Taper is fucking brilliant, you guys (white grape juice, nobody have a stroke).
I've spent this whole week happy. I smile a lot (smiling's my favorite!), I have energy, boatloads of heart rate and watts and...swimming fast crap, my body feels good, it feels lean, durable, strong, supple, elastic. Ready. I never seem to realize how underwater I am in a training block until the fog lifts at the end. It's like getting a new pair of glasses, a few solid nights of sleep and suddenly I can see that bird in the tree at the other end of the neighborhood. But the rest isn't driving me crazy, I feel relaxed by it, the rest is letting me bring everything I need for Sunday to the surface. Sharpening my ax.
I spend most of my time while tapering reading. Sometimes it is trashy pink novels, sometimes it's the new Diana Gabaldon, and sometimes it's another book on vulnerability, durability, grace, or resilience. Curled up in bed, a cup of tea, pulling dog hair out of my teeth and plowing through whatever I can feed into my brain. Trying to sort out what I need to carry, what I'm afraid of, what I want to stand up to. I always go into a race having tripped over a thought, a mantra, the universe inevitably throws a brick at me from always an unlikely mouth and I have learned to listen.
I am willing. Willing is a funny word. Being willing to swim, bike and run, that is not the challenge on race day. I am always willing to do these things, I love to train, I love to move my body, I love to be outside. And in almost every race this year, I've found the willing, the focus, I've raced largely without fear. The key for me is being willing to swim and bike in a way that protects the run, and then - simply, no bullshit - execute. It's no secret that putting together a solid marathon on Sunday is the only thing that I want out of the day, that it is the thing that I desire most in the world.
I've spent this week making sure to surround myself with my people. To check in, to accept their good wishes, to talk through the day or maybe to just shoot the shit and drink some coffee and enjoy the company of a good friend. I have a community here in Boulder. It's kinda weird, and the people I've picked up and planted into it along the way don't always make sense, but it's mine. It was important to me to reach out into the warmth of these relationships. Some of those friends aren't completely tired of talking triathlon, so to a few people, I said it, out loud, this is what I would like to do on the run. This is what I know I am trained to do. If you see this happening, it means I am having a great day. Saying those things, actually telling people, I believe that it will help me on Sunday afternoon. Because there will come a time - I know that there will - when I want to back down from the suffering, when it will get ugly, and hard, and hurt. And knowing that I've said to someone, this is what the fight will look like for me, I want to be held accountable to that. I don't want the out that comes so easily with eight hours of racing behind you, I want the work, the execution, if it comes to a fight then I will battle - goddammit I will run - through those miles.
But I don't think it will be a fight. Without exception, I've done all of my long runs alone. In the quiet. Surrounded by silence. Just the drop of my feet onto the dirt and my breathing and the peace of the work. If I could run the marathon completely alone on Sunday, I would, that's how focused I want to be. The first two hours of the run, I want to be inside my bubble, just like I've been in training, thinking nothing, feeling nothing, doing nothing other than operating the levers of my beautiful machine. Footfalls. Heart rate. Pace chews OSMO ice sponges. Footfalls.
I am worthy. I don't know if everyone that races ironman takes the same path through figuring out all of their shit the way I have. But for whatever reason, I'm glad that this is how I've started to untangle myself. Part of another book that I was reading had a listing of some truths about the human condition, and one of those truths was something like: I am worthy because I am no different from anyone else. I have a heart, a mind, and emotions, the same as everyone else, and we're all deserving. Just because I have not yet put together an ironman the way I want to does not mean that someone who has is a better person that me. I am not inferior to another human because I walked for seven miles with a broken arm in Cozumel before I got my shit back together and ran. I am allowed to feel self-worth even when I fail. And I am worthy of a good day at ironman. Being worthy is very different from deserving, and I clearly understand the difference between the two. I don't deserve a good day at ironman because I've trained so hard or give to charity or recycle. But I am worthy of a good day at ironman because I am no different than anyone else that has ever had a good day. I am worthy of the run I want, the run I have trained for, the run that will not come easily to me but I am ready to reach out and take. And that is what I will be reminding myself when I'm three or seven or nine or fifteen miles in.
I am found. Yesterday morning I read a chapter of my book while I was sitting in the dermatologist's office, on the table, in the paper gown, waiting for the doctor. It was raining, hard, right on the window, the air-conditioning kept kicking on and off and my feet were cold. And there was an excerpt in my book about using forgiveness as a way to become more resilient. Not just forgiving others, but forgiving yourself. Self-grace. Letting go of guilt and shame associated with failure. I started thinking about Cozumel, about the run, how I've never been able to completely let go of the vast chasm between the run I wanted and the run I had. For spending the first seven miles feeling sorry for myself, walking, stomping, being angry at something completely out of my control. I still have a hard time talking about it, other than in the jest of good storytelling, but when I try to talk about it in a real way, I want to fluff it off as nothing, it didn't matter, it happened and it's over. But that's not true. I've been punishing myself for that run ever since. And sitting right there, on the crackly paper, I forgave myself for the run. For giving up, for walking, for not fighting, and it's such a cliche but I felt a weight lift. I even said it out loud in the little room (good lord this has really become a post full of vomiting up my emotional underpants), I forgive myself for not fighting for the run I wanted. And now, it's gone. Grace equals gone.
The story of John Newton is included in the book, and it's a story I know well. Newton lived a crazy life full of turmoil, and along his journey somewhere he cleaned himself up and learned about self-grace. He became a minister and wrote poems and hymns, one of the most famous, Amazing Grace. And the book focuses on a different stanza, but I googled the entire hymn and while reading through, got caught on I once was lost, but now I'm found. Things can go about as wrong as they can ever go, and with self-grace, there can be redemption. Success. Just because I failed the last time I stood at the line does not mean I will never find success. I've been lost plenty of times in the run shoes, not just in ironman, but now, I am found.
I felt the first inklings of excitement, only yesterday. The stallion pawing at the ground, let me go let me run let me race. Quit it with the packet pickup and the bag packing and the sunscreen and the body marking and let's just get in the water and go already. I want to be cool and composed, and I know I will be once I'm in my wetsuit Sunday morning, peace will wash around me, softly as an exhaling breath. But right now, I'm boiling over, I'm ready, I want to start working, start discovering what the day will bring. And I know I won't have a perfect day. Ironman is too long, it's too large, it's too forbidding to allow anyone through without some mishaps. I know that anything can go wrong, that I may try and fail again, that I might be sitting in this chair a week from now, far more sore and chafed and tired, writing about how I learned instead of won from my experience. With that fact, I am at peace.
Living here means I'm going to see people I know every 40 seconds or so, all day. And I've told all of them, I might ignore you. You can talk to me, you can cheer for me, please do, I will hear you and it will help me and I will hug you for it later (and you will be sorry for that because of how bad I smell), but I probably will not respond in that moment. Not because I'm a huge asshole, but because that's the kind of focus I believe I need for success. A friend of mine this morning pointed out that I could probably give that crap up at mile eighteen or so of the run, if the day has gone the way I wanted, I could probably reach out and accept the glad energy that everyone gives so freely when spectating ironman, and that is true. But until that point, all of my own energy is going to be directed back into every moment I am in. Bubbles on the swim. Heart rate and power and patience and strength on the bike. And once the run shoes are on, I am going after it with every part of my heart. I won't be wasting a single drop, doing anything other than following my plan and repeating to myself. I am willing. I am worthy. I am found. And it's time to bring it forth, like the man says, like I can't help myself from repeating just one more time, in a motherfucking firestorm.