Backing up a bit. It's kind of hilarious, I said to the post as he drove me to the airport last Sunday through four inches of fresh snow. We moved here because Boulder gets 400 sunny days a year, yet every February I pack up and leave to go train in the sunshine. Three years in a row now I've done this, dismantled the bike and picked a fight with United on social media and headed west with all the running shorts I can current shoehorn myself into. On the surface, traveling to the sunny days, to riding my bike outside without being layered under every piece of warm gear I own, running without a shirt (sorry) and soaking up the vitamin D, but it's also a few lucky days of laughing, moving, and some good reminders about why I do what I do, and where I want to go from here.
The last two years I've been lucky enough to crash Anabel's training in southern California but this trip around the sun has brought Michelle into my life. We had a short conversation back in the winter that had me booking a plane ticket not to the palm trees and beaches of Santa Monica but instead a few zillion miles further west to Hawaii where we apparently cannot take selfies with our helmets on straight.
Coming out of the fall, I had some shit to figure out. The off season helped a ton. It was a relief to land there with a THUD the day after IMAZ, I needed the downtime to focus on other things. And by the time January rolled around, the wheels had started to turn again. Someone posted one of those quizzes on Facebook a while back, about whether you make progress better as an abstainer or a moderator. Is it better to go cold turkey or to ease out of the mess? And for me, always, cold turkey. There is so much less decision fatigue involved in nope I am not doing any of this for X time than the exhaustion that comes daily with am I going to train? eat? drink this? So at the beginning of January, I kicked off another adjusted-for-training-whole30. The first few days were uncomfortable, but in a way that is familiar, I am doing something good for my body and I am on track and this will pass kind of uncomfortable. I remember on day eleven, I woke up and felt goddamn amazing. I floated through my training, I felt good about everything I ate, I was rolling. The better I ate, the better I felt, the better I slept, the better I trained (and the less my husband wanted to strangle me). I was in the groove, firing hard, and then there was a tiny blip when my back went out again. At the time, of course, it felt like the end of the world (so much for not wanting to strangle me). And even though this is the third time it's happened in my life, I still didn't recognize it right away as my wacky sacrum tilting and rotating and jamming the whole joint up. (This is the I haven't gotten out of my sweatpants in three days selfie, plus a dog butt).
Yet again, I rang all the alarm bells I could ring, sent off all the bat signals and the only reason I guess I'm mentioning it is so I can remember, it happens, it goes out but someone can always slam it back in, and all the while, life goes on. It went out on Monday and I was able to get back in the pool by Friday morning, I went to masters and swam about half my usual yardage and every time I touched the wall, I popped up to the surface of the water bubbling over with the sweet and overwhelming relief that comes along with finally, the absence of pain. The summary of all of this, I suppose, is that sometimes your body is just a jerk for no reason even if you are doing everything right but maybe (?) the universe was actually helping me out because I landed in Hawaii a bit more rested and motivated and eager to really get after it than I might have been otherwise.
On the plane, on the way here, I was thinking a bit about the last time I shipped myself off to training camp, and how different of a space my brain is in right now. I was chasing all these carrots, some dangling from ego, from vanity, from shame. I wanted to run well in ironman, I wanted to be able to ride with the big boys, I wanted to not hate the way I looked in running shorts. And all of those things were really motivating, for a while. But now a year has passed and I'm not altogether sure what I am chasing. I talked a couple weeks ago about working on my run, but I'm not sure that's exactly it. Thinking about it on the plane, I was a bit unsettled, but now as I've worked through this week that feeling has melted away. There is so much happiness for me in the here and now of training, I will take a good solid day over a race in a second, sunshine and pedaling and feeling strong, those are my best days, and this week has been full of them (still crooked).
Something I realized, maybe I always get a taste when I train with new people or just remove myself from my tiny bubble of Boulder, is that I love training with people who love to train. There's no bullshit, no whining, no one wants to talk about how they feel, no it's raining so let's just bail to the treadmill or even any discussion about anything except the how and the when, it gets done, check the box and move along. On Tuesday, it was pouring and crazy with rain, we swam in it and then we ran in it. And there was no IF about it, we just changed into run clothes and headed out and you know what, we got the work done and we got a little wet and that was that. No fuss, no muss, I don't think anyone even posted on twitter about how much of a badass they were. I love that, and I think it's something that has maybe been a bit lacking in my environment in Boulder, in my circles, and in my own brain. (The other bike I rode in Hawaii selfie).
We did two long rides while I was here. I spent some time in the first hour, especially on the second day, with a feeling that I recognize and it's called you guys I am really not sure I can push the pedals like this for the next four hours but both days, I was surprised to find that I could hang. I was more than fine. On the second day I chased a paceline that broke away too quickly for me to really be able to latch on but I chased it for 30+ minutes anyway, and I found that could push myself in a way I honestly didn't know that I could do. But here's the fun. Now? I know.
That feeling, realizing that, it comes with a truckload of emotional garbage. It's startling, and also I feel a bit silly, but it also opens my eyes super wide to the potential that might be out there for me. One of my biggest takeaways from this week, I think, is busting through all the crap that I've been thinking about myself as an athlete. For months, even for years, all these things that I have believed about myself - they are just plain old not true. It's that simple. Michelle is strong as fuck and yes, we were doing a nice long aerobic ride and I was saving plenty of watts by glomming on her delicious wheel, but I hung onto that sucker and after the initial oh shit oh shit oh shit faded away, it didn't even hurt that much to do so. Ceiling, shattered. (And then there were donuts in the bike-to-swim transition area because Michelle is goddamn amazing).
And I found that feeling again and again. I didn't swim well the first entire week, I felt out of sorts and the pool was long and slow and I was trying to adjust a few things in my stroke and shit, sometimes the swim simply isn't there and I wasn't all that worried about it but when it did finally decide to show up, just this morning, hot damn did it feel good. It was uncomfortable, it wasn't nearly as much rest as I wanted and it was effort dialed up to the max, and I had the thought, I wonder if I was doing this session on my own, if I would be pushing myself like this. And just the fact that I was even thinking that thought tells me, WELP, probably not. Not all the time. About a year or so ago I had a realization that I wasn't pushing myself in training, and it was a big AHA moment for me when that happened. And certainly now, there are some workouts that I bust my ass on (15x1', looking at you), but if I honestly reflect, do I bring that kind of intention to every single session that I do? Or do I sometimes still coast a bit and then throw on paddles to make the intervals and call it good, because I'm staying out of the place in training where it's not hard, but it's uncomfortable? The latter, definitely, and that's a tough truth to admit when I consider myself a workhorse. But turning the boxes green and getting in the miles isn't the same as bringing 100% of my effort and just plain old TRY to training, and I've got one more day here to soak in that feeling before I take my bike apart and return to windy snow breezy snow sunshine snow where I do most of it alone and have only myself to hold me accountable in those moments.
Last year, in January, I decided that I wanted certain things in my life to change. I took a picture of myself squashed into a pair of run shorts and made it the background of my phone, because I wanted to be reminded, often, every day, of what I wanted, what was important, what motivated me. I wanted to be faced with the thing I no longer wanted so I was making choices through the filter of desire, to change. And even though I was mortified more than once by someone picking up my phone and asking do you like your ass so much you want to see it all the time?, I kept it there, and it worked. Little stupid shit, that's what we do, but if it works, who cares? Who is it hurting?
The background on my phone for the past two months has been this.
Because that's where I am. That's what I need to be reminded of, that is what I need. I know that the thing that is holding me back the most in this sport is confidence. I don't do things on race day because I don't believe I can. But I also have learned that the breeding ground for confidence in myself is surrounding myself with people who believe in me. Who see potential, strength, greatness, despite my many and varied flaws as a human wandering this planet. That's how I finally cracked the nut of the ironman run back in November, and I'm going to finally say, in print, that I think that run is just the beginning. I think - no, I know - that there is a better run inside me, a better day entirely, and it's a complete 180º from how I felt last July going into IM Boulder, but it's my joy. And I'm going to chase that motherfucker down.