Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Full-Contact Life

Caveat: I wear many hats. I am a coach, one who will go whatever distance and provide whatever support to get my team across that finish line. I lift weights so I can throw them over my shoulder if need be. But I write this post from the point of view as a single athlete and my own training/racing experiences.

With the exception of the IMCDA swim start, there is very little contact made between triathletes. On the bike and on the run, it is generally the norm to keep to oneself. Marathoners and cyclists, too, can train and race without physically or mentality affecting other people.

Having basically trained on my own for the Ironman, I have an acute awareness of the lack of contact one can have with other athletes and the physical world outside of the trail/pavement/pool that comprises the day's workout. There is a part of endurance athletics that embodies a total singular-ness. Because at the end of the day, it is your body and it is your goal. And you alone are charged with getting to that finish line. You alone control the controllable and adjust to the uncontrollable.

I have been involved with endurance sports for the past 4 years (though I have been involved in ‘team’ sports / soccer, volleyball, basketball, golf, javelin for much longer.) And the lifestyle that I describe above was perfectly in tune with the way I have lived my adult life out here in Los Angeles. I have led a very low-contact life. I have my job (and my friends/coworkers), my Team (close friends, inspirations), and my athletic pursuits (my own). I thrive on routine and usually stick to those basic elements around which to build my day. (No, Mom, I still don’t have a boyfriend. Yes, Dad, you can be happy about that.)

During these four years, I amped up my training, excelled at my day job, and grew as a mentor and coach within Team. I stretched myself socially, but only a bit. And I never really put in the effort to break through that realm as I had in other parts of my life.

The Ironman changes people. And 2 weeks out from Idaho, I’ve noticed how it is changing me.

Just as I had to accept that the swim portion of the race is a full-contact sport, I now see that, unavoidably, life is a full-contact sport. You cannot hope to do the Ironman swim without touching anyone. Without being kicked. Without kicking back. Without affecting others’ paths. Without having to adjust your own.

Turns out that the same is true in life. I cannot hope to cruise through life like I do an empty lane in a lap pool. Life isn’t about following the straight, black line and breathing regularly. Because at the end of the day – at the end of a pool session – you don’t get anywhere. You count up your yardage and you head home.

The real progress and the real thrill come out in the open water, among competitors and friends. Helping. Being helped. Getting whacked in the face by a rogue hand. Doing some hitting yourself. Literally swimming with the rest of the world. Life is a full-contact sport. I’d be kidding myself if I believed that faking it in a pool is in any way an equivalent.

Now I’m not writing this reflection from a place of mastery. If anything, I am slightly behind on working my way to a more full-contact mentality. I’m a creature of habit and personal space.

But this revelation, for me, is like the first lap of the 2.4 mile swim. I’ve gotten through the bodies, the splashing, the confusion of figuring out which way to go. I can now make more sense of the course. Now I find my balance, remember what I have been taught, and take it buoy-by-buoy, and join the masses in the gigantic synchronized swim.

"It’s a beautiful day. Don’t let it get away."
– U2 Beautiful Day
(The song I sang to myself during the swim portion of the race).

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