Monday, August 3, 2015

on letting go

A little over two weeks ago, I raced the Boulder Peak as part of a relay.  

We had signed up for the race before CdA, so I planned on swimming and biking and then handing off the run.  But ironman came & went without me, and then LifeTime Tri announced a "race within a race" challenge for the male/female athlete that got from transition to the top of the Old Stage climb the fastest, and we decided that I should chase that, so I got the bike leg alone.  
I smashed the living fuck out of myself all the way up through the spectators at what I thought was the top of the climb for purposes of the preme.  When I got through there I coasted for a solid minute before realizing that it ended at the second top, gathered myself up for a few more minutes and then rode the descent all the way out to 36.  (This is not a lesson on how to race an olympic bike leg).  I managed to get my power sorta back up the rest of the ride but didn't put up a great overall time & was convinced that the mistake I made with where it ended had cost me the yellow jersey.
But at the end of the day, it didn't.  I got to stand on the podium, twice actually, because our relay team came in second place despite the way I executed the ride.  It was an incredibly happy day.

The success I had with racing that weekend, I thought, was money in the bank for the ironman I had signed up for on the sly.  After CdA, I gave myself some time and space to see what would rise to the surface.  And what rose up was, I wanted to race.  Desire was there.  The cheapest option ended up being Boulder, and I thought it was a good option because I had some leftover angst about the way the run went down last year.  So I talked to Michelle, and went ahead and signed up, but kept it to myself.  I didn't know what life was going to bring and the conversation that I had a thousand times the week before CdA (good luck on your race!  oh?  you're not racing?  why not?) was tough to work through.  But mostly because I wanted this one to be for me.  Not about anyone else, not about making anyone proud or happy or being tough in front of an entire town.  I wanted to show up, quietly, and see what I could do.

After I signed up, I did some recon and realized that if I had the day I believed that I could execute, some special things might happen.  The podium might be in reach, qualifying might be in reach, and I honestly never in my life thought that either of those things would even be a dream I felt safe having.  But I'm also not ashamed to say it in print, I wanted to chase those things and I thought I could. I kept those thoughts in the back of my mind while I did my final prep, I didn't obsess over it, I knew that on race day I needed to focus on myself and see what the day brought for me, but I also wanted to make sure that I was open to the opportunity that it could happen.

In the two months before this race, my grandmother passed away.  Four weeks later, my grandfather had a stroke.  Two weeks after that, he passed away.  My dad has been in and out of the hospital, some of these visits quite scary, several times over the last three weeks.  I have been struggling with some relationships in my life and last week I lost a very close friend.  And I say all of this not as any kind of an excuse, but to try and annotate the holes, the void, the emptiness of my tank of emotional strength.  

Race day came.  I stood in transition getting dressed and said, I can't do this.  I had been thinking it for days, saying it here and there and then shaking myself angrily and trying to rewrite those thoughts.  The stories we tell ourselves.  The swim was wetsuit optional, I chose to wear my swim skin because I hoped that I would start racing and be able to find myself.  I went off in the back of the hour corral, right behind someone who swims in my lane at masters.  I know that she is faster than me but I also know that I stay on her feet for ninety minutes at least once a week.  The start was aggressive, it took a while for the pack to blow out.  I could tell that there weren't a lot of women around me.  I stayed focused, anchor and roll, thinking about powering my stroke and nothing more.  I knew the only way I could get through the day would be by staying in every minute, blocking out any noise, but the truth is I was numb.  My support team let me know that I got out of the water in fifth place but passed three women in transition and rolled out of the reservoir in second.  
I held onto second place through about 60 miles.  I was having a bit of trouble getting nutrition down, so I backed off heart rate a bit to see if that would help.  And it did, and that was when the first woman blew past me.  I tried to (legally) pace off of her, but one eye on the power meter let me know that was a terrible idea.  Another woman went by me a few minutes later and when I came through mile 80, I was in fourth and four minutes back.  I worked hard to keep my power up those last 30 miles, the longer climbs were hot and I was showering with water bottles every aid station, I had to force myself to eat and drink, but I rolled down Folsom knowing that I had slaughtered the first seven hours of my day.  
When I got off the bike, my stomach felt a little empty but otherwise fine.  I flew through transition, stopped quickly to pee, and headed out, still in fourth, but gaining.  The path was shockingly empty.  My first mile split a perfect 9:09.  My legs didn't feel great although they have certainly felt worse, but my legs weren't the problem.  The problem was my head.  The second mile started to feel hard, and negative thoughts started to roll in.  I pounded some coke right away because often negative thoughts are based in nutrition, but I was beyond the point of sugar & caffeine.  I started to yell at myself in my head, this is supposed to be for you, just keep moving, keep eating, keep believing, do this for you and no one else.  I knew how ashamed and angry I would be later if I gave up, because I've given up before.  I knew that I would despise myself for making that choice.  It wasn't enough.  
The part that hurts the most, the next morning, is that I had it and I let it go.  It was in hand.  All I had to do was execute the run that I was 100% confident my physical body had the ability to do.  And I chose not to, I'm not victimizing this.  It was my choice to quit and I made it.

I walked until I found someone with a cell phone so I could call to get a ride, and instead I was told to call Michelle before turning in my chip.  She ripped me a good one - and I know this is backed by love but man, when she is pissed off it is a raging fire - and I agreed to finish.  Simply because I didn't have the strength to fight with her either.  The path of least resistance.  

So I walked.  In a most singular act of hatred and self-sabatoge, I walked 24 miles.  At some point in the later miles, I tried to jog, and I felt the sole of my foot split open, and I pulled off my sock and shoe to see that I had completely shredded it.  I put my shoe back on and kept walking, jogging a little, every step a knife, pain that I welcomed because it was what I had earned.  I didn't care.  I had given up.  When I finally reached the finish chute, I jogged down, not looking at anyone, visor over my eyes, wanting the day to be over.  I didn't want to take a medal, I was ashamed of what I had done to myself, a few people have said they are proud of me for finishing and that makes me want to vomit with shame.  There's nothing to be proud of in this day.  I didn't want to finish, I don't care that I finished, even now.  I still wish I had just walked off the course and let it be done.  I had nothing to prove, I know I can cross the line, the only thing finishing accomplished was forcing me to be alone with my thoughts for six hours before driving home in defeat.  

I know that I should probably let all of this move around in my brain for a few days before writing it down.  But writing it down and releasing it to the world, where I can't change it, I can't take it back, that's a huge part of how I process.  And what I'm feeling today is raw, and ugly, and I don't have energy to dress it up with long words and extra commas.

Some will say that grief is behind what happened here, and that's not wrong.  But that's not the root of the root, either.  What happened here is that I got the day that I fundamentally believed that I deserved.  I didn't believe that I deserved to stand on the podium yesterday, to be fighting for a slot, to put together a perfect race.  I thought I did, I thought I had learned this last year how to believe in myself, even a week ago I had faith, and hope, and then I discovered at mile two that I was wrong.  My physical body was more ready than it has ever been, working with Michelle has turned me into an athlete of infinite capability and opportunity.  But I learned a hard lesson yesterday about what happens when your physical body is ready and willing but your soul is grieving, broken, lost.  And I'm tired of this being my story too.  Apparently the damage that has been done through recent events has brought me right back to where I started.  I didn't believe I deserved a good day.  I know that I am surrounded with friends and love and happiness, but I don't believe I deserve any of it.  I don't deserve the friend who, Friday afternoon, dropped everything and got on a plane to Boulder to try and be a pillar of strength for me because he knew I was cracking.  I don't deserve all the love I came home to last night after one of the worst days of racing of my life.  I don't deserve to be forgiven for my mistakes, accepted for my flaws, held up when I am weak, celebrated when I am strong.  The friendships and relationships and people I have lost, I believe that I deserve the pain that comes with those losses because I never deserved the grace of their presence in my life in the first place.  

I also don't know how to move forward, although I suppose that figuring that out is going to be my main purpose over the next few weeks.  I don't ever want to go through a day like this ever again.  I feel like human carnage, I have been destroyed and I have no idea how to heal.  If I can heal.  Or if it's just a matter of living with an open wound.  But I do know that I have to be the one to fix it.  And this is disgusting, that this is my story, and it's probably far too ugly to be written down on the goddamn internet and hitting publish but it is my story.  It's the only one I've got.