I rolled neatly from the finish line into my off-season, and I'm sure it looks quite like the off-season of everyone else. For two weeks I did nothing. Nada. I didn't even take the dogs on a walk. I worked, I slept, I put things in my mouth, I read some books, and that was about it. I didn't get near the scale or the pool or the running shoes, I ignored vegetables and tried some of that cookie butter people have been raving about (my life remains unchanged but I have discovered the level of sugar I need to ingest if I would like my kneecaps to vibrate). For the first two weeks, all of that was enough, and that's how I know that I was fully cooked by my year: satisfied, tired, uninterested in all things swim/bike/run/lift, no itches to go out and run a few miles or join the poet at masters, no internet FOMO disease. I wanted to sit around and watch my bruises heal, let my mind and body simply exhale.
The first pair of shoes I put back on were my ski boots. I spent my first day on the mountain chasing some friends around, new and old, and by the end of the day my busted arm and legs were exhausted but my heart was happy.
A couple of days later, I pulled on the run shoes and huffed and puffed my way around the block. It was hard and I had to take some walk breaks and ended up cutting across the little park to scoot back in the front door. Not ready yet.
Another few days went by, and then we got a couple of those brilliant Colorado winter days where the high is in the sixties and your road bike is begging for a spin. I went out with the poet to "help" him learn how to clip in and out of his new pedals and shoes without tipping over in slow motion at a stop sign (so far, so good), and that was fun, but then the wind kicked up and I hardly ever get a chance to say it's windy so I am going to take my toys and go home so I did.
Finally it was about a week or maybe two ago that I decided to hop in the pool to see what my arm was doing, and after a few hundred yards, I learned that I was going to need more of the "3-6 weeks of healing" that I had been promised by the first doctor I saw after the race. Sore, tired, tight, pinch, ouch, and a kindly-intentioned wow your arm has really atrophied in such a short time from my masters coach and I veered directly through the hot tub and out to brunch, then straight into my regular Sunday-afternoon nap and yes I am totally cracked out on a camera that can take pictures underwater, thanks for not mentioning it.
But that was when I started to feel the little tingles of being ready to train again (this feels very much like being extremely cranky and your husband starts leaving knives lying around). I completely rewrote the strength training workouts for my athletes based on some classes I have been taking lately, and was able to work through almost all of it in the weight room. Lifting felt good and didn't hurt, so a couple days later I went back for another session, and another.
And maybe another spin on the road bike and then I managed to swim 1000 yards and I skied a couple more days and suddenly it's January 1 and I'm rolling again, I'm starting the long slow climb back to the place where my watts are higher than my heart rate and I can look at the clock in the pool without throwing my goggles at the fence.
I'm starting this year very differently than I started 2013. For one thing, I'm not yet whole. I still feel broken, damaged, the need to sit quietly and let healing come in. I have an elbow thing going on and a knee thing and a hamstring thing that I thought was gone but apparently is only gone when I don't ride my TT bike and some disgusting purple toe things and also, a little, I have a head thing going on that I need to get sorted before I am ready to stand on any lines again.
But the flip side of that is that I recently treated myself to a whopping dose of perspective, and that has done a lot for the face in the mirror. I was digging through some old photos a few weeks ago, for no other reason than these are the things that the off-season athlete does because you can only clean the bathtub so many times, and I came up with this:
That first photo was taken just about five years ago. Five. And I remember that girl. I had recently interviewed for a job, and I'm sure that one of the questions I was asked was the where do you see yourself in five years standard interview question. I have absolutely no idea what I said in response, but I know what I didn't say. I didn't say I will be an ironman, three times over. I definitely didn't say I will be living in Colorado with my husband who, by the way, is not the guy I'm about to marry. I'll have three crazy golden retrievers and without exaggeration or cliche, I will be healthier and happier than I've ever been. I will have figured out how to work for myself and, in case you are wondering, it will have nothing to do with this high-level IT job I'm about to take back here in 2008. But don't worry, my hoodie addiction will remain intact.So however twisty I am with dissatisfaction and shame that I didn't run the marathon off the bike in my third ironman the way I planned, five years ago I had no idea that something like ironman could even be in my vocabulary, that I could hold it in my hands, this is mine. And the point of comparing photographs is not that it took me five years to find abs, but that in the course of finding myself, finding my family and finding the weird kinds of things that are necessary for ME to be happy, my body changed along with everything else. Five years ago on New Years Eve, I ran a fat, happy, drunk 4-miler, but it was less a celebration and more a start of a long and ugly slide that left me alone, divorced in my sad wreck of a money-drinking house. Four years ago I had a new puppy in my lap and got the present of a gym membership for Christmas and had just started my MBA but still was a bit shell-shocked by the cards life had flipped over. I ran the same 4-miler. The turn, following the flop.
Three years ago I got married, two years ago I celebrated the longest marriage of my life and a year ago I spent my first December 31st in Colorado, the wide sweet plains of sky that have called me to a home I might never have known. And when I put the fact that I didn't run 9:45 pace a month ago through that filter, through the filter of what five years can look like in a life, laughter bubbles up and out of me (I think the kids call it the LOLZ). Your life, it's yours, you are the boss of it. Some things take longer than others to change, but you can be anyone, you can do anything, if you have desire. It was a little less than five years ago that I decided that no, it wasn't okay, the life I had. And until the moment that I decided, there was nothing or no one that could force me to turn in a new direction. But once I had set my sights on the pieces of what I thought my life could look like, there were no nay-sayers, no cookies, no snooze buttons that could stop me.
So yet again, I'm not listing the goals I accomplished last year or making a long list (bloggers heart lists!) of the crap I want to do this year. Instead, just a pause. A moment, yet another, of looking back and standing tall, the ashes of who I used to be still smoking, a wisp rising gently, a reminder. Only a brief pause, because now it's January, and it's time to dive back into my life, my whole life not just my triathlon life, and to do it with my eyes open. To figure out where I go from here, which walls do I patch next, which demons do I chase down, what changes do I need next, how can I do better, be better, grow, teach, love better. Because right now, every day, I'm deciding what the woman five years from now is looking back on. And I want her to be proud.