Over the summer, I went down to Albuquerque to visit with one of my closest friends. While I was there, she got a new tattoo, to remind her of being in the moment.
She told me that her husband would tell her this when she was rushing around, trying to figure out what to do with the next day or the next. I was ready to get a tattoo of my own, but was spooked by the "five days to possibly four weeks" of time that I would have to spend out of the pool while it healed (see you in a few weeks, tattoo lady). But this thought has stayed with me, inked in my brain instead of on my body (although until I just looked up that picture, I remembered it as, "now we are here" so maybe it was just scribbled in pencil up there). It's a thought I've had rolling around in my head the past few weeks as my life has undergone some more change and growth - which can sometimes be uncomfortable. But this thought is similarly uncomfortable - not only as a reminder to stay grounded in these moments, but to let go of the moments that have already passed by. Those moments can't be changed.
It is true that we are a sum of all the decisions we have made in the past. This body is composed of all the spinach and bananas and avocado and frozen fruit and sweet potatoes and steak salad with extra goat cheese that I've eaten over the past months, the foods I look towards for strength. It also carries my weaker moments, inside of my skin is the bag of potato chips that I bought when I was having a bad day and the vanilla porter I drank in celebration of being decisive about making my life better. It holds all the nights I got 9-10 hours of sleep, but also those where I tossed and turned until the poet wanted to hit me with a pillow so someone could get some sleep. I am all of these things, I carry them with me (I had just gotten my eyes dilated at the doctor, I'm not high as a kite here).
With my athletes, we talk about the difference between race goals and race plans. A goal is something to tape on the fridge, to use to motivate you, to drag your lazy sleep-loving ass out of bed at 5:30am when the alarm goes off to train before a long day at work. That's what goals are for, that is how I use them. I won't even be shy about them, breaking an hour in the ironman swim and running off the bike with confidence and consistency: those are the things that I want. That is what gets all my lights lit up, those are the goals I remind myself of when I'm 4.5 hours into a ride and I have one more hour at X heart rate or watts or whatever and all I want to do is coast on home. But when it's time to write a race plan, when it's time to stand at the head of the day, those goals have no place here. We don't talk about time, I see so many coaches repeating this and my own coach has always stressed the importance of it: instead we talk about process. We break up the day, we talk about how to manage it in small pieces, and how to make good decisions in the moment. And that is how I work to manage myself and my own races, and it is very late in the race, if at all, that I flip the watch over to "overall time" or "time of day" to see what's going on. Truthfully, this year for the most part I haven't had a good handle on how my racing was playing out against the clock until I was heading down the finishing chute. Instead I was monitoring the present: what is my heart rate now, what is my pace now, how am I feeling now?
You'll never know until race day if you are ready to meet up with that goal, to shake hands and absorb it into you. I think back to IMLP, the run that I had. I had done all the workouts, I had row after row of green boxes, I had eaten well and slept well and managed stress the best I could, but for whatever reason, I wasn't ready to run off the bike the way I wanted. And then I made a mistake on the bike in nutrition and suddenly had a reason to let the run go. It took me weeks to realize that if it hadn't been nutrition, it probably would have been something else, and it was tough to admit that to myself, and later, to Sonja. I wasn't ready. My brain, it didn't want to let go of the "I'm not a runner/I don't run well/I get passed on the run" thoughts that I carry around with me, mostly in a grounded attempt to poke fun at myself, but in self-deprication, those thoughts took root. When I came out of T2 with Sarah, my brain said, let her go, she's so much faster and stronger than you on the run, and then it became truth, when in fact all I had to do was run a little bit faster and maybe I could have spent the whole marathon staring at her little blonde ponytail. I don't know. I'll never know. That moment is lost. But today, tomorrow, December 1, those moments have not yet been formed. Those moments are still waiting for me to decide.
I'm less than two weeks out from ironman number three. I could talk about how my training has been going, over the past few months. I could do that. I could talk about the breakthroughs I've had, the hard days where I've struggled, the days where I've started into a session exhausted and then been surprised and grateful about what my body had to give. There's a lot about training that I could talk about. But it doesn't matter. It's all in the past. What matters, now, is today. Ironman doesn't care about all those hundreds I swam under 1:20, ironman doesn't care how many miles I ran around my neighborhood or how hard it was to get up at 5:30am all those days (I can hear the echo of myself to my athletes, oh no, not something hard!) or how goddamn windy it is in Boulder in the fall. My body has absorbed those moments, true, and without them I would not be ready to stand on the line. But ironman is not about those moments.
People ask me what I'd like to do in Cozumel, what times I'm shooting for or if I am trying to PR, the questions that your friends ask because they want you to know they care about you and your race. I don't know. Part of that answer depends on the conditions of the day, certainly, but the bigger part depends on whether or not I am ready. Am I ready to hold back on the swim (if you swim X time I will be throwing things, said my masters coach yesterday morning), to stroke steady and not blow apart my day before I get out of the water, am I ready to stay with the bike when it gets hard, to keep pushing into the wind and the heat and the whatever else Cozumel has to throw at my QR, am I ready to grit my teeth and chase down the run I want, to scream straight into the part of my brain that wants me to walk, where I have been weak before, I WILL NOT BACK DOWN? I don't know. I do know that while I'm working through my day, I won't be thinking about all the work I did, trying to prove to my body that I deserve something, when really, I've learned over and over that my training owes me nothing. Instead I will be thinking: now, we are here. At Lake Placid, I was ready for the swim and the bike, and that showed, and I wasn't ready for the run, and ironman delivered on that promise as well. Am I ready now? Well, that's why we race. To find out.