Thursday, October 28, 2021

Ironman California

What is dying?

Over the past few weeks, this question has been presenting itself in my journal entries, interrupting the flow between my thoughts and my fingers. For a while, I just kept writing it, allowing it to be there - not as a question to be answered but simply as a new lens through which to perceive my life. 

As Ironman California drew closer and I began to integrate this new lens, I found my first response. It read: 

There has always been proving and searching, but proving is dying now.

I have never raced an Ironman when I had already earned a ticket to Kona. Qualifying for Kona has been my goal in so many races and I was about to have an opportunity to race without that goal to fulfill. Alongside a new sense of pride, there was also a noticeable void. What would I put in that hole? What would I strive for? 

Maybe I'd like to see if I could finish in under 10 hours. The course was perfect for it, and it was at least something. But I knew I didn't want that in the same way that I had wanted to qualify for Kona. It was a size too small to fill the hole, so I thought about something bigger. I wanted to prove the next thing. 

Luna proved that she can hold her pee for well over 24 hours if it's raining outside. Ralph proved that he can shit on a sidewalk if it means getting out of the rain faster.

Maybe I wanted to win a race. The familiar pangs of uncertainty mixed with fear mixed with imposter syndrome rushed towards me and I noticed how strangely seductive those feelings were. Proving myself against my own doubts and fears is the drug I get the most high off of. 

It lures me in because it doesn't sound so bad. I can't even count the number of times I've said some version of: "I have an addictive personality so I choose to be addicted to healthy things like exercise (and to neutral things like chapstick)" in order to occupy my obsessive mind from something less healthy. Ironman has filled that hole too. 

But then what? What will come after I prove I can win a race?

More holes, and more needing to fill them. I don't want to operate from this space anymore. I want to allow something new to exist inside that space - something that grows out of wholeness, rather than scarcity.

Holding up the #10 for Ironman #10

Questions that I've been asking for so much of my life are tired now. Questions like "how fast can I be?" have become too shallow to hold water. There are new questions waiting to fill the space. Questions like, "what do I most deeply seek?" 

Meanwhile, there was something called a "bomb cyclone" going on outside causing flooding and 45 mph gusts of wind. There were so many little moments leading up to the race where my heart sunk in anticipation of it being canceled.  Any text or email I received about a race update, I thought for sure was going to bring bad news. I debated packing my "The Swim is Canceled" shirt for this trip but I didn't want to jinx it, so I left it at home. (Nailed that.)

My alarm went off at 4am on race day. I woke up to the news that the bike course had been cut in half. Not a full Ironman, but still an Ironman. We drove out to transition. I cautiously removed the plastic bags from my bike, as if the rain weren't going to soak through every last ounce of lube before the race even started. Tires pumped, bottles filled, I walked back to our car to sit in the heat for a few more minutes before getting on a shuttle to swim start. The quiet moments before the race are so magical; they are the last moments of my old self. This race was going to be uncomfortable, and that is exactly why I was there. I breathed deeply and prepared for the long day ahead of me that was going to provide me with an opportunity to leave proving behind. 

Right before I got out of the car, I saw the message that the race was canceled. 

And then I simply went back out into the rain to collect my things. 

Observing my reactions has always been more interesting to me than inhabiting them. Of course I was upset. My heart still hovers low inside my chest about a missed opportunity to see how I respond to adversity - an opportunity to let the race show me how and what to let go of. 

In all 9 of my Ironman races, there is always a turning point. There is always a moment where the weight of what is dying becomes too oppressive. I become overwhelmed with old thought patterns telling me I that can't persevere, that I have to slow down, that I have never done this particular thing before and that means that I can't do it right now. The moment asks, How will you respond? Will you choose to allow the pain, the discomfort, the old thought patterns to persist or will you choose growth? 

Even though there was no race to show me how and what to let go of, there was still the turning point. There was still the moment when I was about to get out of my car and head down to the swim start, followed closely by the news of the race cancelation, followed closely by a space which asked, how will you respond?

And what I witnessed was my new self, putting one foot in front of the other, just like I've done for the past 11 years that I've been a triathlete. But this time without anything to prove. Without anywhere to prove it.

It never works out how I imagine it will, although I love to imagine anyway. I should have known that allowing proving to die would require me to walk through a different fire than I could have envisioned. The hard lessons never go smoothly into the night.

So here I find myself sitting in an uncomfortable pile of unexpressed fitness, and energy, and creation. I feel like the outstretched rubber band of a slingshot, which instead of being released all at once, is slowly escorted back to its starting point: full and desperate for release.

My beautiful sister brought me a lei back from Hawaii that she had planned on giving me after IMCA, in honor of Kona being canceled. 

What you don't see is how long it took to stretch that rubber band as far back as it had been stretched. There were months and years of fine-tuning the elastic, stretching it out right to the edge, then recovering to refortify and integrate the new length. Then stretching out to the new edge, then recovering. And again and again. 

Even without a release, there is still transformation. 

Proving may be dying but I'll hold onto searching because I know, like we all instinctively know, that what we're seeking cannot be found in the broad daylight of our everyday existence. If we were going to find the thing that we are most deeply seeking in the light, we would have found it by now. 

There are so many different ways to search. Ironman has become an important portal for me. The seemingly endless reckoning between what we are willing to sacrifice and what is important not to sacrifice; between how dedicated we can be while still allowing the right amount of space for living. It's the perfect single day container to experience the suffering and joy of what it means to endure. It's the high of everything firing on all cylinders and then the sudden abrupt absence of firing all together, and putting one foot in front of the other anyway.

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