Wednesday, November 23, 2016

how the light gets in

I wrote, five or six weeks ago at this point, about the cautious early work of rebuilding.  The first time this, the first time that, the early steps back towards the chasing-watts-and-puppies life I am accustomed to living not to mention the monumental amount of selfies in a bike kit that show up on instagram as I blunder through the world.  
I went to Arizona - not this past weekend where holy crap some lucky athletes got to experience maybe the best weather in the history of ever - but the weekend of the 70.3.  I signed up for the AZ 70.3/140.6 double a year ago, when I had enough faith in a body that I trusted to plunk down $900 towards a race schedule.  I thought about racing the 70.3 but in the end, I wasn't ready.  I've participated in enough races for one year, and I was not interested in standing on a line until I felt strong, healthy, and deeply fit.  I'm still not.  At that time, I was hopeful that I could build enough to take a chance at the full, and the two-week hole that the half would rip into my training was enough to say - not me, not now, not this time.  That was okay. 
As things happen, though, most of my trip was already paid for, having been booked from the passenger seat as I road-tripped my way back from Lake Tahoe in early August, planning my future with a confidence that I can now see was only a fragile illusion.  Recovery from ironman was a slow process, getting my body sorted out took longer than I had hoped, and I probably should have known better than to try to forge forward into a hefty fall race schedule after I had gotten lucky enough to finish IMCdA without serious damage.  So I decided to head down to Arizona to train, to spend a weekend riding my brains out in the blasting oven of summer that I missed in Colorado as I flitted about the world.  
It was a good call.  I rode every day, everywhere I could remember.  I soaked up the heat and the sunshine and Dallas Smith plugged into my right ear, hope you never stop laughing and your sky stays this blue forever.  I introduced someone new to the ride that will forever be called so fucking dropped right now in my head after experiencing it myself for the first time back in 2014, I had dinner - twice - at one of my favorite restaurants and I sang Gershwin in the shower to the likely dismay of my upstairs hotel neighbors.  And on Sunday, race day, I packed up my little roller skate of a rental car and drove down to Tucson to climb Mount Lemmon.  I rolled out of the McDonald's parking lot just before 7am, the weather was perfect, I didn't look at my Garmin, I didn't do anything except breathe and climb and breathe and climb.  I stopped about fourteen miles up to stretch a little bit (this is a terrible idea as nothing feels worse than getting back on) and reorganize my snacks, and it was almost too soon that I coasted into the Cookie Cabin, a little bit sore, a little bit ready to rip out my adductors and a lot tired of sugar but happy.  More, different, than happy.  Sated.  Peaceful.  Fulfilled.  In my tiny world, there is nothing better than spending a few hours turning the pedals up the side of a mountain and letting my brain sift and sort and discard all the crap that floats around up there, talking to myself most of the way.  When I came flying - and I mean FLYING - back down that mountain, I felt whole again, confident in just me, nothing but myself.  For the first time in a long while.  
I flopped in the gorgeous ASU pool, I ran a bunch of miles the next morning in the dark, and I took my bloated and inflamed butt back home to Colorado.  That contentment, that peace, it has been hard to hang onto since I've been back, but it's in there, still with me.  It's led me to continue to make some changes & decisions across the landscape of my life; some major, some minor, all I'm confident are dragging me quite merrily down the path I want to be on.  I realized fairly quickly that I wasn't going to be prepared to race IMAZ the way I'd like to be the next time I stand on a line, and there was no emotion attached to that decision either, no regret in letting it go.  Instead I raced a 5K, pacing one of my athletes to a PR but also still somehow running the fastest three miles I had run in well over a year, and nothing broke or fell apart (close your mouth). 
I went back to DC to visit with some of my closest girlfriends, and while a big piece of my heart misses living so close to these amazing women, the huge and overwhelming peace that I feel when the plane lands back in Denver reminds me how sure I am that this is my home.  I ate, drank, visited, swam, held these friends close to me for a few short days.  And I ran.  On the Mount Vernon trail which simply explodes with memories of beginning to run, the first time I ran four miles, 5, 6, 17, training for all the things I trained for while I lived in Alexandria.  My body felt healthy, cautiously showing up for me, over and over and over (sorry, you guys, the outtakes always win).  
I flew home.  Raced a 10K where I got my ass kicked by a guy wearing an enormous fleece-and-plastic turkey costume not to mention more than a dozen 9-year-olds, but came within a minute of my (years-old & not-impressive) PR, running another set of the fastest miles I've seen on a watch since who even cares when at this point.  I was somehow tricked into a MAF test and to see so many miles rack up starting with a 9 instead of the feels-like-19 I've been at all year was a surprising relief.  Still not broken.  I'm swimming hard and I'm chasing happiness watts and exorcist-style-vomiting on the bike and sure, my body isn't perfect, it's still acting like a tricky teenager that needs to be carefully managed but it is hanging the fuck in there and I am whispering thank you to it like a lunatic nearly every day.  
Among the many lessons that I have learned recently, one of the big ones is that nothing is ever going to be perfect.  I am a person who needs everything to be black and white; trying to swallow the flat truth that life is going to mainly be varying shades of gray is tough for me.  Because sure.  Life can crush you.  People can hurt you.  Your own body can turn against you, a knife slipping in your hand.  And it's easy to choose the path of the victim, to put up walls, to remain totally and completely paralyzed by pain, fear, insecurity.  I've experienced that many times over the past few years, the force with which I tried to hold out the world when my grandmother died.  How it was so uncomfortable to sit and experience grief that I did all kinds of things to try and avoid it until one day I simply exploded, nuclear-level meltdown, game-fucking-over.  
Maybe it's been since then, maybe that was my ground zero, maybe everything I've gone through in the last year started on the day that will be forever known as the day I stomped a marathon, maybe that's the final, painful, agonizing lesson to learn from the entire experience of this last season of my life.  Life will never be perfect, perfection is an ideal, so instead maybe we should try and savor the brief precious moments in time instead of being constantly disappointed in imperfection.  June, sprawled in the grass on a Saturday afternoon next to Lake Coeur d'Alene after riding my bike for the first time in a month, that was a moment.  July, cannonballing into the hot springs, napping on a picnic bench in Montana, paddleboarding at the Union Reservoir surrounded by friends while the sun set, more moments.  August, shivering and laughing and running on the beach of Lake Tahoe in the dark, climbing mountains, ironman.  September, October, the sweet peace of finding my body again, trail running, raging at my own ineptitude while pushing my mountain bike through six inches of sand in Moab, racing back on the highway outside of La Junta trying to see how long I could hold off someone on my wheel and two hundred watts both, rooftop margaritas, birthdays, bicycles, coffee, hard work, joy.  These are moments of perfection, scattered across my normal human experience, mixed in with frustration, anger, confusion, fear, heartbreak, loss, and maybe all we get sometimes is a little handful, glimmering chips among the muck.  
And maybe I'm completely full of crap, maybe I have nothing new to say here at all and I'm just babbling gibberish littered with extra commas as I try to find my way.  But maybe the universe is more kind than that and Leonard Cohen was right when he said, There's a crack in everything.  That's how the light gets in.  I have decided, good or bad, I don't want to be paralyzed while waiting for perfection to drop out of the sky.  I'm going to sign up for races even though my hip is being weird and I'm going to run hard even though it still scares the fuck out of me and I'm going to buy plane tickets to take me to the other side of the world even though I'm scared that I may never feel completely healed and ready to stand on a line and I'm going to do it now.  Not in a year when I might be stronger or smarter or fitter or more confident or settled or tough, but now.  
The risk, of course, is that I'll be disappointed, that I'll fail, that I'll be crushed by yet another left hook that I didn't even see coming, that Lucy will yank the football away.   That's the chance I am taking and I'm either brave enough or stupid enough to accept the risk - in a second - over being frozen, scared, numb.  As I recently fumbled through trying to explain to someone the intricacies of my fears, the biggest one being that I am afraid to continue to repeat the mistakes of my past, that I'm afraid those crucial moments will show up and I won't have enough courage to choose differently, he said to me, you have everything that you need.  It's hard to hear, trust, actually believe in that on a molecular level, because my life has cracks in it, I know, I see them every day.  But that's how the light gets in.