If You Go Straight Long Enough You'll End Up Where You Were

I started running to see if I could prove the, "No you can't"s in my head wrong. I kept running because I kept proving them wrong. By the time I decided to train for an Ironman, I thought they were all but gone. I thought I had literally outrun them. But they have started creeping back in, and the more they ask, "What makes you think you can do an Ironman?" the more I have to concede that I don't know.

I just posted a few weeks ago that I have never quit a swim. It's the one thing I never give up on. I don't make it to the pool as consistently as I get in the saddle or on the road, but when I am in the water I don't get out until I have completed the task at hand. I have different strengths and weaknesses in each discipline, with none of them being something I'm overwhelmingly good at, but swimming is the one that I feel most comfortable doing, even if I don't always want to do it.

I was supposed to swim at the pool on Wednesday and Friday last week, but I made some poor training decisions early in the week that snowballed into me lifting weights at the gym on Wednesday night right before heading to the pool. After an hour of legs and core (including a total of 90 push-ups), my body was tired and if I went to swim I'd be looking at about 5 hours of sleep before getting up at 3:50am the next morning for a 2.5 hour brick before work. So, the snowballing continued and I decided to pass on the swim to go to bed instead.

When Friday rolled around, I really had to swim. No choice. I'd swam once in 2.5 weeks (pool was closed the week prior) when I normally swim 2-3 times per week. I got off from work a little early and went home with some pep in my step, ready to get back in the water. Ben and I had some chores to take care of first that took a little longer than expected, but we finally got to the gym around the same time I'd normally get home from work, and I was feeling ahead of the game. 

The pool is in the back of the gym but you can see it from the front door. As soon as we walked in we could already tell it was very full. I really don't like swimming in pools and get weird pool anxiety, which is how I roped Ben into swimming in the first place and how he ended up signing up for his first triathlon (coming up this weekend!). The lanes make me feel claustrophobic and I hate sharing with anyone because then I feel even more claustrophobic and I just find the whole thing very stressful. I'll share if I have to, but I really don't like to share with anyone other than Ben because I'm just constantly worrying about where they are and what they're doing that I can't calm down. I know it's weird, but give me open water over a pool any day.

Sometimes the pool is crowded when we first get there but then people start getting out, and since we usually go around 8 or 9pm, not a lot of people come in after we get there, so we just wait for a lane to open up (Ben is the only person I feel comfortable sharing with). On Friday we went at 6pm so not only were people not leaving, but more just kept coming in. We ended up having to share a lane, and this story is already getting ridiculously long and it gave me anxiety typing it once already in my training recap from last week, so I'll just cut to the chase and tell you that I had a full on meltdown over this. My anxiety was already high because the pool was super crowded, and then a guy jumped in the lane I was already sharing with Ben and I kept getting stuck behind him and I got really frustrated and upset and my heart rate was through the rough and after stopping twice and telling Ben I was going to quit...on the third time, I finally did it. Before I even realized what was happening I was taking my googles off and hopping out.

And then I went and cried in the locker room because if I'm going to freak out when things don't go as planned then how am I ever going to get through 140.6 miles? And I don't just mean let out a few tears. I sobbed. I was so, so upset. At everything. At other people in the pool. At myself for quitting. At myself for ever even thinking I had a chance of having the mental strength to get through this. At training taking over my life and making me feel bad about myself.

I went to dinner with Ben instead and he helped talk me through what I was feeling and made me feel a little better, but I was still pretty down. I managed to make it through a 10 mile run on Saturday (after doing everything under the sun to procrastinate), but Sunday turned out to be even worse. I had to ride my bike 40 miles, which should have been easy after 110 the week before, but it wasn't. Not even close. Every pedal stroke felt hard and every mile felt like 10 and I just couldn't see the point anymore. I was ready to quit training right then and there. In that moment it didn't matter to me if I stopped training for the next 7 weeks and showed up on race day completely undertrained. And really, if give the option, I would have rather completed the whole race right then just to get it over with. I just wanted to be done. If my only choices were to either keep going or to get off my bike and forfeit ever being an Ironman, I am almost certain I would have taken the latter. I have thought this many times over the last few weeks, and on Sunday I was almost certain of it: if I didn't have three other people in this thing with me, I would probably have quit a long time ago. So I guess the only thing keeping me (barely) going at this point is Ironman FOMO.

This is the part of training I feel like no one really talks about. No one talks about the mental part and how hard it is to convince yourself to keep going when your brain is screaming at you to stop. Or how to tell when you should listen to that screaming, which is what I did on Sunday - when I did eventually get off my bike I took the rest of the afternoon off instead of running and swimming like I was supposed to. I read a lot of training and racing blogs and follow a lot of runners and triathletes on Twitter and Instagram, and while some are more transparent than others, there are far more stories of success than failure. But even the ones that do acknowledge failure don't seem to be affected by it the way that I do. Do they really not have the same negative emotions I do? When they do, do they just not allow those emotions to affect them as deeply as I do? Are they just not able to find the words to describe them, as I'm also unable to a lot of times?

I've always shared my running on my personal social media accounts whenever I felt like I had something to share, but I've deliberately chosen to document as much of my ironman training as possible this year on Instagram. I've tried to strike a balance between finding beauty in something that isn't always beautiful, and remaining as real and transparent as possible. I do share a lot of highs but I don't intentionally hide the lows or try to minimize them. Still, I often wonder if I am unintentionally contributing to this social media culture where everything is perfect and running is easy and I'm just over here powering through 15+ hour training weeks like its no big deal. I would hope that anyone who knows me or has read my blog knows that that is far from the truth and that I struggle, quite a lot sometimes, but I am still always curious how what I present online comes across. If I've ever downplayed how hard this is on me, it's only because I am trying to do my best to remind myself that this is a choice, it's something I am voluntarily putting myself through and for that reason I try not to publicly complain.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this or what the point is. I've had a few days of better training and some time to process the burnout, and I'm feeling a little bit better. I knew this would be an uphill battle so I can't say I'm surprised, but I just don't think I had the capacity to imagine just how much my limits would be tested during this training. I really didn't know, I couldn't know. Like I said at the beginning, I started running to prove to myself that the voice in my head was wrong, that I could do hard things. So when I've swam and biked and run hundreds or thousands of miles and find myself having and succumbing to those same thoughts telling me I can't, that I'm weak, that I'm worthless...I can't help but wonder what the point is. I can't help but wonder why I'm pushing myself toward a goal that I now really believe may truly be impossible for me to accomplish, if the only outcome is me feeling just as bad about myself as I used to before any of this started. 

I know I need a change of perspective, and that's what I'm working on moving forward. The one thing that slightly helped me get through the weekend was remembering that this is my journey. It is not my  training group's journey. It's not my coach's journey. Not the people who tell me I'm strong or brave for doing this. Not the people who tell me I'm crazy or think I'm stupid for doing this. Not my friends', not my family's, not my coworkers'. Not the people probably laughing at me running into the wall of the pool every lap because I left my goggles at home. Not the Instagrammers or the bloggers who make training always look like fun. Not anyone who has ever in any way made me feel like this could be an attainable goal (or not). Part of the reason I signed up in the first place was because I wanted this to be another road of self-discovery, the way my other really big goals and accomplishments have been, but so far if anything, I've lost myself. All of those people may contribute to my success to some degree, but at the end of the day, this is my journey. It's my swim, my bike, my run, my day, my Ironman, my iron year. No one else's but mine, and I have to rediscover my iron will if I'm going to make it to the finish line. 

5 comments :

  1. training for something is tough. there are good days and bad and no one likes talking about the bad days for some reason. i know people who are training for a fight and there are days when they hate being there and feel so spent but yet, there they are trying to get through that sessions when all they want to do is go home and lie down. but like you said, training for something as hard as this only serves to strengthen your mental grit; to test your own limits and there's something highly satisfying when you achieve your goal.

    signing up, and training for, something like an iron man is not an easy task; many won't even consider it because their self-doubt will convince them that they won't be able to hack it. so keep going, stay strong; everyone has days when you just want to give up and you wonder if you should keep going....but you definitely should. when the day of the race comes and you cross that finish line, you will be SO PROUD of yourself to know that you pushed yourself to your physical limit.

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  2. I definitely felt anxious just reading about the pool, so I can only imagine how it was to actually be in the situation. Even if you did end up stopping your swim early, you still went and started it and I think that counts for something! I think so many people would have stopped a long time ago when something got in their way, but even on the hard days you always push through and that's what matters the most. I love everything you said in the last paragraph, and one of the things I love about everything you share is that it's real. You have a gift for being able to articulate how you're feeling plus what you're doing. I don't know if this comment is making any sense, but basically I'm really, really proud of you, not only for how hard you're working and pushing yourself, but for staying true to yourself (even if you're a bit lost right now) and for being transparent and real.

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  3. I know that training can be tough, and I can't even imagine training for something like Ironman. I think you should be damn proud of all that you do and anyone would be frustrated in the situation you found yourself in at the pool. I could feel my blood pressure rising just reading it. I was mad for you! Just hang in there and know that you are amazing and we are all proud of you!

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  4. You're right—people don't talk about it enough. But I think also it's hard to convey with words. I know you well, and I saw what you went through at B2B, and I have some small, tiny, microscopic idea of how hard this is for you—at least an analogous one, if I can't actually directly relate. And I think I felt the same way last year. I saw absolutely no reason and I didn't know what I was trying for. I don't know if my despair ever fully came across though, because it's hard to convey. I know it because I've been there, but for people who aren't so willing or able to pour out their hearts and souls on the internet, the bad days just aren't as vivid. My point in all that is just to say that you are 100% not the only person in that boat, whether you spend every day or just one day of your training in it.

    Also though, I don't like the idea that we can't complain about things we're choosing. Because my thinking is, when you get right down to it, literally everything is a choice. Working is a choice. Hygiene is a choice. To a certain extent, breathing and eating are choices. I wouldn't go around bitching 24/7 (not that you are, and in fact I've probably found myself more inclined to than you have done it!) but you're allowed to express doubts, fears, and unhappiness about things in life because there is ALWAYS a side of bad with the good. In all things.

    It breaks my heart to hear that this training is bringing out the negative self-talk you started running in order to beat. I know you knew it would be hard, but I think the fact that it's SO hard and SO long and there's still so long to go until the actual very very hard thing is what's making it so hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. Maybe the point of this Ironman isn't the same as your first few races though. Maybe the point ISN'T to show yourself that you can do hard things. You've always known that—at least, for the last 5 years you have. Maybe there's a different point, but maybe it's not going to be revealed to you until race day. Who knows? But you won't know until it reveals itself.

    Keep going, friend. I know you can do this, however your will makes way.

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  5. oh my gosh, you've just been through a rollercoaster lately.

    i do not think you come across as one of those people who only talk about the highs.. not at all. i, though i have no idea what you are going through of course, feel like i am going through this journey with you and there are plenty of highs and lows. people don't like to talk about the bad things with anything, not just training. but you're not alone, i am 100% sure the majority of people feel this way. because what is the point if not? would you be proud of climbing a mountain if you could do it in your sleep? doesn't it make it that much better that you worked your ass off for it, doubted you could do it, wondered why you were doing it? i mean, i'm not saying suffering is awesome and you should be going through hell and back, but don't discount your journey. like you said, it is your journey, no one elses.

    and i mean.. you could say what's the point of this to literally everything in life. what's the point of even being alive, honestly. how we spend our time is up to us, and it is different for everyone. you have every right to scream about the highs and the lows. they make up the journey and have equal importance in getting you to the finish line.

    however. i am sorry that you have found that you've lost yourself. that really sucks. i hope you are able to find yourself again, and this is gonna sound corny as all get out, but sometimes losing myself is what helps me find myself again.

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