Saturday, July 27, 2013

the fear of suffering

Last night at dinner, with a few of my best girlfriends, we started talking about race day.  A little, not really specifics, but about the ins and outs of the day.  And it led to a discussion of what we are afraid of, this time around.  We all had very different days at our first shot at ironman, and we all fear different things out of number two.
I know what I want and I know what I am afraid of on race day.  I can guess at what a perfect day might look like, but the thing about ironman is, you rarely have a perfect day.  Because what everyone says, when they are striding about with their shaved legs and their 3% body fat postulating with wisdom to an eager audience of newbies, is actually true: anything can happen.  You can get a broken nose, you can trip running into T1, your helmet buckle can break, you can flat, you can pop a spoke, you can break a chain, you can flat some more, you can eat too much, you can eat too little, you can puke, you can chafe and sunburn and bleed and shit and cry.  Ironman strips you of any dignity you think you might possess; ironman levels the field between the young, old, fast, slow, cocky, humble; ironman is one of the rare opportunities where you get to find answers to the questions that plague you when you can't sleep at night.  
I am at peace.  This year has brought me a lot of peace.  A lot of big changes in my life, but as the dust has settled, I've realized that my life, as an entity, is heading exactly in the direction that I would like it to go.  I have seen growth in myself this year, I have struggled and fallen and made mistakes, I have experienced my own small victories, I have failed, I have fought for the finish and found acceptance.  And my mind, right now, the day before, it is quiet.  I am silently gathering the ammunition I will need to survive 140.6 miles, and I am hopeful that what I have is enough.  That I, alone, am enough.
I am curious.  I've done this once now, and I've put in a year of physical and mental training, and I wonder what my day will look like with that in my pocket.  Will it look the same?  Will I be asking the same questions and troubleshooting the same problems I was a year ago?  Or have I changed in ways that I don't even realize, will my day be different because of the year I've lived, loved, lost, found, fought?
I am afraid.  I think - no, I KNOW - that it is okay to admit the fear I'm feeling, not acknowledging it isn't going to make it magically disappear.  Fear is healthy, fear is humbling, fear is telling me that I am taking a risk, that there is something to lose, that I am reaching, stretching, grasping higher, further, faster.  I am afraid of looking into the mirror that ironman will hold up in front of my face tomorrow.  I'm afraid of what I will see in myself, I'm afraid that I am not the athlete I would like to believe that I am, I'm afraid of the truths I will discover.  I am afraid that I am holding too much peace and will not be able to GPS locate my desire to fight.  
I am afraid that he is wrong, and that the suffering will, in fact, be worse than the fear itself.  
I don't know.  I don't know the answers to those questions, but I do know that there is only one way to find out.  To stand on the line.  To go from the gun, be steady be happy be unwavering be focused be joyful be humble be smart be unrelenting.  To bend down and pick up the edge of the rock and heave it over with a cry that will raise the hair on the back of your neck, to face all the ugly things that I am sure will coming pouring out the other side of my mind, to stand tall and to look myself straight in the heart, whatever it is that I may be.  To walk calmly, peacefully, directly into the fire, to go in search of my dreams.

Friday, July 12, 2013

the storm has passed

I woke up a few days ago and felt odd.  Training for this ironman is almost over, and I'm actually a bit sad to see it go.  
This go round was different than last year.  Going through it the first time was like walking through hell.  Barefoot, with someone giving me a wedgie.  I had no idea what to expect.  There were a lot of collapses, a lot of tears, a lot of sitting down on the side of the road and calling for a ride (okay, maybe that one only happened once).  The fatigue that I carried broke my brain into a million pieces and I had no idea how to deal with the fallout.
This time around wasn't like that.  There were a couple of small cracks, there was a shampoo-bottle-throwing incident in the shower (that will teach that bottle not to open, oh yes, yes it will), there was running into a coworker 75 miles into 100 and BEGGING for a few miles of a pull, there were a few nutrition cracks (we will blame the salt in potato chips for that one), there have been a couple moving-down-a-lane-in-masters-after-getting-dropped-during-the-warm-up mornings, but in general - in general - I have been holding my shit together pretty well this time around.
That doesn't mean I'm not tired, that doesn't mean I still don't get frustrated with myself especially on the bike in the past few weeks, or that my clothes match when I pack them in my swim bag at 5am or that I didn't reschedule a bikini wax so many times that she needed an ax to get started.  I've ended up eating Cheerios and apples for lunch several days in a row because I forgot the salad I packed on the counter and I'm too damn tired to drive less than a mile to the grocery store and get a new one.  I've had to talk myself out and bed and into the run shoes a few times, I've made the groan that you make when your saddle sores make contact with the saddle for the first time of the day, I bought a new-and-even-more-ridiculous-than-the-last swimsuit to motivate me to get my ass in the pool way too early for a Monday morning.  And I'm not going to claim 100% perfection, not all of my boxes are the color they should be, but I've tried to make the best decisions I can in every moment, and in general - in general - I feel pretty close to being ready to rock and roll.  
The past month, I've done a lot of training alone.  I have a great big pile of training buddies here in Boulder.  They all traveled up to Coeur d'Alene and conquered demons, had big PRs and just generally kicked the trash outta 140.6 miles, but now they are done.  They are doing the things I was doing while they were out riding 100 miles two months ago (probably most of these things involve eating or sleeping), and my crazy blogger animal magnetism does not seem to attract strangers who are interested in spending six hours staring at my ass in bike shorts.  (Hard to believe).  And I miss them, but I don't mind training alone.  I will spend all day at ironman alone, and if I minded riding 100 miles by myself I would probably need to find another way to spend my time.  
I do have one cycling buddy who very kindly moved to Boulder from DC right after I did, who is much stronger than me, and sometimes she lets me tag along and chase her up the side of the mountain with my heart in my mouth.  I think that's been good for me, I think my definition of "easy" needed some adjustment and after a few weekends of riding on her wheel (or fifteen feet behind it pedaling at 100 rpms and god knows what heart rate), after more than a few Saturday mornings of I'm really not sure I can ride this hard for four hours pace, the way I think about the bike has changed.  The way I think about the ride that I will do in a couple of weeks, the one that comes before a pretty darn long run, that has changed too.  
I'm still not putting numbers or times or any kind of data on what I hope to do in Lake Placid in a few weeks.  Nothing I've done this year has been about a race clock, and I'm certainly not going to start chasing it on the longest day I have planned.  I think my goals this time around are about how I want to feel during the race.  Last year that feeling I was searching for was joy.  This year I am going out hunting for pain, and over 140.6 miles I'm pretty sure I'm going to find plenty.  
Some of my athletes have been talking about mantras lately, about the words they need to remember to get deep into their races.  And I've used plenty in the past, they are all over the pages of this blog and those words have helped me get through some long and tough days.  But when I started to think about the words I wanted at LP, I drew a blank.  This year hasn't been about words and sayings and trying to convince my brain to be happy when it is suffering like a pig.  This year has been about sitting in the quiet and letting the hurt come.  About emptying my mind, about going to that place where you can't even hear people cheering anymore, all you can hear is the waves crashing in the peaceful part of your brain while you run, harder, longer, you don't stop, you can't.  
I'm looking forward to race day.  I'm looking forward to standing on the line and glancing around to see the excited faces of so many friends that are racing, to smile and wave and know that we are all out there together, alone through the hours of our own races, but together.  I am looking forward to sitting in the early morning, centering myself, to quieting my mind in the madness of the first moments, to smiling so big that I swallow half the lake when I realize I get to do an ironman today!, to riding the steady hard I know how to ride, to the miles that come after 17 on the run where I will be standing at the edge of what my body is capable.  Where I will find out how much I have to give.  I've stood up in the face of pain quite a few times this year, and every time I've done it, I've learned something about myself.  I don't know what's going to happen in a few weeks on race day, I don't know what rocks I will overturn and what ugly squiggling one-eyed creatures my brain will try to shove in my path, but I am looking forward to finding out.  It's not often that I get the chance to stand on the ledge and scream straight into the pain and see what my heart looks like right now, today, to find out if I have enough fire to get me though.  I am looking forward. To that.