There is vulnerability is discussing failure, Brené taught the world that several years ago. It’s become a buzzword, we as a community have become defiantly proud of the ability to show off our scars. Adversity gives us plenty to discuss and the last two years of life have not been short on subject matter over here. But no one in any of the six thousand TED talks I’ve listened to has spoken about the vulnerability needed to discuss confidence. Not courage, not shame, not bravery in the face of failure, but the stillness of strength. In my mind, the line between confidence and arrogance appears very fine, thin and hazy. Certainly after several years with an excellent therapist it’s not difficult to trace the root of this, but that doesn’t change the fact that it feels impossible to distinguish between the two. The end result is that it has become easier to exist in a comfortable place of weakness. That’s the real answer to the question where have I been? because the answer is quite simple. I have created space in my life to be strong, to be seen, to be confident, and it is so fragile and new and unreliable that I can barely coexist with it. The thought of vomiting it all up in this private-but-public-but-very-specific space makes my skin crawl with discomfort. But here we are, and here is what I’ve been up to and where I want to go.
I got healthy. Really, truly, thoroughly healthy, not just healthy enough to cram for an ill-advised ironman. Healthy enough to start over. And starting over, in my book, starts with signing up for another ironman. This one in New Zealand. I have a dear friend in Wellington, it’s been on my list for years. But when I registered so many months ago, what I was actually thinking was that it’s on the other side of the world, in a place where I wouldn’t know anyone, at a time of the year when people are not racing, and I could do it quietly. I could stay under the radar, I could slink off to the other side of the world and give myself room to race the way I want to without feeling the invisible but crushing pressure from the world of eyeballs - the critics outside of the arena - on my back. The bullseye that I feel between my shoulder blades from the moment I roll out of T2. That's what I wanted, then. To keep quiet, to play small. So in September, I signed up, I told maybe a grand total of four people, I kept it off the instagram (shocking), I kept my mouth shut (even more shocking), and I started to plan.
That plan is what led to me ditching Ironman Arizona, if we are being honest. Training was going well, I felt secure under the watchful eyes of Liz who was, I am certain, phenomenally relieved to have at least four times as many weeks to train me for this one than she did for Coeur d'Alene. But it wasn’t going to be the race I wanted it to be, and that made it so easy to step back, to see that perhaps I was prepared to complete but not compete, a distinction that I make with my athletes on a regular basis. That was what I talked about the last time I was in this space, that I was ready to move forward even if I wasn’t ready to share how or where or when or why.
So I bagged IMAZ, I stepped back, and I made a lot of changes. I changed my running shoes, I changed my bike fit, I changed the time my alarm is set every day, and I changed coaches. This one is the hardest to talk about, because Liz is - was - is fantastic. There was nothing wrong other than I ignored nearly all of her swim workouts and threw a major hairy eyeball in the general direction of Illinois every time a run workout with heart rates over 130 showed up (neither of which are anything that is actually wrong with her). But an opportunity came to work with a coach who is local to me in Colorado, to train at least occasionally with a group of athletes instead of alone in my basement or wearing grooves into the dirt roads a mile west, to do something radically different from the last 4-5 years of my life where I have done 99% of my training by myself while working closely but electronically with a coach at least two time zones away.
The opportunity to train with other people, even just a bit and mostly in the pool, has changed my experience. It’s true that most of these athletes are quite fancy and fast and lightyears ahead of me in terms of natural ability and groomed speed and body fat percentage; I quite literally spend my entire life getting lapped and dropped, lapped and dropped. But I don’t care about fancy and fast (or about getting lapped and dropped), I care about new friendships that mean I can like pictures of your dog on instagram without feeling like a creep and crack chafing jokes (ha!) in the locker room and make you cookies and feel a little like, look, it doesn’t matter where we all are, what matters is that we are in this together, and that’s it, that’s the key. The sense of belonging, the kind of community I have tried to create for my own athletes as a coach and to find it for myself as an athlete, even as light and loose as it is, it has healed a lot of the damage of my earlier experiences, ones where I was made to feel like I was too slow, too fat, too weak, that I did not belong and I never would.
And along the lines of what is good for me, is Julie. It’s always challenging to discuss any relationship in an unbiased way, and it’s particularly hard to write about someone when she is in the plane seat four millimeters to your right but I think she’s asleep so I’ll type fast. All of this, the last few months, has been exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. I think she is often startled by my brash American extroverted awkwardness, but so far doesn’t seem to mind any of my weird quirks like my inability to send only one text instead of five in a row or that I'm an enormous dork or that I get monumentally pissed off when I’m wrecked and actually need to rest or that my post-workout comments are 17 pages long and I say fuck not to mention plenty of other weird shit ALL of the TIME or that I wear earplugs in the pool because I have the ear canals of a 4-year-old or that I have literally no confidence at all in anything I do. (Doctors make the worst patients). It is enough to say, it is good. It is hard, it is intelligent, it is patient, it is more time than I have ever spent in my entire life over 300 watts but, it is good.
I believe in a master plan, I believe in synchronicity, I believe there are few accidents and I’ve said it many times before that I have to believe in a universe that wants me to find my way, one that is dragging me kicking and screaming in the right direction even when it feels like everything is falling apart. I believe that confidence can be different from arrogance, I believe it is not arrogant to say, I feel strong right now. Or I feel confident right now. That can be separate from what is also true, which is, I feel scared right now. Because the hardest part of where I am is that I can be held accountable to my decisions and to my outcome, like Jordan said a few months back.
It’s incredibly hard to type, I feel strong right now. Incredibly hard to think it, to try and believe in it. How strong? I don’t know, that’s why I’m flying halfway around the fucking world, to find out. What do I want from the day? To see where I am. What does that look like? I don't know, that's why I'm going. At the surface, I’d be thrilled to break an hour in the water, I don’t want to be a fucking pussy on the bike and there might be a run PR in there somewhere. That's on the surface. Do I really care about how my day goes down on paper? Not even a little. Does confidence guarantee any of these things? Of course not. Am I ready? I don’t fucking know that either, and when I say fuck three times in fifteen seconds you can be sure that my insecurity is trying to show. But I think so. I think I’m ready to spend all day learning about where I am, where the holes are, to press my thumb up against the weakest point of the metal, to try on this teeny tiny little green sprout of confidence that I have grown recently and to see how far I get before I drop it or ride over it or forget it in a porta-potty. I’d like to trust that I am ready to be where I am right now and that there is room for ironman there. One of my close friends says it often, now we are here. I'm comfortable with here, and it frees me from most of my expectations of this race. True, there have been some bumps, some small setbacks and a 10-day period where I was abducted by aliens who scrambled my brain and I got trapped in the throes of a nuclear meltdown, but there has also been so much good, so much work, so much strength, so much joy. I’m hoping to spend the next week and a half in Kona tapping penny nails into my psychological armor, and then I’ll put all 92 pounds of shit back in the bike box and continue flying west. This is the first time where the ironman doesn’t feel like an ending, like there is some monumental pressure being applied to have the perfect crown jewel of a race. Instead it feels like - simply - a step.
What is inside of you? What were you born to do? And the answer, for me, is this. Maybe never in any significant way, maybe no one will ever even know what I’ve done except for my husband, the loudest and most brilliant spectator to my half of our life together, but that isn’t why I do it. It’s what I was born to do, and I’m going to continue to feed it as long as I can. Mary Oliver, as always, said it best. To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal, to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it, and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go. There was a time last year where, in despair, the time came to let it go, and I did. But now it's all back, and the relief, the gratitude I feel - it is overwhelming. I am lucky, in life, this whole experience feels like an opportunity to brush up against greatness. My body is here, my heart is full, my soul is being fed in a thousand different ways on a daily basis, and I am going to hold it against my bones knowing my own life depends on it. I am going to love every moment until the time comes again. To let it go.