There's no real way to write about a big training week that is fascinating to anyone except the people involved in it (just acknowledging before I proceed, as bloggers do). I find the daily breakdown of hours, minutes, pace, wattage, elevation to be a general bore, not to mention intellectual property of the coach laying down the ass-whipping, so I think it is best to simply comment that I went to California to ride my bike until my legs fell off or my crotch disintegrated (with a little bit of swimming and running and a lot of being around some of the greatest friends I have), and it is safe to say that I accomplished all of these things.
I love Colorado, I knew from the moment we drove over the state line that I would likely never leave, the peace, the dirt, the canyons, the wide sweet plains of sky, those things are starting to feel like mine, my soul has been wandering for years and now I am home. I’ve done a lot of skiing this winter, a lot of running with snow chains strapped to my feet, listening to my breath and turning inwards to the silence. I've done a lot of swimming in water that is 80º warmer than the air, when the sun comes out I run out into the yard and stand with my face open to the sky, I’ve spent a lot of time outside this winter, that is true, and it helps. But the unrelenting weeks of cold and snow, only to be replaced briefly by 50mph winds, have made my heart ache to be back on two wheels, sun in my eyes, singing whatever song I am currently wearing thin at the top of my voice because if there is one thing I am it is loud, sweat rolling into my ears and ever so indelicately down my crack.
I have terrible taste in music and an extremely irritating habit of listening to a song on repeat. I can’t just enjoy music, I need to wallow in it, to feel it in my veins, like water like wine, the kind of song where every time you press the button to notch up the volume it just sounds better. The one currently getting worn out is an old Coldplay song. I spent a lot of time running on the eagle trail and at the reservoir this summer, and if you saw a little chunk in short shorts flying downhill singing it’s a wa wa wa waterfall at the top of her lungs, well, that was me. I plugged it back into my shuffle when I packed last week, knowing that sometimes I want company when I’m going to be spending hours upon hours going four mph in my smallest gear, and company it was. I would guess that I listened to it more than two hundred times in the past seven days, and that might even be a conservative estimate. I cannot turn this song up loud enough, I cannot sing the second verse without wanting to fling my arms into the air, I can’t even start to explain how precisely Mr. Coldplay has put a pin in exactly how I am feeling in my life right now but by god I am going to try.
There are things in life that you can control, and quite a few billion more that you can’t. Things that you cannot control include the weather on race day, the number of people that are swimming in “your” lane when you show up to the pool, the guy in front of you at the stop light who is trying to go straight from a right-only lane and holding up all the works when you are late for your bikini wax. Most recently in my life it has included someone slamming into my body 84 miles into an ironman and viciously frustrating bicycle-related unsolvable knee pain and flights taking off without me on them when I am desperately trying to get to South Carolina. But the things you can control? Your attitude, your emotions, your reactions, your self-talk. This particular platitude is usually shared with you when you are losing your shit and is generally unhelpful in the moment; it’s something I say to my athletes and my own coach needs to remind me of it, part of the circle of life. But like most trite sayings, it is true and I think I finally, really, completely understand it for the first time in my life (yes, I only brought two kits with me and washed them repeatedly).
It was the third or maybe fourth day of riding, we rolled down the bike path in the sunshine, I settled my sores back into the shape of my saddle as we headed yet again for the canyons. My legs warmed up and felt solid, not snappy but competent, I think I also learned this week a great deal about what my body is capable of when I think it’s a dysfunctional old pile of rocks and gears, or maybe I actually have no idea what it is capable of because I’ve never really asked it to do any more than enough. We turned off the PCH and started the first and longest climb of the day, I got dropped pretty much immediately (THAT being the actual theme of the week) and spent the better part of the next five hours alone in my head, the most terrifying situation imaginable to an extrovert. I can remember this going sour on other training days, the peevish grumpiness that accompanies watching your friends ride up and away, the negative spiral that drops you lower and lower as you climb higher, until you finally breach the rise and can unclip and stomp off the bike. But none of that came through, I plugged in my single earbud (right ear going deaf far more rapidly than the left), picked a number to hold myself accountable to on my tiny electronic device that was talking to Mark’s borrowed back wheel and started really listening to what was going on inside my mind. It was quiet, confident, positive, grateful, it was the best possible version of myself and once I relaxed into it, I think I could have climbed forever (but thank fuck I didn’t because the saddle sore situation was completely out of hand). As the day rolled on and I started to run out of calories and I felt the ughs tapping at my door for the first time all week, I reminded myself, I can control this, I can control my attitude, I can’t control that I am feeling tired but I can control how I am reacting to feeling tired, and with that, I turned the bonktown bullet train to crankypants station right back around. One more climb up and then we arrived at the best part of the day, the moment where I finally get to ride off the front and spend thirty minutes going forty mph directly towards the ocean, squat little crazy pigtails flying, put your butt on the seat, I can’t stop laughing even though it means I end up eating half a dozen bugs on the way down, weight on the hand, my bike doesn’t need brakes because I wouldn’t use them if you held a gun to my head, thinking how is it even conceivable that I used to be afraid of this moment when it is possible that these are the best moments of my life?
The words I can’t stay away from, this song stuck in my head this week, as Anabel would say I am literally obsessed with it: maybe I’m in the black, maybe I’m on my knees, maybe I’m in the gap between two trapezes, but my heart is beating and my pulses start, cathedrals in my heart.
That’s the feeling that is predominant in my life right now, like maybe I am in that gap between the two trapezes, weightless, like I am flying through the air, heavy, nearly confident that I will be caught but it doesn't matter, what matters is I am still soaring, defiant, full of heart (and probably just a little bit of bullshit). I’ve been reading a lot of Brene Brown and this feeling is the opposite of shame, it’s kryptonite to vulnerability, it's connection without definition, it's the goddamn tightrope. I feel powerful, jubilant, like there is absolutely nothing that can drag me under, I am surrounded by the love of my friends, I am ravenous for challenge, it's the voice in my head that states, firmly, when shit gets hard, I will not back down. I’m on the other side of fear in these moments, maybe I ran out of watts climbing Latigo but I sure didn’t run out of joy. That’s what training should be, I wasn't in California to ride my bike for twenty-two hours because I want to PR my bike split in ironman this year. I went to California to ride my bike for twenty-two hours because there is (literally) not a single thing on this planet that I would rather be doing.
I’m on the plane back to Colorado right now, I’m listening to this song just one more time which I'm sure my seatmate is thrilled about based on the volume that I am blasting it, and my heart is full. My legs are tired, my sacrum is probably sideways by now, I need a haircut and vegetables and to buy some of that oil that smells like my grandmother that will heal my special parts, I miss my friends even though I only left them a few hours ago, but I am both sated and starved, I am in the gap, hungry, awake, my spirit is voracious and ready for the next adventure, if I had to use my own words to describe how I feel coming off the week, those words would not be oh man, I'm so wiped, they would be more along the lines of bring it the fuck on.