I got up this morning to go swimming.
I didn't sleep well last night. I don't know why. I felt absolutely exhausted, but my mind raced. Unfortunately, my mind didn't race with interesting thoughts--just thoughts like... Why can't I sleep? I've been lying here at least an hour. Why can't I sleep? I've been lying here at least one hour five minutes. Why can't I sleep? I've been lying here an hour and a half! Why can't I sleep? I'm so pissed I can't sleep! etc. etc.
So. Again. This morning I got up to swim.
And I felt tired. And unmotivated. And kinda pissed.
I did make it to the pool. I did get in the water. I did do a little over half the swim I had planned to do.
But it was one of those mornings during which I wondered, irritably, why do I do this? I've heard a zillion times.... It's not as if this is your job. No one is paying you to do this.
I know that. My teaching, for fifteen years, was my job. Ten years ago my job shifted and divided into two: a teacher and a mom. Now my job is to be a mom, take care of this house and its dogs, and to be support and coach to adult triathletes and runners. Those are my jobs.
Triathlon is not my job.
Except on most days, I treat it that way. My workouts are priority. I may push "work" duties aside, but I rarely shift a workout unless parental duty forces my hand. I work at triathlon on average more than 12 hours a week, year round. I force myself to complete my workouts, even though 50% of the time I really really don't feel like doing so. My thoughts gravitate to triathlon most of the day, every day. A central goal of my life is to make it Kona, to be in the top 1% of women in my AG nationally, to win local races.
Triathlon is not my job.
So what is it? To say it's a hobby trivializes it at best, but to say it's more than that risks making me appear misguided; a fool. What's worse is that I'm honestly not sure why I do it.
I don't always enjoy it, that is for sure. Sometimes I hate it. Sometimes I feel so strongly that I don't want to get my body wet in the pool, or make my lungs ache when running, or make my crotch burn after too many hours, too many days in a row, on the bike. Sometimes is even an understatement, actually.
But then sometimes, when swimming, I feel smooth as my hips rotate and I cut through the water and I think, I love the feel of the water against my body.
But then sometimes, when running, I descend a hill after climbing and climbing and I feel high, crashing down the road on my strong legs--legs that only get this strong if you work as hard I have worked, for years. and years.
But then sometimes, when riding, I experience a moment of bliss. It's beautiful, I get a whiff of the pungent, spring earth; I discover a tree, isolated from the main roads, dripping and fragrant with lush, pink cherry blossoms. I take a wrong turn and realize I have opened the door on a whole new area to ride; I come across a pasture ripe with the smell of manure, and see a donkey, his head giant atop his wiry gray, furry body, and he looks at me, and his large, brown watery eyes connect with mine as if to say, How did you find me?
And it's those moments that I know why, but mostly I don't know why.
I remember reading in some tri magazine once that you need to spend time figuring out why you do triathlon. You'll need to call upon that reason when you don't want to get up in the morning to swim, or when you go for a ride, and are two hours from home when the skies open up and soak you, and you have no where to go except through it, or when you are in a race and you are falling apart and just want to crumple to the ground and weep.
What I find interesting is that I really, truly don't know why, and yet I force myself to get up to swim, I force myself to ride home instead of calling a cab, and I push through the race, hard, and I don't cry. I never cry.
In 1997 I ran my first marathon. I remember when I decided I would run it. It was just before Christmas, in 1996. I had run with a friend that morning, and she planned to run Boston. We ran ten strong miles together, and she questioned why running a marathon seemed so out of reach to me. I remember thinking that if I could run a marathon I would be a different person: the kind of person who ran--who could run-- a marathon. I longed to be that person. That person was stronger than me, fitter, a true athlete, truly worthy (of what, I am not sure).
I trained that winter using Samuleson's Running for Women as a guide. I did all of my training alone, fearful that I would reveal I wasn't truly a runner to anyone I ran with. I needed to get through the training on my own... in my own private world of pain and triumph. After long runs I could only get through the day if I took a three hour nap following the workout. These were the days before gel--and I did my runs with water and determination, and that's it.
BUT WHY? I had to slay that proverbial dragon, that is true. I wanted to prove to myself that I was not lazy, not a slug, not fat--that I was the kind of person who ran marathons. I believed, somehow, that I would be transformed by running a marathon.
The funny thing? I was transformed. I thought of myself differently after I finished that race. I didn't have to fear that I couldn't run a marathon... that I wasn't the kind of person who could run one. And that was enough for quite a long time.
But then it wasn't anymore.
And now, I am forty... forty-one in a few short months. I have run 8 marathons. I have run a marathon in 3:15... and Boston at that. I have completed two Ironmen, both in respectable times. I have ranked as an All-American in triathlon for the last two years. I have won a few 5ks; a have won a few local triathlons. I coach others to do the same.
And all of that feels good to say, to write, but I know you don't really care. It doesn't affect who you think I am. So why do I do it? Why do I keep getting up to swim when I really don't want to?
Is it the fear that I will undo all that I have done if I stop?
Will I not be the person I created anymore?
And is the person I created really any different than the girl, single and alone with her dog, who trained for the marathon in 1996?
I think so. I also think maybe not.