Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ironman, At Last

As I sit here looking out across my garden, I can't help but think that something important has transpired, and I simply haven't discovered what it is, exactly, yet. This is not like any other race prep-- nor are the past six months comparable to any other time in my life. Never have I felt more unprepared and vulnerable than I do now: I think Ironman has a pretty fair shot at killing me slowly over the course of 140.6 miles.

Yet, I've never felt so-- well, brave, I guess. After all: how many things in life are we vulnerable against? How many times are we faced with challenges for which there are no prescribed solutions, no "easy way outs" or pre-determined modes of action toward some expected (and, safe) outcome? 

Once a great long while ago when I was writing my book, many friends who read my drafts asked me why I tried so hard to be a great runner (or, a great athlete.) I never had an easy answer for them. At the time, it was a complicated response: winning was how I found value in my life. Running a fast time meant that was a certain kind of person-- that I wasn't fat, that I was responsible and disciplined, worthy of love and respect, and smart enough to handle a considerable training load.   I was all the things I didn't believe I could express simply myself-- simply with words, simply with being myself

I needed my miles in order to face the world and have enough confidence in myself to say that I was extraordinary in some small way. 

In preparation for Ironman, I have had long training weeks and difficult training sessions. I've sweat and puked and cried. I injured myself (running, of course); I wanted to quit. But, if I am honest with you, I did not train the same way I did five years ago-- I didn't have that sense of desperation, that the training was all I had left in the world and the race would be one wordless statement of purpose for a life that couldn't speak for itself. 

When I rode the Terrible Two Double Century this past Saturday (the second stage of the California Triple Crown Stage Race) I saw glimpses of what I'll have to face in Ironman. Falling asleep in my aerobars.  Doubt so heavy it felt like cement shoes. The breathless beauty around me that I could not possibly traverse any faster. The smudge and soft of melting tar on the road beneath my tires on a 13% grade (so soft I wonder if I have a flat tire); my feet with no blood in them, so they pulse as if in the worst cramp... or, as if they are on fire. 

And so, what I mean to say is that I feel wildly-- crazily-- inadequately prepared for what I'm about to do, and for the pain I'm about to endure.  I don't imagine I'll win or even place very well in a sport which continues to grow and attract others with challenges they want to face-- and Ironman is their metaphor.  (Yet, I'm so honored to toe the starting line beside them.) 

But, I've learned I'm wildly---or, humanly-- inadequate for an avalanche of other things, too.  I wasn't prepared for my professional career to (finally) take hold and for my words to find their home in the world so they aren't just mine, anymore. It is wonderful, yes, but also terrifying to know that I have opened my heart to strangers, that people I hardly know may know more about me than I do.

I also wasn't prepared to meet a person who would change my life, who has a beautiful soul and a sweet little girl-- I wasn't prepared, I mean, for the depths of emotion that come with that-- to care for people in ways beyond caring for myself. To see myself as a part of a unit... a home.

Or, how do you prepare to open the door to find arms there waiting for you, and you find yourself dancing in a kitchen for no other particular reason than that you are happy? These are not the moments I have prepared for-- but, perhaps that is beside the point. 

I honestly don't know what Sunday will bring-- I hope to keep my old mantra of "Don't Stop" playing strong in my mind and that I will swim without panicking too much, that I will ride low in my aerobars and that I will run at a steady and strong pace to a finish line I honestly never thought I'd have a chance of crossing. 

One week ago, we crossed a river just before the last aid station of the Terrible Two at mile 181 and my feet were burning again. The skin beneath my cycling shorts had been rubbed red and raw over the previous miles. I didn't want to keep going, but I also knew that at 19 miles from the finish, I had no other choice. 

The light was low, and the canyon we rode in, dark. It was the kind of summer twilight you linger in as a kid, playing tag or chasing fireflies beneath the boughs of trees turned to silhouettes against the pale blue sky.  It seemed strange to me that I was a child once, and then, that I became a runner, a writer, a teacher, a friend all before I could finally become myself-- and, to understand what that means. 

When I clipped into my pedals to ride the final 19 miles, I fell over because I was so tired.  Perhaps that is an indication of how I will do at this race--- that I haven't trained enough, that, in the end, I will fail like many people think I will. But, then there were the moments which followed my crash at mile 181 when I stood, when I Rich told me I could do this and I decided to believe him.  When I kept riding despite not wanting to. When I finished despite those cement-shoes of doubt, and I am still-- after 400 miles-- in the lead. 

And, maybe that is what is so scary.

Or, so incredibly wonderful.