Tuesday, July 22, 2014

the stories we tell ourselves

I started writing this post on June 2nd.
It was the day after the Boulder Sprint.  I didn't race, but I had athletes racing and I was there in the morning to help yank people into their wetsuits and slather them down with sunscreen.  Before the race started, I sat and chatted with them about how they were feeling, listened to conversations flow around me.  Most were training for IM Boulder, so the sprint wasn't really a key race, it was more of a let's see if I can remember how to get the f*ing wetsuit off and do all the sports in the right order kind of race.  And the comments that I heard over and over again were things like, my legs are exhausted, I'm not going to race well, and I've been putting in so many bike miles that I'm not ready for the run, and I drank too much last night so I'm not doing anything special at this race.  

I hear athletes say things like this all the time, and it drives me a tiny bit crazy.  I'm not good at fly.  I'm a bad climber.  I don't race well in the heat.  Well, of course you aren't good at those things, because for the most part you've decided, it is so.  Once you decide, nothing is going to change your mind, because it's made up.  And even things less related to training but certainly related to health.  Packing my lunch is impossible.  I'm not a morning person.  I could never give up sugar.  There's certainly something to be said for the fact that you need to be ready to change before you can actually embrace change.  But when I hear things like that, what I'm actually hearing is, I am definitely not ready to change.  Or I want to change, but I am terrified.
I've been thinking about that morning since then, thinking about all the ways these athletes were writing the story of their day before it had a chance to unfold.  Thinking about whether or not saying those things mattered - for a race as short as a sprint, maybe, maybe not, because there just isn't time to get trapped in the darkness the way there is in ironman.  But if all those thoughts are in there, even if they didn't come out that day, won't the voices get louder as the distances get longer?  So I've been thinking about it, and this post has been a messy draft of blathering paragraphs and I haven't been able to sit down and finish it up, all this time.  And late last week, I finally figured out why.

I wasn't firing on all cylinders, not running on premium octane, certainly.  I've been slammed with training and work since I got back from Europe - well-earned! - and some things had gone really well and some things had gone less well and some things that I thought had gone well had actually not, which is essentially how life... goes.  So I was carrying around a case of the ughs and the I don't want to's, and I kinda didn't even realize it until I was chatting with someone late Friday night who straight-up called me on my shit.  Sitting on my end of the phone line, trying not to make splashing sounds in my epsom salt bath, listening to someone say all the things that I say to my athletes all the time but instead this time they are directed at me, that was hard.  It made me uncomfortable, I wanted to throw the phone down and run away, my initial reaction was to protest no I am not really doing those things but the truth is, I am.  The stories we tell ourselves, they matter.  Two weeks out from ironman, this is not what my story should be.  I shouldn't be self-depricating, I shouldn't be judging, I shouldn't be walking around saying I am wrecked, because it matters less whether or not I am actually wrecked than it does that it's the story I am turning into truth.  And I bet at least half of the dozen or so people reading this will laugh right now, because they've heard me say those words more than once in the past six weeks, maybe more than once in the past six days.  The honest truth is, these big weeks of training, the ones that come right before the roller-coaster crests the drop, they are my favorite weeks of the year.  The big rides, the hard rides, the long runs that require a camelbak because there are zero water fountains in Colorado and my arm isn't strong enough to carry a 72-oz handheld, the long swims, all of it, it's the time in training where I am happiest, even though most of the time my happy is peeking out from under a desire to do nothing but eat and sleep.  I love the volume, I love the big days, I love when my alarm clock is set with a 4 because that is how long the run is, I love being in the pool and people get in and out and in and out and I am still swimming, I love how full my pockets are when I clip in and roll out to ride, and I really love the rest day at the end of all of it that signals time to shut this shit down.  
But I've been carrying around some crap in my head.  Crap that I don't want to look at, or touch, or disturb with a stick because then I will have to deal with all of it and isn't it just better to bounce around with a happy face and ignore your crap?  (Obviously the answer is no).  But now someone flipped over my pile of crap and it smells awful and worms are crawling out and this metaphor is getting really out of hand but I need to deal with how uncomfortable it is making me to hear these things pointed back at myself, because the fact that it is making me so uncomfortable is how I know I need to deal with it.  And with all the changes I've made this year, over the past five years of my life, I think that this is the piece is what's going to hold me back from getting out of my own way next Sunday.  Even though I've made some changes that have shown up inside and out on my body, there are some voices that haven't changed, some tapes that continue to play the same old story in my head.  Over and over again.  And I let them.  
In the last week or two, at least three different people in my life have picked a fight with me pointed out how I am completely unable to accept a compliment.  (Even typing the word compliment makes me itch).  And it's true, of course I know it's true, I'm lucky enough to be aware of my shit even if I don't always deal with it in a prompt fashion.  And the reason that it's true is because accepting a compliment would mean that I would have to believe it.  Whenever someone asks me about a race I've done recently, my commentary usually goes something like, swam great, rode solid, sure wish I could run!  Because I like to make sure I hang onto the ability to poke fun at myself, to make sure the world knows I am not getting too goddamn big for my already-fairly-large britches.  (See?  Just like that.)  Even the night before New Orleans, talking to a friend and saying something along the lines of, Maybe next year I might have a shot at being competitive in my age group, right now I can swim and bike with most of those girls but I can't run with them.  It's hard, sometimes, to feel proud of the progress you've made and then cross that with the voice that badly wants to quantify that with a but it's still not anything standout, it's not what so-and-so is running, it's just average, regular, normal, you're a nothing-special kind of girl.  The voice that wants the world to understand that you are still modest and humble, that you don't think you're all kinds of hot shit now that you've reached X.  Maybe that voice will always be there, maybe it just gets quieter and easier to squash over time, but nothing helpful or constructive comes out of talking to yourself that way.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  

So here's what I don't want.  I don't want to ignore all of my shit for the next two weeks because I know that if there is one place you can't get away from all of your shit, it's eighteen miles into the ironman marathon.  You cannot escape.  I don't want to be running up and down (and up and down) the Boulder creek path, listening to the voices in my head yet again - voices that I recognize, voices that belong to people in my life - which have nothing to say except No and you can't.  Because so quickly that tune changes into you're not good enough and you're not strong enough and you'll never be what she is so you might as well just walk.  And those thoughts come from the same place as, I am wrecked.  In ironman, I am certain, the athletes that do well are not the ones who spend their time self-depricating, who play small, but the ones who can dig into their brains late in the race and find that voice that says, I am fucking awesome.  The athletes that react when someone passes them not with a deflated, well, shit, I suck, but instead with a, I will fucking cut you.  The athlete that I saw just for a few minutes at the end of June when I sat all my shit at the side of the road and gave myself a break and just flew, mind blank, pedal down, fearless, strong.
Friday night.  I gave myself a stern talking-to, I chatted with another friend and for a while just sat and stared into space before tucking into bed.  When I woke up Saturday morning, I was brushing my teeth when a friend texted me, have great workouts today! and I said, out loud to the phone because we're all just a little bit crazy, you know what, I WILL have great workouts today and that buoyed me up and out the door.  I got on the bike expecting to feel the effects of the load of the last week or so but instead I felt like a million bucks, jazzed, jamming, happy to be rolling.  There's a feeling in my legs that I get on good days, I can't even describe it, but it's like I have the biggest strongest plumpest most rosy-cheeked quads in the universe, every pedal stroke is a perfect circle of power and I could probably ride straight up the side of a building if I needed to.  I felt so good that when I bumped into a friend doing a power test, I sat on his wheel for a couple of minutes, reveling in how gritty it felt to burn down and haul (and then realized that wasn't at all what I should be doing with my long ride so I sat up and let him go).  The good feelings stayed with me throughout the ride, even when the heat cranked up and I was stopping every 90 minutes to refill the five bottles I had with me, even when I made a pit stop with 20 miles left to ride but was actually only three miles from my house and had to roll straight past and around the loop again, even when my heart rate climbed and my power dropped like a rock, I still felt meaty, solid, tough.  
With about an hour left, I started thinking about the run off the bike I had to do and what decision I was going to make.  I could choose to skip the run, because it was well over 100º out and ironman is only two weeks away and I could definitely make up some gibberish about digging a recovery hole but actually it's because I'm a grown-up and I do what I want.  I probably could have convinced myself that it was better for the race to store up the mojo and just get into a cool shower instead of the run shoes.  I could have chosen to drive down to the gym and do the run on the treadmill, because that is still getting the run done (although with a 25 minute T time) and at least I wouldn't be baked alive.  Or I could make the decision to throw on the run clothes I left on my kitchen counter along with my Garmin and run off the bike like I was supposed to.  And I decided, spinning home, on the last one.  Because when I'm eighteen miles into that goddamned marathon and my mind is starting to crack, to want to crumble, that is the decision I want to have made.  That is the kind of athlete I want to be and if I ever get there I'll have to shut down the blog because I will quite literally have nothing left to talk about.
I did my run.  It wasn't perfect, I convinced the poet to come ride along on his bike to carry water and make sure that if I collapsed from the heat I wouldn't lay on the dirt for several hours turning into a baseball mitt before someone found me.  More than once, I stopped and tried to hide in the shade of a single weed growing in the ditch, then collected myself and got going again.  I almost never listen to music on the run anymore, but I plugged in the earbuds and then listened to the same song for the entire length of the run because I couldn't focus on anything except the sound of this guy's voice, rewinding every time the lyric played my prediction/I'ma be on top of the world.  And when I was a couple of miles in, I found it.  The feeling, the one that shows up in ironman, the one that almost never shows up in training, the feeling of I just don't think I can do this anymore and turns you from a shuffler into a walker, when you finally give in, give up, let the day go.  On this little transition run, I ran through that feeling, I embraced that feeling, and instead of trying to talk myself into you love running!  you are so good at running! like I have in the past, I let the tape run on empty, the blank hiss of unrecorded sound.  I thought of nothing other than keeping my hips under me and where I was landing on my feet and relaxing my shoulders and reaching with my knees and all those things that I think about all the time on the run.  I sent the poet spinning on home so I could finish it up on my own, the miles clicked by and I ran every step until I was done.

So I've got two weeks (well, ten days now that I've dicked around over this post some more).  Two weeks to reset my brain, two weeks to understand how to turn off the record player, to start with a new tape, one that has only my voice on it when I am at my best, happiest, strongest, most kickass, joyful, alive.  Because the thing I think I am figuring out is that maybe I don't need to chase, to leap, to burn, to walk into the fire of ironman.  Maybe what I actually need to do is step back quietly, to let the miles wash over me against a soundtrack of nothing, to accept instead of struggle, to float instead of fight, cry, rail against, to clear my mind, breathe into the space and allow my body to do what it is, after all this time most certainly, built to do.  Swim.  Bike.  
Run.

16 comments:

  1. Words have power. I was apprehensive as hell about my first open water swim two weeks ago -- and still feel that fluttery panic in my chest when I think about getting back in -- but whenever I think "I am nervous," I cut myself off and replace the sentiment with "I am excited!" Same physical manifestation, vastly different mindset. We're all just fakin' it till we make it.

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  2. Really looking forward to seeing how much ass you kick at Boulder! Thanks for keeping up this blog even in the big weeks of training. I'm doing IMMT this year and know how much the do nothing but eat/sleep temptation there is during these big weeks. Always enjoy your posts. You're a big inspiration to me as we both did CdA for our first IMs in 12 and look at what you've done since then!

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  3. Girl, you always sum it up so well.

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  4. Words have huge power. They've done study upon study on it. Even something as simple as doctors going into a consult with a positive outlook. They make quicker and more accurate diagnoses. Unfortunately, one of the most difficult things to do is change that inner dialogue. Well done, girl!

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  5. I think I have cried at your last three blog posts. Nailed it.

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  6. Forgive me if this makes me a crazy stalker (probably does) but I kind of recall a bit of this from another post that maybe accidentally popped up on here in draft form a while back? I only remember that because that post (and the similar parts of this one) really resonated with me specifically when it comes to choosing to change. Like, I don't think that every time someone refuses to change is necessarily a failing. But I do think the challenge can be finding what's on the other side of "I can't/don't do that." Maybe you'll like it there and maybe you won't, but it seems worth finding out.

    (For example: I really don't ever actually need to race in the heat again. But at least I tried!)

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  7. AnotherDumbAdventure - No, it's not just you. That post was there, I LOVED it, and was sad to see it disappear. *waves to fellow stalker*

    And as someone who gets a bunch of "I'm no good at swimming, I'll always suck climbing on the bike" gibberish through her head, I appreciated both posts.

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  8. Wonderful post. Seriously. To me, somebody who only "knows" you through your blog, you are amazing and fantastic and inspirational. I can only imagine how kickass you must be to people who have actually met you. You deserve so much goodness from all the awesomeness you put out there on the regular. I know the wind-up (wind-down?) to a huge race can be so stressful, but I hope you do get to enjoy it, if it's your favourite part.

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  9. So I know that you will be swimming w/about 3,000 of your closest friends this weekend. I have been following your blog this year and totally dig that smile of yours. Your photos crack me up and your simple stories have a deeper meaning.

    I will be in the office this weekend and hope to be on the live tracker as much as time allows. While you are on the bike and a little breeze blows your way, it was sent from me over here in Grand Junction Colorado.

    Positive Vibes & Stay Strong
    The Padre


    P.S. Get After It Kid

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