Sunday, July 25, 2010

Man vs. Machine

My friends and colleagues sometimes (lovingly, I’m sure) refer to me as a ‘machine’ when it comes to all of the athletics stuff I do. I can understand why some people at work think I’m a bit crazy. These are the people who don’t spend their off hours running, biking, swimming and hanging out with other athletes. My endurance friends, too, occasionally call me a machine, and I laugh because little do they know how similar I am to them.

This weekend, though, I felt more ‘man’ than ‘machine’ during my workouts. Partly this is because I put in some short-but-tough speed sessions and hill work into my weekly runs. Four pace-pushing workouts in a row rendered my quads tired and heavy. Lead legs syndrome.

Another part of this equation could be that – at 1 month out from 140.6 – I still haven’t taken a +3 day rest period. I’m young. I love to run. Much of my social life and mental health depends on it! I’m reluctant and uncomfortable to step away from it for a long time. So now I am harvesting what I’ve sown.

The Weekend Workouts

On Saturday afternoon I started my workouts. I got in a nice 1-hr swim, 3200 yards. Felt good to be back in the pool. And while that was a fairly fast pace for me to hold, I actually felt pretty relaxed – like I was cruising – through much of it.

I followed the swim with what I thought would be a 3hr run. It would take me nicely into the evening. But about 2 hours in, my legs decided they had had enough. My pace slowed, even slower than the LSD pace I was trying to keep (around 9min/mile).

I just wasn’t enjoying the beautiful weather. I was focused on my discomfort and mental fatigue. So I shut it down 7 miles short of my goal. All man. No machine.

Sunday was another late start – 11:30am – and I was looking at 70 miles on the bike around the valley. The temps were cool and the sky was blue. I set off at a nice, easy clip. But the first 40 miles didn’t come as easy as they usually do.

Maybe it was still the weekly speed work hangover holding me back. Maybe it was because I haven’t done a long ride solo in a bit. Probably had a little to do with the lack of calories I was carrying (and ate that morning). My brain was asking my body why I was even doing this.

What am I training for? Why 4 hours of riding? What’s the point?

All these questions and aches caused me to pull over, grab some more water and think about whether I wanted to finish the ride or pack it in...

The sky above my water stop. Scene of my contemplation

The Lesson

When a machine breaks down, it just stops. No amount of negotiation, convincing, pleading and dealing will get it to start up again. You can’t pep talk the TV to get rid of the snowy static. You can’t trick a conveyor belt to continue spinning. Swearing at the broken treadmill won’t make its dashboard light up.

I thought about this as I got back onto my bike. Maybe it’s okay to be “man” and not “machine” this weekend. Because you can’t talk a broken machine into doing those last 30 miles. But you can talk a man into doing them.

We are, to a great extent, defined by our choices. I could be the person who makes an excuse (I’m tired) and heads home. Or I could be the person that finished out those 30 miles. No one else in the world cares what I choose. Just me.

At mile 51, the point at which I could have rolled back onto my home street, I told myself that excuses don’t build character. They weaken it. And when the sun sets on this day, that’s all I get. It’s gone. Maybe there would some magic in those last 30 miles. Maybe there would be some revelation of potential that I’d miss out if I didn’t finish.

It’s only 30 miles. I’m healthy, capable, and I have nowhere else to be.

I threw my ego, pride and the data I was tracking aside, and I rode. I committed to finishing what I started, what I aimed to complete.

Man can be convinced. Negotiated. Pleaded with. Persuaded. A tired and broken man can fix himself even when his own brain conspires against him.

When the world says, "Give up," Hope whispers, "Try it one more time."

I was not a machine in those last 30.1 miles. I finished the ride in 4hrs and 10mins, a little under 17mph. I stayed a man, a slow one today. But that’s okay. Because I finished it. A human. Flexible, teachable, and perfectly imperfect.

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