Bigger Than Me

On Saturday, a week out from Beach2Battleship, I headed out for my last long bike. I only had 2 hours scheduled, a break from the 3+ hour rides I've been doing the last month. The weather was rainy and a little chilly, which has been the case for the majority of my long rides lately. I wore a new waterproof rain jacket that I was sure would keep me warm, and figured the 2 hours would go by quickly compared to what I've gotten used to.

A few miles in and I was soaked (so much for that rain jacket-ordering spree last week) and freezing. All I wanted to do was get home and take a warm bath and put on dry clothes. The time was going by unbelievably slowly - probably because, in the face of wind and rain, and with leaves and puddles and debris covering a lot of the trail, I was going unbelievably slow. It wasn't at all what I wanted for my last big ride before the biggest race I've ever tackled, and not even half an hour in, I still had so far to go.

Shortly after that I came around a turn and noticed an orange cone in the middle of the path with a sign taped to it: "5k turnaround." It was at that time that I also noticed people wearing race bibs running toward the sign. I was already in a bad mood, and now I was going to have to deal with yelling,"On your left!" every five seconds and trying to maneuver through this race I had just inadvertently joined for the next 3 miles. It was a small, local race so there weren't that many participants, but there were several groups walking and with every one I passed on the not-particularly-wide trail, I got more and more annoyed. And I was especially annoyed when I got to the end of the trail and thought I could continue on to its extension, but the finish line and spectators blocked both parts of the forked trail so I just had to stop and awkwardly turn around.
In my head I had all kinds of snarky responses for anyone who might have commented about my biking on the trail during the race (the trail was still open to the public as far as I know). I might have rolled my eyes when I realized the crowd at the end literally stopped me and forced me to turn around. How annoying were these people blocking up my trail? Who starts a 5k at 11:30 in the morning anyway?! I had planned to do 2 loops, what if they still weren't done when I came back the second time and I had to deal with this nonsense again? Don't they know I have a half Ironman in less than a week?

I'm not proud of my attitude. I knew I was being an asshole but I couldn't stop. I tried to push the negative thoughts out. I reminded myself that it wasn't about me. The majority of the participants were casually jogging or walking, and I knew in my heart they weren't necessarily out on that rainy morning because of a love for running. I noticed from the bibs that the race was named after someone; I didn't know who he was that morning, but I figured there must be some reason to hold a 5k in his name, and I felt like even more of an asshole because I knew that reason probably wasn't a good one. I later found out that he was a graduate of a local high school and passed away from a heart disease shortly after he graduated from college 3 years ago. He ran track and loved running so his family now holds a run/walk in celebration of his life and to fundraise for a scholarship in his name. 

My heart was so heavy when I confirmed that I had, indeed, been a complete jerk (at least it was mostly in my head and not acted on) this young man's supporters, whether they were there to raise money or just to celebrate their own love for running, and to his memory. That trail served a bigger purpose on Saturday than facilitating my training, and I was selfish to ever think otherwise. 

Later in the day, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the 5k I had witnessed in the morning, I watched the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. Kona is the Boston Marathon, the Wilmbledon, the Daytona 500 of triathlon. Athletes from all over the world, both elites vying for the title of World Champion and age-groupers who have achieved qualifying times, come every October to the island where Ironman was born. It's incredible to watch, from the men's elite swim start at 6am, to the final crossing of the finish line near midnight. So many dreams are realized over a 17-hour span. It's truly remarkable.

As I watched, I naturally thought back on my own triathlon journey. I thought a lot about my Beach2Battleship training cycle - the good, the bad, and the ugly. I thought about the overwhelming feeling in my gut of wanting to someday be an Ironman myself, and the tears that well up in my eyes every time I hear Mike Reilly announce those 4 words to finishers. I thought back to that morning, how I had been so callous in my training and hadn't considered the needs or intentions of others. And there I was, watching elite athletes being interviewed, speaking about their goals to win an international championship. These people had done nothing but train for months, for years, for their whole lives, even, to get to this point, and they were able to speak about it with more poise and calmness than I had been able to muster about my dumb bike ride that morning.

It's impossible not to get swept up in the magic of Kona, and as I watched the coverage throughout the day, I continually tried to put myself in the shoes of these top-notch athletes. They battled a strong headwind on the way out on the bike, but you never would have known it by the looks on their faces. The temperature was in the 90s and up to 120 on the asphalt, with absolutely no shade on the course, but you couldn't tell that from watching them run their marathons. I watched the age-groupers heading out for the marathons, cheering on the leaders as they passed by and ran toward the finish line. 

While I have no doubt that Saturday in Kona was a hard day for nearly everyone competing, the majority of the people I saw seemed to take it with more grace than I usually have for just a run-of-the-mill training workout. I've spent a lot of time throughout this training cycle feeling down on myself. My swimming is mediocre and really hasn't improved despite hours and hours in the pool. I've been frustrated that the area I live in isn't conducive to cycling and that I haven't had an open road to ride and therefore haven't been able to hit the distances and paces I know I'm capable of. My running speed has taken a huge hit since I've shifted my focus from solely running to 3 different sports, and I haven't felt like I runner I was in the past. Throw in some GI issues and my turning into a puddle if it's too hot out, and that's been the majority of my training.

But watching Kona...seeing the elites finish and thinking about all the athletes still out on the course, some of whom would be there until nearly midnight...thinking about the courage and determination of every last one of them, from first place to last place, I finally realized: this sport is bigger than the training I've done over the last four months. It's so, so much bigger than that. I don't love this sport because of a time I hope to see on the clock when I cross the finish line on Saturday. I love it because it has taught me strength and discipline and determination and to be able to say, "Yes I can" when my body and mind are teaming up and screaming, "No, you can't!" And it's not just me, it's thousands of other people all around the world who also get up at 4am to train to chase finish lines that, a lot of times, feel like they'll never get closer. They were at Kona last Saturday and they'll be in Wilmington this Saturday and I count myself lucky to be one them. 

So I didn't get the last big workout that I wanted this week. Maybe that's not what I needed. At this point, perfect training weather and extra mileage really isn't going to do much for me on race day. A shift in perspective, the revelation that it's not about me, that this race, this sport, this life, they're all bigger than me...that's worth more than any amount of time I could have spent on my bike. 

8 comments :

  1. Sometimes we need the bad, bad, bad days to see the bigger picture. You are going to do phenomenal- enjoy the rest of the ride!

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  2. Ugh! Sometimes bad attitudes happen. I have one right now, because my hip still isn't better, and started bugging me after 5.5 miles on my 8 mile run yesterday. Big picture: one race will not make or break me. There are much bigger things in life. Let's take the pressure off and just enjoy it!

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  3. first off, shit happens. you deserve to be an asshole / jerk sometimes. at least, in your head. if you'd acted on it, different story ;) but for real, that is amazing that they hold that run to honour their lost family member. i could only hope to mean that much to my family / friends that they would do something like that, you know?
    watching people do amazing things always inspires me, and it always makes me feel a little bit bad because i'm always complaining. if there is something to complain about, i will. it's all relative, of course. and i wish i had something awesome and motivating to say. i think a change in perspective is definitely more important than numbers and such, and i think it's amazing that you recognise how much this particular race and being a triathlete means to you and what it's taught you. i think you are as amazing as all the Kona triathletes, but that's because i'm on the other end of the spectrum and i think it's all amazing / badass. kind of like my mum telling people i do marathons when i run 5ks, because to her it's the same. i know logically that an ironman / half ironman is so much bigger than anything you've ever done but to me, you're already that awesome and i have no doubt you'll do all the things you want to do. less than a week! ah!

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  4. Our poor Louisville Ironman I think gets shunned a little with Kona being the day before... BUT, its still an Ironman - & working with the athletes at the finish line, I was AMAZED at their attitude. I was apologizing for taking too long getting chips off or standing in their way &they were all (but 1) very gracious, kind, thankful for our volunteering... it was amazing to see.
    ... but, we all have our days where we just 'cant even' ... believe that. :)

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  5. Don't beat yourself up. We all have asshole thoughts from time to time and sometimes even ACT on them! I know I do. The important thing is that when we don't feel proud of how we acted, we learn from it. You are a good person, Tracy. :)

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  6. Oh, Tracy. First I got goosebumps and then I welled up reading this. I count myself so, so lucky to know you and be able to witness the amazing way your beautiful mind works and then see you put it all into words. As for the attitude, cut yourself some slack. It's been a hell of a training period and crankiness happens to the best of us. Be incredibly proud of the way you composed yourself outwardly and then fixed your inward response later on too. We can't be perfect in every moment, but we can make amends (even if it's just something that has to happen quietly, within ourselves) when we realize we were wrong.
    I am so in awe of you and your intense devotion to these sports you love and being your best physical self. I am so happy you're letting me in on this part of your journey and cannot wait to give you all the applause you deserve this Saturday, and be awed by you once again. Thank you for being truly incredible and inspiring.

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  7. Reading this also made me tear up a little bit too-- I think it's so common to have the same feelings and attitude you had when something or someone interrupts something. I know I do it all the time. What's not as common (at least I don't think) is to have the insight to stop or look back and correct your thoughts or see the bigger picture like you did, and wrote about so well. In other news, I can't believe you are only TWO days out! It seems like you were just sharing some of your training plan with us. You are obviously so encouraging based on your training, and times, and dedication and all of that, but just as inspiring is your attitude and insight to so many things.

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  8. Oh girl. You are too hard on yourself. I have been a jerk in my head and our loud for way less. You are truly an inspiration and the way your mind works (from the bits I see on the pages of this blog) amazes me. You deserve a down day and a day to be a jerk. You are awesome!

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