Monday, October 13, 2014

you bet your life on it

The poet and I, we don't really do gifts for special occasions.  I would much rather fill my house with people and then fill their bellies with food than ever open a present - nothing makes me happier, that is how I celebrate, surrounding myself with the warmth of relationships.  But one of my private (except for the part where I hit publish and the goddamned internet remembers it forever) celebrations is this post, piecing together a few hundred thousand million words as I sit still for a moment, reflecting.  

In the past, it's often been a letter to myself, and that's where I've been struggling.  This year, I think it's fair to say that just about everything I've posted (outside of a million bicycle selfies and pictures of me running around Boulder in my underwear, for shame) has been some version of the letter I would write in this particular space.  As I've worked through the days and weeks of my life over the last twelve months, I've spent less time posting lists and puppy pictures and training recaps and more time using this as a safe (?) place to vomit up every piece of myself that I am untangling, be it ugly or shiny or bloated or graced with a six-pack, out into the world (obviously I'm gonna post one of these again right now, mostly because it makes Jen and also the entire internet super happy).  
So instead of a letter, I think, I'd prefer to reflect on my more ordinary moments, the ones that are abundant in a year I consider extraordinary despite the fact that it has been scattered with the gifts of failure.  Failure at ironman, in relationships, as a coach, as an athlete, as a wife, as a friend, I'm pretty sure I've checked every one of those boxes at some point.  But I'm not sure I would ever want to sit down and type a post that starts with wow, life has been absolutely perfect lately, either.  That sounds boring, dull, like I am hiding in the closet instead of out crashing noisily through the world, saying fuck fuck a fat duck when I drop things, stuffing my foot into my tonsils at every turn and leaving muddy footprints and the smell of chlorine in my wake.  So when I look back, my disasters are not what I am going to remember.  The moments I will remember?  Are these.

My alarm went off at 5:20am, just like it does six days out of seven.  I scraped together breakfast, I threw a hoodie over my jammies, OSMO into my swim bag and drove to the pool under the round eye of the moon.  Earplugs, cap, goggles and I dove - oh how I love this moment - into the lane next to my good and dear friend, one of the few brief flashes of grace in my life, weightless, flawless, my moment of choosing to fly.  I spent an hour watching the sun rise out the window, chattering and splashing and emptying the pool with butterfly, back and forth in a new suit while the clock blinked the seconds away.  
I hugged my friend Erin in the weight room, I helped one of my athletes learn how to use his ass for more than holding his pants up, I cautiously foam-rolled my newly-back-in-place sacrum.  I went out for coffee with a friend (I always ask let's meet for coffee? even though I don't actually drink it), stood in line at the post office to send treats halfway around the world, drove home to cook a luxurious four pieces of bacon with my breakfast.  I filled the pockets of my jersey and rolled out, winging into the breezy sunshine of the day.  The miles unrolled, the watts rose and fell, pangs and twinges came and went in the body but the mind was constant - as constant as a northern star - and steady, too soon the Garmin flipped over to 90 and I was back in my driveway, pink-cheeked with wind and work, hoarse from accompanying Florida Georgia Line.  
Puppies, crying and wrist-biting and racing to get to their favorite place in the world - outside! - more OSMO, a blaze through email, a shower and a swipe of mascara and we were back out the door, not a single item of spandex on my body and shoes that click-clack down the walk.  Dinner with friends, filling my round puppy tummy with a rich and sweet and non-Paleo feast, wine poured into the cracks, laughter, chocolate, not a thought to the waistline or the scale or dragging it all up the side of a mountain on the bike.  Tumbling noisily back home, the evening a warm blur until I was tucked into a dark room full of soft snores and the gentle thump of tails wagging in their sleep. 
This day, these moments, all are precious but none are extraordinary.  The extraordinary fact is that these are my ordinary moments (other than the fact that I did almost no work on my birthday because I don't believe in it).  But even work, the life I have built in that particular bucket and the people that have filled it, that matters, that is important, they are a huge part of the reason why this year has been exceptional.  
In a year.  I left my job to spend every moment nurturing something that is bigger than a business.  It is truly a family, and with perhaps the only maternal instinct I will ever have, I feel the need to defend it, ferociously.  I worked my way into new running shorts, I taught Sofie how to roll over, I stopped eating grain, I snuggled myself even more comfortably into my little life here in Boulder.  I broke my arm in Mexico, I (possibly) broke my ribs on 36, I broke myself of a lifetime habit of the post-race shame shower.  I ate one million salty balls.  I stumbled into some new friendships; I gently stepped away from others after too many moments of heartache.  I was fortunate to cross many finish lines, some battered, some bruised, some triumphant, but all, crossed.  I worked, I studied, I watched, I learned, I made mistakes and I have failed.   
And maybe it's all crap.  That's what I think as I edit this post for the third time, maybe it's time to say good-bye to this space, maybe I'm just talking to myself in circles with too many fluffy adjectives when instead I could be bragging about my watts and how many OMG miles I ran last week and how I felt.  Maybe there is such a thing as too much vulnerability, as too much wandering around in public in your emotional underpants, there is probably even a thing as too many bicycle selfies but please don't tell any of my friends on Instagram that.  What I want out of the world, the poet says it all the time, is to help people make their lives better.  If I am lucky, at the end of my life I will be able to say, yes, at least one person, I helped.  But this year I worked hard to make my own life better, in a million small ways as I staggered like a drunk, forward in time.  There's gratitude there, for that.  
So.  This year, a lot of shit has gone into my brain, I've figured some shit out and then discovered new shit that now I need to figure out.  That's how life goes.  And to reflect on anything more would probably just be more repeating myself.  But the important things I've pulled out, to not forget.  Be brave.  Be stupid.  When someone in your life is staining it an ugly dark green with negativity, when they make your heart cramp with sadness, boot them the fuck out and do it the first time, not the fiftieth.  When someone in your life adds a piece to your puzzle, no matter how insignificant, grab them by the ear and plaster on your most disarming smile and flutter your eyelashes like Miss O'Hara herself and ask sweetly, wanna go ride bikes?  Buy the most ridiculous swimsuit, sing at the top of your lungs no matter what it does to your watts.  Be humble but be proud.  Just be naked in the locker room, I promise no one cares and it's a lot faster when you aren't dicking around with a towel.  Your heart is no good to you in perfect and pristine condition, rip it out and whip it at the sky and let it be used, breathe into rejection and try again.  Hug the introverts.  Work on Saturday nights so you can swim on Tuesday afternoons, it's worth it.  It is not the goddamn critic who counts.  Be vulnerable, my God, if this trip around the sun hasn't been sponsored by that word already, and don't just lean into it but stalk it with the expert eye of the hunter.  Fuck it, take the selfies, if there is something the internet needs it is more ridiculous shit to make people snort with laughter and less everyone telling everyone else that they are wrong while they sit on their couch wasting their lives.  
And run.  Lace up your shoes, scrabble your hair up into the visor and head directly west, into the wind, chasing the sun, feet turning on dirt, primal, you bet your life on it, do not forget.  How it started, how I started, five years now of blogging, of puppy pictures and ridiculous faces and race reports and overly wordy and personal posts about how I am gradually figuring out how to exist on this planet, it all began with the run.  With my love for it, my fierce desire to move my body over the flex of the earth; I'll never know if I was chasing something or if something was chasing me, but as the days have flipped over, as the miles have turned and I have opened delicate to the sky, that has never changed.  It never will.  

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2013 birthday post
2012 birthday post
2011 birthday post
2010 birthday post 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

the difference

Other than describing my incredible meltdown on the side of a mountain in the Alps, I haven't really mentioned my trip to France.  I posted cheese, wine, and gelato selfies all over the Instagram, I spent two days endurance eating in Italy and I lost my shit on a good friend.  But I also decided, somewhere in there and not just because people kept dragging me out of bed after midnight to eat chocolate and drink wine, that I needed change.
Ironman Boulder came and went, a bookend on how I've done things the past few years.  It had to be, it was long overdue, I saw that in the bricks the universe zinged at me all spring.  Aim, fire, bullseye.  I had no idea what was going to happen once August 3rd had passed, but I did know that at some point in the days that followed, I would wake up and I would know.  Whether or not I still wanted to chase big ironman goals - and I was convinced that I would not - if I wanted to only participate in the distance, if I wanted triathlon to be a part of my life at all or maybe instead it would be time to finally buy a cross bike and join a Crossfit gym and reintroduce my body to yoga and take selfies at the top of fourteeners instead of filtered through my rotating days of swim, bike, run.  I talked in the spring about wanting to chase the fun, how important that is to me.  And somewhere in the months after racing down in New Orleans, I lost my way.  That's what I found in France.  I woke up every day and didn't think what boxes do I need to check to make sure I am ready for ironman but instead how will it make me joyful to move my body today?  It was such a relief to realize that the desire to move for pure health still existed, it simply lay dormant under layers of fatigue, wear, frustration, exhaustion.  The fact is, I've trained for and raced ironman four times in the past two years, three of those in the last fifteen months.  And I have loved training for ironman, it has satisfied a part of me that I never knew was searching, or empty, or needed to be run like a racehorse, or maybe I really just love to eat.  But when I came back from France, fatter and calmer and starting my long runs at 5am because I had already been awake for three hours thanks to jet lag, I knew it was time to change the way I think about training and racing and the place these things have in the satellite view of my entire life, not just the one that is molded around the colored boxes.  
Racing in Canada, I hurt my foot.  Just a little twinge, nothing that my gang of supermen in Boulder couldn't piece together and repair (I type as I sit on the couch with my right leg quite literally aching hip to toe from dry needling), but it meant that my run chilled its britches in timeout for a little while.  The specific pain I was having, I noticed with a bolt-upright-in-bed-at-2am-style aHAaa, was identical to the still-undiagnosed foot pain that kicked off a spiral of drinking too much and not moving my body or seeking health in any way that surrounded my divorce all those years ago.  Another mystery, perhaps solved.
So this morning I went for a run.  The first couple of runs after the one that ends in 911 pull all the fire alarms something is very seriously fucked here are cautious, so delicate.  I carefully trotted down the driveway, the way you tiptoe around the house when a baby finally goes to sleep, made the left turn into the blasting wind that we woke up to this morning, and...something clicked.  Or maybe not, maybe settled, or maybe I simply turned straight into one of those moments that you stumble over so rarely as an athlete, those moments where your fitness and your strength and your heart and your mind come straight into focus and your feet barely brush the road.  I didn't look at my watch, I didn't care, I let my body go, I set it free, and laughter thundered up and out of me.  Joy.  
Last weekend, I went to TEDx Boulder.  All of the speakers were phenomenal, that was expected, from each talk I was able to pick out a few seeds to plant in my own personal ongoing work-in-progress, but the standout speaker for me was Steph Davis.  Her talk was called Choosing to Fly and she spoke about the difference between endurance and resilience and it just takes one little mention of the R-word to yank me upright in my seat.  Endurance, she said, is numbing.  (All of this is poorly paraphrased because her talk isn't online yet and has been strongly diluted by lack my inability to remember things correctly).  It's the ability to endure.  And what is it to endure?  To hang out, to stay where you are, a death grip on your situation.  Endurance is stoic.  But resilience is motion.  Resilience is a giant rubber superball that you throw at the ground, and when you do, it erupts back up into the sky.  Being able to endure is merely holding on.  Resilience is letting go.  Endurance works, but you can do better.  You can choose resilience.

My left glute is lazy (I'm going somewhere with all of this and it's not just a list of all the ways my body is an asshole sometimes, I swear).  It doesn't like to turn on.  It's been that way for a while, but I happily started lifting all the heavy things again after 70.3 and I see it every day I'm in the gym, it takes monumental neurological effort to make it fire.  Squeeze.  It was noted in the bike fit I got last week, I can feel it when I try to power up a hill, it's the absence of work, a ghost glute that exists perhaps only for the purpose of keeping my pants up and a little bit so my ass selfies don't look crazy and lopsided.  I've learned recently that when I dead lift, my right glute tries to pick up the slack.  It fires like crazy; as the lifts get heavier and I dig my heels into the ground, sometimes it spasms and locks up as I pull away from the ground for the last time.  And when I drop the weight on the ground and stand in front of the bar, I notice that I am clenching the muscle because I know how much it will hurt to release it.  I grip, hard, I prefer the strain of tension because I am far more afraid of the pain that I know is waiting for me when I finally let go.
It all comes back to resilience.  Resilience, the smoky vaporous ideal that I have been studying, chasing, attempting to shape my awkward self around these last few months, hoping to jam my square peg into its stubbornly round hole.  I'm sure that trying to force resilience on a human is much like trying to feed jello to a rattlesnake but goddammit if I haven't been taking a crack at it, reading everything I can get my hands on, hurling everything fragile that I am into all things cruel and sharp I can find, putting my emotional being under duress with the hope that it will finally buckle like a naughty child and behave.  And there is little surprise that it hasn't been working, I saw that at Ironman Boulder.  Did I find success in the day?  Yes, absolutely, but that success was born out of endurance.  From my ability to hold on, to freeze, anesthetized, gasping, grasping, to squeeze every muscle tight, crazily fending off surrender when really it's yielding, letting go, that is the answer I've been searching for all this time.

Last November, in a fit of spontaneity, I signed up for Ironman Arizona, a race that historically sells out in about fourteen seconds.  I hopped onto the registration site when it opened at noon, very much with a if I get in, great; if I don't, NBD attitude.  I clicked through all the forms, waiting every second to be booted out of the system with a sorry, registration is now full error message.  And when I arrived at very last screen, the yes I really mean it I want to do this ironman button, I paused for a second, looked out the window, and asked myself, is this really what you want to do?  Two?  Again?  Breathed, nodded to myself, and then plunged forward.  Sure.  Certain.  Then.  But a year is a long time.
The past few months, I've been doing things differently.  I don't need to attach better or worse because it's none of that, it's quietly, different.  Lots of things, ranging from small to large and I'm not just talking about tequila and riding my bike here, what these things are don't really matter, what matters is that I've been doing a lot of smiling, laughing, chasing the fun again.  To see what change brings, matter-of-factly inviting the opportunity, be it good or bad.  And through all of these days, I've realized how closely related joy and resilience are linked.  The feeling when I am swimming well, so fast that I'm convinced my body is skimming the surface of the water instead of plowing through sludge like a mule, a long and grinding, winding climb through a canyon and the moment I turn to bomb back down, when I open my callused hands and drop gently return the barbell to the floor, heavy with sweat, those are my joyful moments.  The run I had this morning, my feet so light on the ground, wanting to burst at the feeling of choosing to fly, the flare and release of my body into the world that was waiting.  Those, as opposed to the moments where I struggle, where I fight, flail, burn; those are the moments where I am developing resilience.  It may be true that there is no joy to be found in the ironman marathon, that it is always a contest of the most stoic, but for me, for what I am asking of my body, I refuse to believe that.  If I want to succeed at ironman, and no one was more surprised than me when the light finally clicked on and it said, yes, maybe, okay, let's try again - if I want that, then I think joy, release, surrender, that is how I will find it.  Not by enduring, not by fierce concentration, not by a death grip and an impassive game face but instead by slipping on the run shoes, snapping on the race belt, and jogging lightly out of the tent with a grin.  Heaving the giant superball at the ground and riding its trajectory as it explodes upwards, outwards.  Everywhere.