But the ironman village is quite different from the village of your life. There, more often, the cliche is describing life as a table with a select number of chairs, and I've been thinking about this concept a lot over the last few weeks. What I've come up with is that I should fill those chairs with people that deserve a seat. There is certainly value in privacy, but also in allowing my own path to be colored through relationships rich with love. My table has filled slowly over the years; I am hesitant to trust. But at my table, there is more than one chair, and that is because I think it would be doing our entire existence a disservice to expect that we could have all of our needs fulfilled by a single human being. I want my table to be full, littered with spilled salad dressing and UNO cards and nearly empty glasses of scotch, I want my room to ring with laughter and tears and a voracious desire to be simply, explosively, alive.
The last month or so has shown me a lot about the people that I've invited to sit at my table. They are the people I reach out to in grief, in heartbreak, the phone calls I make on a Sunday evening when my dad goes back into the hospital the day after my grandfather's funeral. The friend who holds me in the gym parking lot, when I finally crack in grief from my grandmother's death and stand, shaking, unable to move. The one who sends an email when I am deep in the hole, and it doesn't say, cheer up!, it says, I think a soul needs some time to hide and be wounded and heal, but when you are ready, the people you love will all still be here waiting. (Although that particular email turned out to be a steaming pile of bullshit, but nonetheless, the sentiment was on point.) The girls that I call when I am frozen with shock and pain and they say, just go to the airport and get on a plane, we'll be here, we are here, I'll pick you up, just go. All the texts, emails, notes, calls, all of the people who have shown up and held me up with their love, traveled so many miles to sit quietly beside me while I've cried, been gentle and caring and forgiving no matter how badly I have fucked up. Every friendship is different, valuable, unique in its own way, and when one goes missing it's not simply a matter of moving the plants around to cover the hole that has been left. In the week after ironman, I hit rock bottom, and I'm not ashamed to talk about it. I sat on my couch, quiet and alone, and sipped scotch until the room was dark. For long periods of time, I did nothing. Those first few days, I hid. Eventually a good friend dragged me to a (different) pool, and my heart was heavy as I changed in the locker room. I stood on the deck and stared at the water and couldn't imagine swimming like it was a normal day, couldn't imagine living out the rest of my life as if nothing has changed. Maybe it was a crossroads, or maybe I was simply exhausted and sore and hungover, but I paused there, heart aching, eyes flat and empty, no spark, no life, no desire, no joy. And then I dove into the water. Because just like that. Life goes on.
I flew back to Colorado, I was here for a day or so, and then back on a plane to Canada. I registered for this race a year ago and made plans to spend the weekend with a dear friend from down under. I knew, getting on the plane, that she would be good for my soul, that being in the yoga pants & sparkles motherland would be healing, a distraction perhaps, but a welcome one. Wednesday afternoon we walked down to the harbor, I will not be sharing any selfies we took out of pure vanity because my eyes clearly reflect that I've been crying for weeks but it was gorgeous, soothing, quiet. Thursday morning we went out on an exploration jog, it felt good to move my body again, to be near the sea, to chit chat happily as we trotted. I constantly bumped into people that I knew on the street, in coffee shops, in lululemon (of course), I spent hours walking alone by the water, I read 400 pages of my current Outlander book and gave myself a break from the raining shitstorm of my life.
Friday morning, we woke up well before dawn to get in line for some special shopping. It was such a fun experience, the few hours we waited flew by, we were able to pick out some lovely treats and then raced back to the hotel to sneak in before breakfast closed.
There was obviously not any sort of plan for this race once IM Boulder came into the picture, I knew I'd be lucky to jog 13.1 miles and not break or tear anything. But despite my 6-hour walk and a week of travel and stress and tears and sugar and wine, my physical body was actually feeling slightly okay. Not great, not fantastic, not perfect and snappy, but okay. I sent Michelle an email at some point letting her know that my goal was to be 100% present throughout the day & asked for some direction on pace in light of if I go out faster than X that would be fucking stupid. She gave me a number and also a reminder to check in on myself and make sure that I was at an effort that I will be happy with later, which I came back to many times over the course of the day.
Logistically, after traveling so often for triathlon and coming off of ironman, it was ridiculous how simple it was to go and race. I woke up at 5:30 and was able to spend at least 20 minutes in bed drinking tea and liking shit on instagram before wandering down to the start. I felt naked in shorts and a tee shirt, all I had with me were two packs of chews and a chapstick. I checked a long sleeve for afterwards and drank a bottle of OSMO as I walked but I didn't have to get my heart rate up to one million trying to get into my wetsuit or walk on rocks in my bare feet after being sprayed head to toe with lube. My warm-up was a mixed bag of jogging a few blocks and then doing some strides behind the olympic torch and sprinting for a porta potty line and doing single leg deadlifts in the corral to get my ass fired up. I thought I jumped the fence into the 1:45-1:59 corral but just before we started moving I glanced around and thought to myself, these are not my people. It was too late to do anything about it so off I went.
The first two miles were quite crowded, as it turns out I was in the wrong corral by a lot. I had to slow down to almost a walk more than a few times; I did a lot of hopping up and over a curb through the grass around a tree back down into the road don't hit the cone (this is not a lesson in how to run tangents well). My watch got bumped on early in the slow waddle to the mat and I had a moment of angst knowing that I wouldn't be able to take a million pictures of it with my shoes and my medal and my waffle sandwich after the race (don't worry, I took one anyway). It was having trouble with satellites in the city, it let me know that I was running 12:30 pace for about five minutes and then after the first mile lapped I apparently picked it up to 5:50 pace for a short while because I am a baller. When we hit the 5K mat I was able to flip over to total time and figure out what in the sort of hell I had been running, and that was where I had a few moments of waffling. I just did ironman, no harm in jogging it in, do you know how hard you need to run to fix three miles of 8:45 pace, I'd rather run a 2:10 then another crappy 1:55, I can't fix it, it won't be enough, my hip hurts anyway, I'm not ready for a strong half marathon and on and on and on, as you do. Those thoughts sat with me a moment, and then I started to get a bit pissed off. I had been having a great time in Vancouver, Friday was really the first day I'd felt even remotely like myself, and the last thing I wanted to do was to wreck it with yet another mediocre race. And I said, to myself in my head, but I know exactly who I was talking to, no. No. You have taken so much from me, so much has been taken away recently, you do not get to fucking take this too. You are done taking shit away from me. It was the same thing that snapped in that sprint I won last year, that identical voice piped up and said, Fuck it. Fuck how much I blew ironman, fuck the mistakes that I've made, fuck the last two weeks - not to mention months - of grief, fuck the fact that yet again I wasn't enough, that I wasn't worth it, I am good enough for ME and at some point that has got to be goddamn worth fighting for, and it's going to be now, today, here. So I turned my watch over, I put down a bunch of chews, and I ran.
There was a decent climb up and over the bridge where I got to see the race that was coming back towards me. Right before the turnaround I passed the 2-hour pace group, and a few seconds later I was able to high-five Emma and I took that joy from her, the happiness that she spreads everywhere she goes. I was watching lap pace and nothing more, forcing it down, forcing my legs to turn over, thinking about my arm swing and keeping my hips under me and pressing from my toes, I didn't slow through aid stations but instead grabbed and threw in the general direction of my face. By the 10K mark I was hurting badly, I did look at total time then and it was around 52 minutes so I knew I had work to do, there was nothing to be given away. We got dumped down on the seawall and I caught up with a guy running barefoot perfect 8:25-ish pace and I hung with him for a while, there were two girls wearing backpacks that I leap-frogged with on and off, I watched the runners, I thought about nothing but the mile that was in, and I was angry. I know anger isn't always the best fuel for a race but it worked for me on Saturday, it was a fierce meditation, my mind kept wandering and I had to drag it back to the present. A thought would come in that would make me sad, or wistful, or wondering, and I didn't judge it, I simply dropkicked that thought right back out.
It didn't occur me to start counting laps of the track (my usual late-in-a-race distraction) until there were six left. And I'm not sure why I had fuel for this fire when I had none for Boulder two weeks ago, but it was there, and I took it greedily without examining why. I spent the last ten minutes doing nothing but counting steps and tucking my chin, I went for it with every moment and when I flung myself over the line and hit stop on my watch, there was peace. Finally. And maybe the peace was born simply out of an absence of pain, but I was somehow both empty and full, there was a stillness where for so long agony has been.
As it turns out, my timing chip got fucked up and since I didn't start my watch in the right place, I might never know what I ran. I know it was within 30 seconds of the PR I set back in the spring, one way or the other, and that is enough for me. It is enough. I am enough.
When Emma and I were hobbling back to our hotel, talking about our races, I said to her, I took something back today. That's the best way to describe this race. Maybe I ran well, maybe I didn't, maybe I PR'd, probably I didn't, maybe I would have run better if I didn't eat six cupcakes in the 36 hours before the race, maybe sugar is what makes us run fast after all. Who knows. But that isn't what the day was about. I took back something that has been lost to me, a part of myself that has gone missing these last few months, something that matters, it's real, I let the decisions I was making in my life hide a huge part of what makes me, me, but now I see it, and I miss it, and I fucking want it back.
Here's the thing. I've been listening to and quoting this crappy speech from a crappy movie for years, but again, only because it's true. I can stay here, and get the shit kicked out of me. That's a choice, and it's the one I've been making. But there is another choice. I can fight my way back. Into the light. I can climb, out of hell.
So that's what I'm doing. One step at a time. This isn't how I thought my story would go, when I stood on January 1 and stared down this year, I would have never been able to guess that I'd be halfway through August, feeling lost, broken, hurting, helpless, alone. But what I do from here, that is my choice, that part of the story is still waiting to be told. And this weekend, I learned that I choose to fight.