Monday, March 2, 2015

...And we're back (spirit, soul and sweat)

I guess there's something to be said about the speed at which you complete things: 

some people run 400 meter races (once around a track) because they can do it well under a minute. And then there are people like me who can also run 400 meters but who must do it not once, not twice or even ten times, but probably something more like a million maybe, if I'm to do anything impressive with that distance at all.
  1. (A memory comes to mind: years ago, my then-boyfriend and I were watching the talent portion of the Miss America contest, curled on his living room couch. And as these model-esque figures sang and tap-danced and played instruments and I said to him: you know, I do have a talent but I'd have to be like-- OK judges, I'm going to do this amazing thing. Sit tight-- and forget that awful thing I did in the swimsuit competition-- I'll be back in three hours and will have run more than a marathon.
  2. (Another memory: one of my first professors in graduate school told a class of us in his "Literary-theory-critical-thought-hazing-class that the greatest merit we'd get out of pursuing our education was to do nothing hasty. I guess I picked up on that lesson and mastered it.) 

Point being, I am not quick, anymore, at anything. I am training for an Ironman, after all-- a race that will take from dawn to dusk (if not more), and I am a writer-- a career which (mostly) requires the slow evolution of thought and art and the extreme patience of those around me.

So, it's no wonder that I took my sweet time in digesting my last post, what I meant by it and what I had been hoping to find in my time away from the keyboard.  In part, I want to explain myself because my mom called me after my last post went live, concerned, asking if I'd dropped out of training for the Ironman, if I was no longer going to write, and if I needed to seek professional help.

No, no and no: I'm fine and better than before, actually. It just takes me time to realize it.


For a very long time, I've wanted to complete an Ironman and for just about as long, I didn't think it was possible (for me.) There are several reasons for this, but most of it comes down to a healthy dollop of self-doubt with a side of body image issues.  I can't blame any one for this, it's just the way I'm built, I guess, and something that becoming a runner helped me to face. When my running career ended, though, it was harder to face because all the self-worth and confidence I had built were all basically premised on miles.. miles I couldn't-- and can't, or at least not in the same way-- run anymore.

But I am signed up for Coeur d'Alene this summer (June 28th) and I have decided I am going to do my very best to finish the race. I'd love to qualify for Kona, I'd love to win-- but in this time of slow-thinking, I discovered I really just want to finish, no matter what. I want to swim 2.4 miles, ride 112 miles on the bike and run a marathon (yes, finally, I will run one again after swimming and riding) and feel wonderful and smile at the finish line and wave to my parents who have stuck by me and who want to watch me do this crazy thing.

And that is what brings me to the rest-- what I meant to say weeks ago and didn't, quite, say. And maybe this is the magic of Ironman (oh, metaphor, how I love you)-- I realized a month ago, when I was "working so hard", "training so hard", etc, etc, etc, I wasn't doing it for the right reason. I was the beauty-queen on stage who dances for the sake of a prize (and all that that entails) and not for the beauty of the music. Or, the girl who runs a marathon just to hear the roar of the crowd and not because she needed or wanted to.


I admit, this past month was really hard.

I had been a part of an elite running/training group which is coached by this elite athlete and generally-all-around impressive person. I was--and am-- really inspired by this group of people who wake and train (run their morning miles, do their mobility drills) and who are, truly, runners. I was a part of their strength/mobility and sometimes running sessions-- rarely, because I have an 8-5 job which literally requires my ass in the chair from 8-5.

So when I slightly injured my Achilles, things came crashing down-- I went to practice and the coach didn't even acknowledge I was there. No "hello", not even the hazing I'd expect for having missed the previous training session.

I was crushed.

I had needed that coach to believe in me in order to complete this Ironman, I thought. And so began the list, the heavy list I just couldn't hold up (which is why I needed some time away): I can't live without my coach and the group, without belief from the running people that I am a strong runner, belief from the cycling people that I am a strong cyclist, from the swimming people that I am a strong swimmer, I can't survive without the approval of the MFA program (writing) I attended to tell me I am a good writer, the approving nods of readers who happen to glance at my work, the approval of my friends and family to negate the doubt that I am not, actually, an awful human being.

It was-- and is-- too much for anyone to need so much.

So I let my coach go and all those hard-bodied, beautiful, strong runners.

I do worry, from time, that that was a huge mistake.

But, nothing is without a context.

And for me, I do have to consider mine. No one will toe the line with me in Coeur d'Alene. No one swims by my side-- no one will share those cycling miles or running miles (no matter how fast or slow)... just like I must live the life of a writer inside my head, mostly, alone.

In the race, it will be only me. There will be no one at the margins of the road, no one but whom I choose to populate the space behind my eyes, some projection of myself, dressed up as the people I love the very most.

Or, to articulate this more clearly: it's 6pm and I am riding in a CompuTrainer class and I am push-pulling those bike pedals in circles, circles, circles, as sweat droplets fall from my forehead, across my eyes and to the floor and I can hardly keep up.

If I can only go harder because of the expressions on the faces reflected back to me in the mirror, I'm lost. It is only when-- to quote the great Ironman Mark Allen-- that I settle in, look in, and find a calm-- that I can finish and ride with them.

This Ironman-- it may not be my best race-- but it's teaching me that I need, more than anything, myself. 


If I'm going to complete a 140.6 mile race across three disciplines, I have to believe in myself. I have to be mentally-tough, I have to work through the difficult moments, I have find the calm.

But to do all of that, well, I am learning I'm no beauty queen.

I have to do it for me. 

Riding tonight, I did not finish first of anyone in that CompuTrainer class. I didn't break any speed-records on my 6 mile lunch-run. I didn't lap anyone in the pool at 5:30 am swim. But you know-- I'm doing it and I'm learning, stroke and stride at a time, learning, finally, to do something without an audience-- to do it, simply, because I can.

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