Friday, January 17, 2014

Training, Belief and Race Day

One of the reasons that I signed up for Rocky Raccoon is because I wanted to do something that scared me. Coming off of my second Ironman last July, I’d grown complacent with multi-hour workouts, though that’s not to say I was comfortable with stringing them together in front of a crowd. Anyone who was around me in the days leading up to Vineman can speak to my nerves and ticks.

But my acceptance of 5, 6 and 7-hour practices, of triple-digit bike mileage and 20-something runs was a sign to myself that I was growing too comfortable. And when we are comfortable, we rarely grow. So I set myself on a path toward a triple digit run. For many reasons, but a big one was (and is) because I’ve never done one before. I’ve run upwards of 50 miles at a time, but never a step more. To train and run twice as far? Inconceivable, and dare I say, Impossible with a capitalization. A beast of a challenge, and something that would surely humble me. It's what I wanted. Needed.

And so I trained. I have been training for 23 weeks. I've covered 1170 miles since August. My two legs, my one brain, and a trove of running shoes. My life shifted and squeezed to accommodate this goal. I wouldn't go so far as to say I've been single-mindedly obsessed, but I have spent more hours running and thinking about it than I have slept.

Nice views from a training session

The night when running was more important than sleeping

Life lacks guarantees. The race is 15 days away, and I cannot proclaim with complete confidence that my day will go as planned. The distance between the start line and the finish line is worlds long and far and wide. And while I have trained diligently and with as much heart and soul as this set of skin and bones can contain, I just don’t know what 17 days from now will hold – whether I’ll be eating pancakes in celebration, or eating pancakes in frustration. (Luckily pancakes are like Hallmark cards, good for any occasion)

I’ve struggled to write about my training experience as the season has gone on. It’s not that I don’t have the words to walk people through what it’s like for me – an average runner, by no means gifted in mass and muscle – to log 60 and 70-mile weeks and to constantly hash and rehash race day scenarios. Or what it’s like to be the only one in your group of friends to be on this schedule. To be unrelatable and a bit of a circus sideshow. I have the words, but they have been plugged up in my head, trapped somewhere between my brain and these fingers that type. As race day approaches, they’ve fought their way down to the keyboard and are slowly finding their way out. Just as I am slowly finding my way to that start line.

Like I said, I signed up and trained for this race because I wanted to do something that scared me. But, running, as it is, is not scary. Running is simple. Not always easy, but it is simple. And not scary. Yet, the training schedule diminishes down and Feb 1 is a specter on the calendar. It glows with an imaginary, scary pulse. My body can do the 'left-right-left' steps to propel myself along. It's my mind which I am hoping shows up for the race - the mental strength.

When we don’t have experience to grasp onto in the face of doubt and worry, we are forced to hold onto something else – and that something else is ‘faith’ or ‘trust’ or, as I call it, ‘belief’. I have to believe in myself because that’s the best and only way I have a shot at finishing 100 miles. I have to cast aside each little spark of thought that challenges me otherwise. I have to ignore the skeptics - the ones in my head and other people around me. It’s a full-time job some days. But I have to believe I am capable. If I don't, I handicap myself well before the gun goes off. So I choose to believe:

I believe I am an extremely stubborn person. And stubbornness can be wielded for good or for evil. In this case, for good. I have years of experience ‘sitting in’ pain and discomfort. It's a meat-and-mashed-potatoes of endurance events. I will hang on as long as I can out of sheer stubbornness. If I can go, I will go. If I can move, I will continue. I will channel the same line I told myself when I started working in Hollywood – “You will not break me.” Training has taught me just how crucial your mind is to your progress. Your body will go if your mind says go. So get going.

A quick stop before I got going

I believe in my crew. I have four people who are spending their weekend with me. Who will forgo a lot of sleep to tool around a state forest in Texas only to help me with my race. In the choice words of one, they are there “to service me.” Ha! They are all coaches. They are all Ironman finishers. One is literally a rocket scientist. One spent over 20-years in the military and knows how to move through darkness. One was nominated for an Academy Award. One was the second fastest person (pro’s included) to finish the 2.4-mile swim at IMCDA. These are the people who are the rocks and the net when I need the support.

I believe that suffering makes you kinder, and that compassion is not the opposite of strength. Compassion is strength. In the past few months I have grown as an athlete. For the first time in my ‘endurance training life’ I cried on a run. Actual tears. Not because I dropped my sandwich in a puddle, either. I was exhausted. I was at my limit. And I was trying to forge forward. I cried. And my coach picked me up, figuratively and literally. And then I kept going. And I experienced that your limits are not where you think they are. I'm still here and I'm stronger for it.

I believe that in some way that I may never know about, I am making a difference. For the past few months I have struggled with the idea that this whole race is a selfish pursuit. For the first time in a very long time, I was not actively coaching for a charity organization. I was not raising funds for a cause. I was just running to challenge myself. And people stepped up to help me, to join me, to listen to my complaints and concerns, and to care enough about me to ask about my progress, bring me snacks and run with me. They were giving and I felt that all I was doing was taking. I still feel this way often, but I have to believe that someone, somewhere is inspired to go out and do something to push themselves. And they will learn the same lessons that I am learning, and will be more kind, more compassionate, and stronger for it.

A few of the many folks who have helped me out

I believe that I have earned my place at the starting line. I have not missed a single workout on my schedule. I have practiced my pacing, nutrition, hydration, self-talk, and event weekend routine. I can't speak of the finish line, but I'm proud that I have earned a place in line at mile 0.

Fingers crossed for good temperatures, no rain, and the fortitude I'll need to keep on moving. I will do my best.