things coaches had said about me, too. And the random words that random people happen to say-- without realizing they are saying them-- about me, too. About my body (its size and shape); about my ability to perform (as an athlete, as a runner, a swimmer, a cyclist; as a lover, as a writer, as a teacher, as a friend, as a colleague); or about the capacity of my heart and mind (too limited, too narrow; too large; too uncomfortable no matter its size or shape.)

In sort, the flickering shadows told me that no matter whom I have known, I've turned out a failure (for them.)

But as I stared at those flickering shadows, something unexpected happened. I didn't consider that any of these voices-- no matter who said them-- were right. I simply watched a branch as it painted abstract lines across the plaster and realized, for the first time, that none of those voices have known my journey-- none of them know my meters and miles the way I know them.  They are, after all, my moments, my miles, my meters, my seconds.

None of them, in fact, knew the abstract musings of a branch under moonlight just like none of them know what lies within the meters-miles-moments.

And so I've decided to let them all go. 

Someone-- an elite triathlete-- one told me that if I truly wanted to train for an Ironman, I'd have to let go of several "comforts" in my life such as my membership to a master's swim team (even if I loved every person on the team and seeing them made the rest of my life bearable); the need to feel "rested" before a workout and most certainly social situations that involve any sense of a "weekend" or a "vacation." I thought he was talking about solitude: about having to train my body for a specific sport and having to address the needs of the event, etc.

But I think I misunderstood him.

"You find out things about yourself when you train for events like this," he'd said, once, when we were discussing the possibility of him coaching me for an Ironman distance tri. It never happened, of course: I had already decided I couldn't and I loved my master's swim team in a way I can't get too mad at myself for. After all, they were my only friends.

But now that I'm training for a half-ironman and I'm on my own, I know: he was right.

You find out things about yourself you couldn't ever know or expect. 

For me, here are a few examples: I hate being cold. I hate running in the pre-dawn dark or at night when I can't see where my feet will fall. I dislike having to run at lunch when I don't have time to shower before I do the rest of the things I must do the rest of the day. I hate soda, but drink it because it really does make me cycle better. I hate (really, really or more than most things) swimming at night because that means I have to get wet not once or twice or even three times in one day: when I swim at night, my day is bookended in a saturated wetness. And puffy eyes. Ick, right??

But training this much strips away the things that really don't matter. It's mostly a matter of time: fitting in your hours or minutes. It's no longer about meeting some new "fastest" time, but just making a certain time again and again and again. Or, being able to maintain a pace no matter how awful you might feel after work and that meeting in which you wanted to cry. The class where none of your students read and you must improvise and they just look at you blankly.

Here's what I found: no matter how awful my day was, I could wake up and swim/cycle/run or get off work and swim/cycle/run and meet the interval times given to me. I was not fast, no, but there was this space inside myself where I could reside, the most-true-me, the me I don't show off or write with; the me who is quiet and patient; who observes and says, quietly "go" when it's time.

She's been there for me when those other voices fall away. When an ex decides I'm no longer interesting or beautiful or thin (who derided me for SEVEN YEARS that I was not a runner, that running was bad, that I was bad because I was a runner and who NOW dates a runner, loves a runner, who says this runner is so much better than I am) .... or when a prospective coach decides I am not worth the effort because my life-- as an athlete/writer-- is complicated.

That little voice-- my voice-- tells me I'm worthy of my own belief that I am going to succeed. 

It's not an exciting idea or even an original one: but when I train I love the quiet space inside my body. It's beyond my body: a place where I can forget all those other voices. Where I can be the most-myself I can be. I hardly care, mid-swim, where I am beside all the bodies of the world. In that moment, it's just me.  Breathing, turning, stroking, timing.  All those present participles of the body: those are the actions I do.


I'm not sure I can accurately describe what it feels like to let go of a person or an idea. If you want to know the truth, I'm not sure I have.

It's more like this: I retreat into my body and in-between the very base requirements (breathing),  I find myself.  The thing which pushes, which pushes against.

It is a private space; my space.

I kick, stroke, breathe, cycle, run, swim.... I say: "keep going."

I let go of all those voices. Those people. Those memories.

And, I do.

Kick. Stroke. Breathe.

And, believe.

One day.

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