Friday, June 6, 2014

The Drive Before the Race

Boise Half Ironman: Part I (To the starting line) 

To travel to the starting line of my first 70.3 I had to travel back in time-- turning East on I-80, a thick ribbon of pavement which leads out of Reno-- a stretch of road I haven’t driven for nearly fifteen years.  Call me crazy, but it’s hard not to get nostaglic-- or to remember, anyway-- all those trips back and forth between Reno and Spring Creek, back when I was an athlete, back when I was young. 

I think part of the reason all this comes to mind is my parent’s presence: half the reason I made the trip so often was to visit my dad and stepmom who have always (at least in terms of my lifetime) lived in Reno. That they are coming to Boise with me to cheer me on is something like coming home again; or becoming home, if that makes any sense. 

I used to know this stretch of I-80 well: Wadworth to Fernley to Lovelock (past the prison) then Imlay, the exit to Unionville and Winnemucca.  It’s vast and empty-- not that I didn’t remember it that way-- but seeing is something different than memory, it has less shadows, perhaps. 

These were the final legs of my journey if I was driving alone and on my way to see my dad for the weekend when I was fifteen or sixteen years old. Or, they were the stops we always took on the yellow school bus (no matter what the sport team: we always stopped at the Flying J in Winnemucca where the”treasures” you could buy in the truck-stop convenience store mesmerized us after all those hours spent on the dark expanses of east I-80 before or after a game/race/event.)

As we pulled into Winnemucca yesterday, I heard our old commentary: the reason why we never stopped at the Burger King at the top of the hill (next to the largest cemetery in the middle of a town I’ve ever seen. Apparently, a lot of people come to Winnemucca to die): “where else would they get their meat?” 

Today, I repeat those old jokes to my dad and stepmom, and we, too, avoid the Burger King (not that we are Burger King people.) Instead we stop at the cafe in the Model T-- the mini-casino across from the cemetery-- for lunch. A bit over 300 miles to go: I didn’t realize how far it was to Boise. 

And maybe that statement is telling: Look how far I’ve come -- and how far I have to go. 


I’ve said I haven’t changed-- days (a day) from the race, I don’t think that’s true. I think I have changed in one very important way: I’m not afraid anymore. This doesn’t mean I’ll jump in front of cars or left heavy objects from people trapped beneath them: but I will put a wetsuit on and swim in open water because it is something I do, something there’s no reason to be afraid of anymore. 

I will also invite and cherish these moments I share with my family. So what if I don’t do so well? It isn’t about that, necessarily: I don’t fear my own failure, wondering what every one will think of me. Instead, this is a race that is ABOUT me but also OUTSIDE of me. A mile-mark to measure eight months of solid training, yes. But it cannot possibly represent all those hours and days. I carry those with me, moving forward to the next event. 

Because there will not only be one, but many. 

I am an athlete, after all. And I've already started envisioning myself crossing other lines, bigger lines, longer lines. Again and again. 


We survive Oregon. The route to Boise-- highway 95, cuts across Oregon’s lower right corner (a.k.a. the “bowel” of the state.) Or, so it seemed when the speed limit dropped to 55 on that narrow two-lane highway and the landscape was (if this is possible) more bland than the sort you see en route to Winnemucca. 

We literally cheered at the Idaho border (who thought I’d ever do that?) when the road widened and the world turned a friendlier shade of green. Undulating terrain, canyons and farmland replaced the brown, flat monotony. And it was hard not to be excited with less than an hour of driving to go. 


I haven’t picked my race packet up yet; that’s the first thing we’ll do today (Friday). Instead, we spent the night telling both old and new stories: stores from generations back but we end the night by looking at the story that’s left to unfold (this race) prompted by my bike, propped by my bed looking something like a promise.

The entire race is only a bit over 70 miles, I keep telling myself. A distance I’ve ridden many times; the swim a bit over a mile (less than practice!) and the run, two 6.6 mile laps where my goal is to complete the second faster than the first, with an old-Rebecca style finishing kick (a sprint) decorated with a smile ("I'm back," I can finally say.)  

Nervous isn’t the word: what I feel now is something more like excitement. Happiness. Or, maybe not quite yet. One thing I do know: I'm certainly not afraid.

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