I’ve been offline for more than a week. It was, at first, rather difficult. I wondered what everyone was up to, how Speedy Claire did at Vineman, whether my favorite blogs to read had been updated and I was missing out. Then I noted that the internet satisfies my need to know things immediately. Questions that popped into my head could not be immediately satisfied. When will the triathletes compete during the Olympics? Who is that author I have read all of and who I know has a new book out, but whose name escapes me? What will the weather be tomorrow? What’s the name of that strange black duck floating on the ocean’s surface—the one who swims in packs and isn’t a loon or a cormorant? (An Eider Duck, it turns out—though I had to look it up in Peterson’s Guide to find out). That type of thing. I also was unable to take care of everyday life business. I have a list a mile long of things I must do when I get online again.
Nevertheless, after several days I became used to it, and I noticed that the sense of urgency and anxiety I carry around with me settled a little bit as a result. The irony is that when we are online we are sedentary and staring numbly at a screen, but that without the internet our minds, if not our bodies, slow down. We can’t know everything immediately and so there is reduced information intake. This is quieting. Life has gone on without us, without me. What’s good to remember, I’m realizing, is that life continues, inexorably and evenly, whether I attend to it or not. Acknowledging this fact is both freeing and morbid.
Okay. I’ll shut up now.
Timberman 70.3, the A RACE, is next weekend. I’ve been trying to put things into perspective. This has taken the form of ironing out why I do triathlon in the first place, and what this race means to me in particular.
My first conclusion:
This race doesn’t mean anything in particular. It is not the sum of everything I’ve done this year. I know it’s a total cliché to say that it’s the journey, not the arrival, that matters, but for me, I think, that it what I’m actually learning. This season I’ve had fun at every race (except perhaps booting at Mooseman), I’ve loved my training, the friends I’ve made, the community I’ve built around me here in Maine, the courage I’ve mustered in order to make these friends and build this community, getting closer to Ange and Alina around the common love of sport, testing myself day after day, and relishing what I’ve trained my body to do. I will have a great day at Timberman no matter what happens, because the race will be a celebration of the discipline and courage I’ve developed in order to make it to the starting line in the first place. I expect that if I don’t flat or crash or trip or something like that, I will crush my time from last year and I will have fun doing it. And if I don’t crush my time from last year, I’m not even sure I will be overly disappointed. How can I be disappointed with the result of one day’s race after the incredible fun and success I’ve experienced this season? This may sound as if I am mentally preparing myself to fail. Actually, I’m mentally training myself to keep the result of any race—this race-- in perspective. It’s impossible to keep it fun if you put too much stock in a single performance—if you give it power and meaning greater than the days that lead you there in the first place.
My second conclusion:
I arrived at conclusion number one by really working at the why of my need and desire to do triathlon. Many people claim to do triathlon because they want to see how far they can “take” their bodies. Some people say they do it because it requires one to maintain a positive, healthy lifestyle. Some people do it because they need a home for their obsession/ compulsion or addiction, and triathlon fits the bill. Some people claim to do it because it forces them to confront pain head it. There are a billion reasons one might do it, I guess. I do triathlon (and before that running) for several reasons, but at core there is one reason that dominates.
Working my body day after day silences, or at least quiets, my critic. I think most people have a critic. He lives inside us and gnaws away. For me, the critic is this core, unshakeable belief that I am indulgent, lazy and stupid, and as a result, I am not worthy—of anything—but most importantly I’m not worthy of being loved. This unshakeable belief is irrational, and from an objective standpoint, I acknowledge that it is, in fact, wrong. But that doesn’t matter. He, this critic, is a part of me, and though I haven’t learned to kill him, I have found ways to quiet him.
Triathlon has me spend hours a day proving my critic wrong. The end of a race is exhilarating because I have so thoroughly given him a beating—shown him that he can fuck off—because look what I’ve done! The problem, of course, is that if I stop triathlon, or running, or whatever, the critic will win. When I think of stopping, panic set in. Also problematic is that one fast 10K, one marathon, one Boston qualifier, one half Ironman, one Ironman—is never enough. The critic is unimpressed. I could be Lance Armstrong or Michael Phelps and my critic would just shrug and say, “Whatever. I saw you cut that last workout short. You and I both know the truth.”
This all sound extremely unhealthy, doesn’t it? I’d feel pitiable except that I’m pretty sure that most of you out there are equally, if not similarly, unhealthy. What I’m working on is the notion that 1. I can get rid of this critic by cognitively disarming him (this has yet to work, but I maintain faith that it might) and 2. Though the critic is mean and terrible and wrong, he has gotten me to do and try some pretty cool things which, in addition to quieting him, are really fun.
Breathing in fresh, sea air on an early morning ride, pounding the pavement so hard and furiously as Joan Jett screeches, “I Love Rock n’ Roll” in my ears, feeling so sad and alive while running in the cool wet of late November, executing a perfect flipturn in the pool or doing a length of fly just because I can, meeting a whole slew of people who are so fun, and healthy and alive…. The list goes on and on.
So, back to Timberman. I will have a great race. I will have a great race because to not have fun, to not rejoice, to not totally savor the amazing thing I’ve prepared my body to do, would be to allow my critic to win. He may have used shame and fear to drive me into this craziness in the first place, but next Sunday I will not allow him to have the last word.