Thursday, September 8, 2016

Genesis of the Mind and Body of Iron--Part 2

So I left off Part 1 with having finished my first Ironman, Lake Placid, in 2001. At the time, I was fat, slow, did not know how to use the proper gearing on my bike (in retrospect my coach should have discussed that with me!), did not understand the difference between training and racing nutrition (you can pig out in training sessions but not while racing), and went into the race with an ITB issue that reared its ugly head during the marathon. Look how fat I was:

Despite all that, I finished the damn thing, and I vividly remember immediately wondering why I'd chosen to do it. But it only took me a few days to answer my own question--because I did something that was hard--not just the race itself, but making a commitment to the training, because it demanded that I get in better shape than I had ever been, because it opened up a whole new world of friendships, because I really did like to swim and bike since I was a kid, but mostly because of what happened during the run.

The swim and bike of an Ironman are hard on their own, but you know during the swim that that's going to be the shortest (and probably coolest) and easiest part of your day, and you know during the bike (you absolutely must love biking to be successful at Ironman) that you just need to make it through without a mechanical, but that you can otherwise enjoy some sights and sounds and the rhythmic motion of your feet on the pedals becomes a mantra (pedal the bike...pedal the bike).

But when you get to the run, every part of your being demands you pay attention to it--your heart, your lungs, your stomach, your legs and your feet--but the thing that demands the bulk of your attention is your mind.

Funny thing, the mind! In most situations, your mind is the governor for all the other things going on in your body, but when you're running in the Ironman, you have to mind your mind! Because if you don't, you will give in to your own physical misery.

So what a great gift (such as it was) I had received when I was raped--the ability to depersonalize the physical shit and just mind my mind. I didn't really understand the connection between my own trauma and the enjoyment I derived from Ironman until a few Ironmans later, but it was there from the start.

In a way, I took a detour from it after my first Ironman, because I knew I needed to get in much better physical shape so I could go faster, and besides, I hadn't been fat for a long time. Now, my definition of fat for me is weighing over 118. In the photo above, I think I weighed about 128. But my objective of "much better shape" wasn't just about weight--it was about becoming leaner, as I'd already been reading up a boatload of books about triathlon, running, biking, swimming and endurance training in general. Here are my physical fitness bookshelves:

I've got 4 other books on my nightstand that I need to get through. I enjoy reading both scientific books as well as first person accounts of endurance events. As I began reading more first person accounts, I found myself identifying with those people. Not all of them had been through major trauma (or they didn't talk about it), but still there is a common mindset for successful endurance athletes.

I did lean out by my second Ironman, I learned about bike gearing, I started understanding how to better manage training and racing nutrition, and these things allowed me to enjoy the mental gyrations of the Ironman marathon even more! It felt to me like I'd discovered the key to serenity--train for and race an Ironman! Not everyone's cup of tea, to be sure, but it seemed to work for me. 

Also along the way of my endurance journey, I don't recall if it was recommended to me by a friend or what, but I started getting into Buddhism, only for the aspects of it that relate to suffering. One of the prime tenets of Buddhism is that we should seek to end others' suffering, but that in order to be able to do that, we must end our own suffering. And truly, I have suffered a lot.

But I will never really feel that I am suffering in an Ironman--even during Brazil in 2006 that was a month after my Mom died, and I had a raging sinus infection and got kicked squarely in the nose during the swim, I did not feel that I was suffering during the race. My Mom was dead, and I was still alive. I didn't have the race I wanted, but it was still way better than some people would have had under the same conditions. And I was very proud of that finish.

And then the very next year (2007) I did Lake Placid again and achieved a nice PR. Thanks Mom! But then Dad died late in the year, and I was completely and utterly devastated. I don't think I've ever felt so awful for such a long time. At Ironman Lake Placid in 2008, it rained all day, and physically I was miserable. But I took the rain as a gift to really let out my grief, and that was the first time I carried some of Dad's ashes with me. When I got to the final out and back on the marathon, I remembered I had him with me, and took them out (I put them in a crack baggie) and carried them the rest of the way in my hand. And when I passed someone (I found some new energy), in my head I was saying, "You just got passed by a dead guy!" And so now I take some of his ashes to all my races and I usually have a crack baggie of them on my bike whenever I ride.I leave the ashes I have with me in a race either on the course or in transition.

My Dad's last days were horrible, but I saw in him the incredible mental strength and sense of mind he had in bearing the pain he was in. I am sure he was using the depersonalization technique. What else can you do when your kidneys and liver are shutting down? So while I was in that 2008 Ironman, I kept thinking that what I was doing was nothing compared to what Dad went through.

In 2009, I did Lake Placid again and achieved my standing Ironman PR, and then I followed that up with a gift to myself of Ultraman Canada in 2010. Since then I've only done one "official" Ironman--Cozumel in 2013--but I've done a few more Nothingmans, and I think my Ironman total including them is 18 (does not include the Ultraman!). So apparently, I enjoy doing the things, ya think?

Since 2010, I've had to contend with managing hypothyroidism and a Morton's Neuroma in my right foot. Fingers crossed both are well under control now! Hence, here I am, about to go for the BQ and KQ, and pretty sure that I will then do Ultraman Hawaii.

So now you know why I virtually or actually roll my eyes when someone starts babbling about some supposedly hard shit they are doing or how they are "suffering" in training or racing or some annoyance in their life. And why I laugh when someone can't believe I would sit on a trainer for 5+ hours or run 2+ hours on a treadmill or swim 3+ hours in a 25-yard pool. It's OK if you don't have the mental skills to do those things--but don't fucking say I CAN'T. Say I Don't Want To. It just so happens that I love doing those things because they give me an opportunity to exercise channeling my inner peace by letting go of the physical and tuning into the mental.

And thus, I shall continue to strive to practice

I think I've become quite good at it, and am so enjoying that I get to practice the skills in my quest for a BQ and KQ next year. I am finding many friends that knew I had taken a break are back on board with me, and I can't wait to train and race with them!

Have a great day and remember the Crackhead motto:

"Harder, longer, faster, tougher, repeat."

1 comment:

  1. I didn't realize we both did imLP in '08 also!? I'm enjoying reliving your journey with you (mostly, except the hurtful parts)


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