Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Who am I?

My blog posting has been a bit sporadic lately. Largely that's due to a big burlesque event I shot and it takes me about a month to edit all those photos. I only have so much creative juice in my brain.

I've written before about my health stuff. I haven't had any more exciting hospital visits to write about since. I've been feeling better lately and my training has been improving. I had a 7 mile run Friday and a 5 mile run Monday both at sub 8 minute pace. It's been a long time since I've been that fast! I did a 3 hour bike ride on Sunday that felt solid. It feels good to see that progress.

The silver lining to that difficult time is that it got me thinking about my goals and priorities. I'm going to be making some changes going forward. I won't quit exercising; don't worry about that. I will however train in a way that makes me happy, rather than trying to prove something for the sake of my ego. I'm not quite ready to write about those decisions, but I will.

I had a couple of DNS's recently due to my health issues. That was disappointing, but I'm looking forward to Seneca 7 at the end of this month. I will be strong enough for that and it promises to be quite an adventure. You can look forward to that story! In general I won't be doing as many races as I have in previous years, but I definitely want to do at least a couple this summer. You may be asking, what about Ironman Lake Placid? Well, I'm not certain about that yet.

I've seen a lot of folks struggle, besides myself. This infinitely long winter doesn't help. I've also seen some amazing things, like the Boston Marathon. I wasn't in Boston this year, but the stories I heard from there were truly inspirational. For the first time in 33 years, an American woman won Boston! Wow! Congratz to Desiree! Congratz to all of the runners! The weather this year was super tough. It was truly a test of grit and strength. It reminds me the reason that we do what we do.

Running is good for the soul

While I was analyzing myself - my behaviors and priorities - I realized that very few really know me. When I was young, I was quiet and antisocial. I overcame that by pushing myself to the opposite end, by being unapologetically flamboyant. When I was young, I was very judgmental (as an excuse to not speak with people). I overcame that by developing compassion and forgiveness.

Wearing kilts and being silly to a sometimes ridiculous extent can give the impression that I don't take life seriously. Being the one to take blame and apologize in many situations can give the impression that I'm a screw up who hasn't figured life out. I have an almost pathological aversion to hurting people. When people hurt me, I swallow my pride and accept that it's human nature.

When I was in my 20's, I was selfish and I hurt people. I continue to battle that guilt to this day. Being unwilling to stand up for myself in some situations can cause people to lose respect for me. In many of my friendships, I will listen and accept when I've hurt my friend, but refuse to bring up the hurts they cause. Rather than preserving those friendships, it makes me out to be the weak link. I realize that now.

I don't have a problem with life. It's Russian nature to take care of things and move on. A Russian soldier will sacrifice his own life because it's his duty, not for the recognition. When I was 16 I sparred men at karate tournaments who were twice my age and mass (and often won). I learned social skills in my 20's by approaching strangers and embarrassing myself repeatedly until I had utterly destroyed my fear. I once followed three guys into an alley who clearly intended violence upon me because I had no fear for my safety. It worked out fine.

I'm often in pain. I embrace pain. I train despite injury or illness. I've completed races that were pure torture. It goes to show how bad my recent health issue was that I had to take breaks from exercising. I also embrace mental pain. As I mentioned, when people hurt me, I swallow my pride. I process through the emotion until I am calm again. I understand that in most situations, both sides feel hurt. I swallow my pain and acknowledge theirs. Bringing peace to others brings me peace.

I have an engineering degree from an Ivy League university. I've had a full time job for over 12 years. I own a car. I own a house. I paid for the entire closing cost with a timely and intelligent investment, and I invest beyond just my work retirement account. I teach children every week on a volunteer basis. I pay for my siblings' phone bill. I don't call this "adulting". I call this normal; not noteworthy.

Why do I mention it all now? I've spent the last two decades learning humility and compassion, patience and understanding. Those things to me are not weaknesses. I don't ask for help; I'd rather offer it. I don't ask for sympathy; I'd rather give it. I don't take anything for granted; I accept the challenge of striving for my goals and consider all good things in my life as blessings. I have accomplished a great number of amazing things, but I prefer to focus on and applaud the success of others.

It may seem that I sell myself short, by swallowing my pride or by acting like a "dancing monkey." Over time though, I care less and less what people think. They don't have to like me in order for me to be kind to them. They don't have to respect me in order for me to be generous. That doesn't make me a rug to walk upon. I'm not giving in order to get something back; it doesn't come from a place of insecurity. I give because it makes me happy. When people hurt me, it's nature, not evil.

That said, there are still things I won't tolerate. I won't tolerate it when someone threatens a person I love. I won't accept people who would hurt my material interests or try to inflict physical violence. I am utterly prepared to defend myself and loved ones at all times. I am always processing my surroundings and creating contingencies in my own head. It's habit.

I'm not sure if there's a moral to this post. As is often the case, I wrote it for myself. I think I've recognized lately where I've lacked respect for myself. I went through a difficult time a couple years ago, punctuated by depression and guilt. This blog is often my way of processing through that so I can grow happier and healthier. I believe I am succeeding.

Despite how it may sometimes seem, I don't live in a haphazard way. I often joke about my actions, because it doesn't matter to me if people approve. I think very thoroughly. While I do make mistakes, and often, I'm generally heading in a direction that brings more joy to my life. Despite ephemeral difficulties, the future is quite bright.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Yum Yum Barium

Maybe medical procedures are old hat to most people. You're looking at this blog and going, "yawn. Last week they had to remove my head to get out a mouse that crawled in through my ear. No biggy. It's only a little wobbly now." It's exciting to me though! So here's the story from my most recent magical medical adventure.

I went to the hospital on Wednesday. I got there a half hour early for a 10am appointment, which was fortuitous because I had to drive around in circles looking for a parking spot. Finally I spotted a lady making her way to her car. I slowly crept up and stopped, staring at her with wide eyes. I moved up, thought I was too close, and moved back. It's like my car was shifting back and forth with excited agitation.

Another thing that shifted back and forth -
excited to fry my insides

I went into the correct entrance on the first try. I brought my laptop with me, having the illusion that I would do something meaningful with it. A woman made me fill out paperwork. We made small talk. I don't remember most of it, except that she has a niece who has the same birthday as me, and a nephew who has the same birthday as her. In fact, all of her nieces and nephews followed a similar pattern. I couldn't tell if she was resentful that they couldn't be born on their own days. That would be a weird thing to be resentful about.

In my defense I'm not great at small talk. I may have said something like, "aww those silly kids," as if the little rascals decided to pop out on a particular day as a practical joke.

After that I went into radiology, which had no radios. Well, maybe there were. I didn't examine every individual office. I was directed to a changing room and told to TAKE OFF MY PANTS. I put that in big letters to amuse myself. I put on scrubs. These scrubs were MASSIVE. I put that in big letters because they were really really big. I had to pull the drawstring half a mile to cinch them up, but then they were pretty stylish!

Seriously stylin'!

I put my things in a locker and sat. There was an Asian kid sitting there with me. We didn't make any small talk. I was wearing scrubs and it felt oddly intimate. Whatever he was there for was done in like two seconds though. So... probably not a head removal. "We're just going to pop your head off, scan it real quick, and then pop it back on. No no, don't worry, I do this all the time. Nurse, where's my saw?"

Let me tell you about these Barium milkshakes. They're white, super white, like paint. And chalky. The first one wasn't that bad actually. I explained to the nurse that I didn't eat sugar, so it was kind of like a dessert. She didn't seem to believe me but she smiled. There were two ladies actually. I was going to say nurses, but I don't know if that was their official titles and I don't want to be the kind of a$$hole who assumes all women in hospitals are nurses. I'm sure at least one was. Ahem.

Both ladies put on epic radiation suits. I pointed out how stylish those suits were. I asked if they were allowed to take them home to wear out. You know, to a party or something. They said no. Those suits looked like they could take a bullet. During the hours that I waited later on, I would get zapped every half hour by a little X-Ray to check the progress of the barium, and all I got was a little.... mat, over my junk. No suit.

The "little" X-Ray

I'm getting ahead of myself though. The first scan I didn't have to wait for, as it was for my throat and stomach. They weren't going to find anything there, but they had to look anyway. The machine was a blast! It was a table that titled 90 degrees. First I stood against it as it whirled around me, broiling me with delicious radiation. Then it tilted back until I was horizontal. It was SUPER FUN. I used big letters there because it was super fun. I was grinning like an idiot. I think I may have giggled. I don't giggle often.

"OMG that's so much fun!" I exclaimed to the doctor and the two ladies. They laughed. Then they had me do a barrel roll to coat my insides. I told them I was getting in my core workout for the day. After that I had to move to my sides at different angles. I said it was like I was posing for a sexy photoshoot. More laughs! Who knew X-Rays could be so much fun?

A rip-roaring adventure!

The giggles ground to a halt after that. I had to wait for the aquarium of barium to move through my guts. They suggested that I walk to accelerate the process. So I walked laps, looking for radios. A corrections officer, watching over his orange-jumpsuited ward, commented that I was wearing holes in the tiles. Every half hour I lay down under the smaller X-Ray to check the progress of the gooey milkshake. Then I walked more.

I had to drink more barium. A lot more. At one point I noticed myself in a mirror and my beard was rimmed with white. Eventually I had to drink something really vile. The nurse said it may help move things through. She asked the doctor if I should drink it and he said, "sure, what the h3ll." Great. After 4 hours I was finally ready. My insides were totally coated.

I was pretty tired out by then, but I was excited to finally be close to done. I had to pose on the flat bed some more. I watched the scans show up on the monitor. For a moment I thought I was pregnant. The doctor said things looked much better. That's good? My body this week has been cr@p, so I hope the problem isn't something different they haven't thought of yet.

Suddenly I was done. I had been there for almost 5 hours. In TV shows everything happens so much faster. On Star Trek, things happen in like 2 seconds. They wave a magic wand over you and say, "he has a space virus! Set phasers to kill!" I got to put on my real pants and leave. My belly was sloshing around with a gallon of chalky fluid. Despite that, I got a gigantic meal and it was FANTASTIC. I used big letters there because it felt good to finally eat something.

Most of those 5 hours were spent walking and amusing myself...

I drove home through some very bizarre weather: it cycled through snow, bright sun, and rain, with tons of wind throughout. The wind blew away my internet in fact. True story.

I hope that I'm getting better now, but only time will tell.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Adventures in Hospital Land

In my last post two weeks ago, I wrote that I'd been sick but that I was recovering and feeling optimistic. Last week I didn't write a post because I was in the hospital. Guess I jumped the gun. But once again I'm recovering and feeling optimistic. I hope I don't jinx myself again!

Last year I had an issue that hampered my training. I went to the doctor then, and that helped, but it lingered all the way past the Ironman. I think there's a good chance that it had a larger effect on my training and racing than I thought. Certainly I've whined more than once about how everyone else seems to be able to do so much more than me.

After my last post, it came roaring back like an angry shark. A good friend said it's not normal that it keeps recurring and that I should go to the doctor. I'm not a fan of doctors, but I've already lost a month of training and it didn't seem like it would go away on its own. So I went.

I went to my primary care physician. Well, first I drove around the business park and entered half the buildings until I found the right one. This is especially sad because I've been there before and the exact same thing happened last time I went. I swear they switch buildings every time.

I did the patient thing, which involves a lot of waiting but not as much as I expected (all the real waiting would come later). They asked me questions about all my filthy habits. They took some blood. They poked me and asked if things hurt. Finally my doctor decided that whatever I had was not great, and that I needed an immediate CT scan.

A CT scan! I was excited. I'd never had a CT! I had to go to the next building over. I had to wait more. Then I had to drink a bunch of sh*tty orange juice. And wait more. With a needle in my arm. Which I took a picture of. The whole time I heard the recorded voice from the CT room saying, "breath in. Hold your breath. Breath normally."

Totally took a pic

Finally it was my turn! I felt like I was in an episode of Star Trek. Maybe I'm just easily amused. I lay down on the table. They connected a tube to the needle in my arm. They told me I'd feel a cool rush as the contrast fluid went in. I looked at the container the tube was attached to. There was like a bathtub worth of contrast fluid! I was like, no way they're putting that all in my body. I'll explode!

They totally did.

I don't know where it all went. I was expecting myself to inflate like a balloon. And it felt super weird. You know, in a fun way. The table moved back and forth. The voice said, "breath in." I breathed in. It said, "hold your breath." I held my breath, the whole time worrying that I was f*cking it up somehow. Then it said, "breath normally." I panted like a dog on a hot sunny day, panicking that I wouldn't get enough air. That's a thing that regular swimming does to you. The CT made epic sounds, like it was activating its warp drive.

Then it was done. I almost asked, "can I go again?!" Like it was a carnival ride. I had to wait some more while my doctor magically got a copy of the results via some technological wizardry (probably email, but maybe via mechanical messenger boar?). Finally the doctor called and the lady who attended me (I'm sure she has a title and I'm being super rude by not knowing it) answered and handed me the phone.

The doctor told me to go to the hospital for more tests. She told me I'd be there for a night or two. A night or two! I'm like, am I dying?! She told me I could drive myself, that I didn't need to ride in an ambulance. Wow! Thanks doc!

I went out in my car and sent some TXTs and messages. I had earlier posted a silly thing to "My Story" (which is a thing on Facebook I've never used before) so some folks were already blowing up my phone. I was kind of surprised. Which made some people mad, like, why are you surprised that people care?!

My brother wasn't the least bit
offended that I may be dying!

I drove to the hospital. Then I sat in the parking lot and answered more messages. Folks were concerned about me being alone. I was like, this is an exciting adventure! I didn't think I could say that; I was expected to take it seriously. I could be dying! So I tried to treat it with some gravitas, because I didn't want to make my friends more angry with my lack of terror. You could argue that I was in shock or didn't know how to react. It's a week later now though, and it doesn't feel like it was an out of body experience or anything. But then, I know from previous experience that I treat stressful situations with calm. Like when my rental car got totaled (did I ever tell that story?).

Someone did come to see me in the hospital, and truth be told, I was super glad for that. Before they came though, I had to wait in the waiting room for a long time. Before that though, I went into the wrong door and confused all the nurses. While I was waiting, I did some work on my laptop, even though my boss told me not to. I ended up doing more work while waiting in the ER too (spoiler alert!).

Finally I got into the ER. They didn't have any rooms available, so I hung out on a gurney in the main room. I had no clue I'd be in that exact spot for the next 5 or 6 hours. Occasionally they'd position curtains around me if I had to, I don't know, pull my pants down or whatever. They took a ton of blood. I was complimented on the color of my blood (it's super dark and rich with robustness!). I peed in a cup, which sat next to me, full of pee, for the duration of my stay, balanced precariously on the bed rail. Is that a run-on sentence? I don't know!

I was engaged though. There was lots of activity. I chatted with the nurses and volunteers. They were nice. I made them laugh. I had to wait a lot. I did some work on my laptop. I screwed around on my phone. My friend came and that was awesome. I wasn't allowed to eat or drinking anything; I hadn't eaten at all that day.

I ate like a pig as soon as I could...

After many hours, the doctor (who had a disappointing handshake) told me that I had a super terrible thing that would change my life forever. He started with, "don't panic, but..." I didn't panic. I just stared at him like my cat stares at an unfamiliar person. I knew there were questions I should ask, but I was like, "ok, thanks." I think this happened while my friend was getting me a sandwich, which I was finally allowed to eat! It was around 4pm. I'd been doctor-ing for about 8 hours by then. Patient-ing?

The doctor told me he was going to consult with another doctor who specialized in my terrible thing. That required me to wait another couple hours. I told friends and family that I had a terrible thing, but that I wasn't dead.... yet? Maybe not the right way to express it. I think I just worried them more. I'm really not good at being a wounded puppy. I was still generally chipper, having a good time, despite the waiting.

Around 6, the other doctor finally came over. He had an Irish name, which I didn't realize until he made a joke about St. Patrick's day having just passed. I'm obtuse. He told me that my terrible thing was presenting really strangely and that he wasn't sure it's what it was. I just said, "oh good." Maybe I just hadn't processed everything yet? I'm sure some people will say I was totally in shock and that him giving me potentially good news cancelled it out before I could feel upset and that I'm just lying to myself.

Who's to say! It's part of the adventure of life.

He said I maybe don't have the thing, and he gave me a prescription for antibiotics. So that's good! That was a week ago, and I'm definitely feeling better. I have a follow up tomorrow so we'll see what's going on.

I finally left the hospital around 7. My friend had left before then. I got home after 8 and did some more work on my laptop. Then I lounged around. I had missed my couch.

I suppose I missed my cat too...

I don't know if that's all normal. The times I generally feel down is when I'm stuck in my own head for too long of a time. When something like this happens, with lots of changes and stresses and new people and environments, I get pretty excited. When I'm out of my head, I'm happy. So despite everything, it felt like an adventure to me.

Maybe it's a defense mechanism? A way to not take things seriously? That's possible. I'm generally not a fan of real life things. Certainly I treat difficult things with humor if I can. When it comes to my friends, I hate to bring them down. I didn't want anyone coming to the hospital because I felt like I'd be putting them out. That's the thing that bothered people. Like I offended them by saying that I didn't need support.

It meant a lot to me, all of the love and outreach I received. I was really blown away by it all. The fact that my friends didn't want me to struggle alone was amazing. They were willing to turn their days upside down for me. I'm really not used to that. I'm willing to sacrifice myself for people I care about, but I don't want them to do the same in return. That's selfish of me.

If you're reading this and you were one of those worried friends, thank you! It meant a huge amount. It really did! I didn't mean to belittle that caring. I was just caught off guard.

I don't know how this will effect my training in the long run, or what the doc will say tomorrow. Oddly, I'm not too worried about it right now. I'll just train as much as my body allows. Perhaps this all gave me perspective on what matters. The people in my life matter, number one. The love they give and the love I return.

If I can't race, I can't race. My identity will change. Who I am outwardly will change. That's happened a lot in my life and it will continue to happen. That's fine too. I've experienced enough guilt to know how useless it is. It's not a certainty just yet though.

I don't plan on giving up just yet.

Have had some great workouts the last couple days!

PS. I know it's a terrible post title. It was fully justified (font-wise) without any extra work. That excites the nerdy part of me. So I didn't change it.

PPS. Seriously though, you people are amazing. Thank you thank you thank you. Maybe the reason it went so well is because of all of you. And by "maybe" I mean "almost certainly". See? I can learn too. Hearts.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Perception and Perspective

While I was sick I felt like I had lost all of my fitness and that I would never exercise again. The idea of ever doing another race again seemed daunting. I was already contemplating what to do with my free time now that I would never be able to work out again.

Now that I'm recovering, I'm excited about seeing my endurance climb back up again. I'm once again looking forward to seeing what I can accomplish. I don't intend to do as many races as I have done in the past. That means though that I'll be able to focus my training more on the races that I do have lined up. I'll have more time as well to have adventures of my choosing.

While I was ill, I kept reminding myself that it was temporary and that I would get over it. It's hard to not feel down though. It wasn't as bad as previous years; I'm happy to see I've gotten better at avoiding depression. Nevertheless, it's interesting how a change in perception alters my entire view of the future. It's easy to think that how I feel in a given moment is how I will feel forever.

"You will definitely suck at everything forever."

I see a lot of friends struggle, especially during the winter. That's not a single moment. That's several months of cold and dark and unhappy workouts. It's hard to keep training when you consistently feel tired and unmotivated. When the days lengthen and the temperature rises, it gets easier to get outside for runs. When the temperature further warms up, bike rides go outside too. Then finally swims.

When I signed up for Run for the Red Marathon in 2015, I had hoped I could qualify for Boston. It's true I underestimated the hills in that race. However, I realized too that signing up for a Spring race wasn't the smartest idea, as the bulk of the training would have to happen in the winter. I don't know if it's just me or if it's true of many people, but I simply can't train as fast or as hard in the winter.

A late night of drinking before the
race probably didn't help either...

Last year's Ironman Mont Tremblant was in August. That gave me the Spring and a good chunk of the summer in which to train. This year's Ironman Lake Placid will be in July, which gives me one less warm month in which to train. That's part of the reason why getting sick frustrated me. I don't have much time to get back on track.

I'd like to do better at IMLP than I did at IMMT. I think there's still a chance for that. My swimming has gotten better. My biking will be better, assuming I don't get injured again this summer. And the running can't be any worse than it was last year. As long as I'm careful and I train my endurance back up, I should do better, even if I don't do the crazy strength workouts that Geoffrey and Meghan do. Plus I'm aware of the mistakes I made last year and will hopefully do better with nutrition during the race.
I suspect this will be my outfit
in Lake Placid as well

So while my perception may cause me to panic a little, my perspective tells me not to. I've struggled in the past. I've gone through this in the past. The only races I wasn't able to finish (or start) were winter races. I've always completed races in the summer, even if they were very challenging. I still have time. My training won't be as good as I had hoped, but that's pretty much always the case. I don't think anyone's training ever goes exactly how they planned.

There's an ancient Chinese proverb for that, I'm sure.

In any case, I'm optimistic. The days are getting longer. Daylight savings time sucks. I'm going to be sleepy this week. Soon though, it'll be sunny and warmer, and I'll feel more energetic. I will feel stronger. My workouts will benefit.

I'm looking forward to that.

Super looking forward to that

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Mostly Dead is Still Slightly Alive

I haven't written anything in about 3 weeks. Nobody said anything, which makes me wonder how many people read my things. That's just me being extra sad for no reason though. I had a super terrible stomach flu for two weeks. I couldn't exercise, and I couldn't do much of anything else other than lie on the floor.

I'm finally slowly getting back into it. My workouts still feel weak, but it's such a relief to be able to exercise again. Most folks enjoy sitting around and relaxing. I usually do too. But being forced to, sucks. It seemed like everyone else was doing massive super strong work outs every single day, and I was lounging around in pain. I was convinced I'd lost 100% of my fitness.

"Fitness is for jerks."

Now I'm thinking maybe I've only lost like 80% of my fitness. Still enough that I think I'm going to die at Ironman Lake Placid after about 15 minutes. I've already had to skip all the races I signed up for in 2018 thus far. So it feels ridiculous for me to think that I'll be able to do a 140.6. Supposedly I did one last year, but I'm pretty sure it's a twin that I never knew about.

Or maybe an actor. An athletic actor playing me. That must be it.

This is how much being sick screws with my head. I know I'm just being stupid. I saw a doctor... I don't know when. At some point. She told me to drink lots of water. On the inside I was thinking, "I'm simultaneously sweating and freezing right now. My stomach feels like it's full of angry raccoons. I'm literally dying." On the outside I just said, "oh, water? Wow. Huh. Ok."

I've been sick before. I've been injured. I've seen many friends get sick or injured as well. There's all of the usual feel-good statements. Your body needs to heal. You'll come back stronger than ever. But when you sit there hour after hour, feeling your strength bleed away, it's hard to feel upbeat. I already feel like I don't train enough. So when I can't train at all, it's a special sort of torture.

Get rid of those tears!

There was a time, years ago, when I would often go two weeks without exercising. At that time it didn't seem like a big deal. There would be a nice day and I'd finally go for a run. Or I'd get tired of walking past my bench press every day as it silently judged me. Before my first marathon, I ran about once a week. It's strange to think how much I've changed since then.

It's also reassuring though. As much as I liked hanging out on the couch, I was itching to get moving again. It's a part of me now. It's something I need to do. If I don't run, or bike, or swim, or lift, I feel off. I don't feel right again until I've worked out. As much as I whine about not being an athlete, I want to move my body every single day. Even if I sometimes miss a race, or don't perform as well as I'd like to, I still have a dedication to keep training and to make sure that as long as I'm able to start, I'll be able to finish.

Last winter was terrible for me too. I have to remind myself of that. Even though I feel behind on my training now, I felt the same way last year. It helped put it in perspective for me. I was pretty miserable the past couple weeks, but I wasn't depressed. I just resigned myself to it and took it in stride. That's a pretty big deal for me. I may be unhappy when I'm sick, but I don't allow myself to get stuck in downward spirals anymore.

"Upward spirals are way better!"

There are people out there who have it much worse than I do. I'm quite blessed that I have the time and strength to pursue my goals and train. It's challenging, but it's a challenge that I have the opportunity to take on. A lot of folks have challenges that they have no choice over. I can only imagine how frustrating that is. For their sake, I can't squander what I have.

Yesterday I swam at lunch and I ran after work. They were both very short workouts, but I still experienced a feeling of freedom as I glided through the water and felt the cool air on my skin. I had forgotten that feeling. When I train every day I take it for granted. When I haven't been able to do it for a while, it feels exhilarating.

It's exhilarating to not be dead!

Maybe it was a blessing, a reminder to me of why I do what I do.

And come Lake Placid, if I don't feel quite prepared for it, I'll just hire that actor again.

PS. I hope everyone knows what the quote in the title is from.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Deconstructing Illusion on Valentine's Day

I don't know what to write today. Actually, I do know, but I can't write it. So mysterious! I'll write something else.

I looked through Facebook's "On this day"... That's how desperate I am for inspiration. One time I pretended to get chocolates and flowers from a secret admirer. Actually, it wasn't "one time". It was two subsequent Valentine's days. That's pretty sad. It's really sad actually. That was just me begging for validation. Or maybe it was a gimmick for ladies to think I was in high demand.

I remember what my mind frame was like back then. I didn't really do things out of honest self-expression. It was more like... how can I take advantage of this to create the image that I want people to perceive me as. At the time I wasn't willing to actually dedicate the holiday to a single person I cared about. I wanted to "keep my options open", which really meant that I was insecure. It meant that, one, I was constantly looking for validation from women. And two, I didn't feel that I deserved or was capable of having an actual meaningful relationship.

And I was afraid. I must have been. It's weird to look back on it now, because now I want to give and receive love. To hold on to that. To share it with a genuine and open heart. The fear, when I was younger, was irrational. It has to be because I'm struggling to explain it. I think.... I think I was afraid to expose the real me. I thought that I had to be someone else in order to have love.

But when you're someone else.... then anybody who loves you, loves an illusion. And that's hollow. Empty. And I remembered that feeling. I enjoyed the closeness, the affection, the intimacy. But I felt detached. It was all a performance (and one that was unfair to those I was with). And I didn't believe that anyone would be interested in the real me.

Whoever that was.

I've long since grown tired of the illusion. It's still there, in parts. I know it is. I'm trying to dismantle it. But it's hard. It's hard to tell what parts are true and what parts are false. And really, if you pretend to be something long enough, you become that. And that's not always a bad thing. I generally consider myself to be introverted. But I taught myself to be comfortable around people. To be fun and confident. And I enjoy being with people. So I can't chock it all up to BS. Some of it is genuine growth.

"Don't believe the lie.... I'm actually a caterpillar."

When I started dieting and training, part of that was to create a new image of myself. But that doesn't make it wrong. I like feeling strong. I like being fit. It's no longer necessary for me to show off though. I signed up for the Beast of Burden ultramarathon this weekend. I'm no longer doing it. It was stupid for me to sign up in the first place. It was purely to prove something. Hey, look at how tough I am! I'll do any race!

I can't do it for a number of reasons. I haven't trained for it at all. I had planned to. I had started training before the New Year. But then I got sick. Other huge priorities came up. I reduced my training to let my body heal and to not get into a pattern of being constantly sick like I was last year, and to focus on those other priorities. And here I am just a few days out of from the race... and I've barely done any running (by my measure).

I feel like I'm letting some people down. But that's only because I set up a false expectation in the first place. That's a clear example of me trying to live an illusion. Thankfully I recognize that. I'm getting better at recognizing that. And I'm sorry to those whom I've disappointed.

That's an important reason to be genuine with yourself. To be yourself. Because you can only carry on a facade for so long before the cracks appear. I don't need everyone to like me. I don't have the time or energy for that many people. Better to have a few amazing people who know me for who I am, and appreciate that. It's much more satisfying, and much less stressful.

"I wish some cracks would appear in this cage."

So if I'm going to loop this back around to Valentine's Day.....Today of all days is a day for grand gestures. A time when unhappy couples try to prove to one another that they still care (the happy ones don't need to, other than to make their lonely friends vomit a little). A time when those who are desperate for companionship try to create a perfect someone out of someone who is not.

For me it's a day for thought and introspection. To consider what matters and what doesn't. I know what matters to me. I'm not prepared to talk about specifics just yet. But I'm in a happy place. A lot of amazing things have happened recently. And they're things that are building a foundation for a genuine me to be prosperous in joy.

Well, I can mention one thing. I bought a house! That was the priority I hinted at above. I don't know why I was being circumspect. I think because I wanted to write about the house until I realized that it's Valentine's Day and figured I should write about that instead. But soon! House!

But those reminders of the old me from years past.... they show me how much I've grown. That's a good feeling. And I can laugh at those antics. They may be sad, but they're also funny. Also, here's a thing I posted once. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Why Do You Train?

A lot of folks struggle with their training. It's normal to doubt yourself, to question why you're training, to scramble for motivation that simply isn't there. It's easy to look at other athletes and think, "she's amazing," or, "he makes it look so effortless." You can get stuck in your own head and convince yourself that you're the only one having trouble, that you're missing some critical piece of the puzzle - a piece everyone else has. But it's simply not true.

Even the most talented athletes struggle. Especially the talented ones.

I was sick this past weekend. I'm still getting over it. I also have some sore tendons that worry me. I've read research that says extensive cardio destroys your heart. And I have all sorts of others things digging around in my mind. And I know my friends are struggling as well, for varying reasons. It's especially bad in the winter, when the days are cold and short, and race season seems so far away.

It's especially important right now to know the "why". Why do you train?

You can point to a race you signed up for and say, I have to train for this race. But that's not enough. You can skip a race, or defer it. Or just show up and do the bare minimum to finish so you can collect your medal and eat pizza. Or do it halfway, bonk out, and come up with excuses for why you failed and get reassuring pats on the back from your friends.

I've been caring less and less about races. I prefer to do them with friends, to pace someone. In which case my pace doesn't really matter. I just have to have sufficient fitness, which I can have without killing myself. I stupidly signed up for the Beast of Burden 100-miler, but I have absolutely zero attachment to it. I'll go as far as I can and then hang out to support my friends.

"100 miles is nothing. Try doing it pulling a sled!"

I've signed up for not one but two Ironmans because Meghan and Geoffrey signed up. I don't even know what the reason is there. Ego? Is it to prove I'm as good as they are? As tough as they are? Is it because I want to participate in an epic adventure with two of my best friends? Is it because it's something I was too scared to do on my own but they happened to light a fire under my a$$?

It's probably a little bit of all of those.

Someone I care a lot about recently told me I should do it for ME. But.... it's not enough. I've never wanted to be the best at anything. All my life I've wanted to be a jack-of-all-trades. I like to be able to do a little bit of everything. I've studied many different languages, rather than trying to become fluent in one. I've dabbled in many art forms - photography, cartooning, writing, digital design - without focusing on any one. Triathlons fit in well for me because I get to do a little bit of three different disciplines.

It's not about fitness either. I can be fit and healthy without doing an Ironman. In fact, as I mentioned, research shows that such an extreme volume of endurance training can actually be unhealthy. It used to be about vanity. About showing off my workouts and selfies to get validation from strangers on the internet. But I've mostly moved away from that.

So what is it? Why do I train?

I didn't have an answer to that question until I typed it out. I know, some of you still think my posts have reason: a moral at the end. They often don't.... at first. But they help me coalesce my thoughts so I can answer my own questions. What's the answer to the question? For me?

I hate mediocrity.

I hate being average.

I hate accepting "good enough."

It's hard being this awesome.

Maybe it explains some of the other things as well. Maybe it's not about vanity or about showing off, so much as it's about saying, "look, I'm not average; don't call me average." Maybe it's not about being just fit. Plenty of people are fit. But a very minuscule proportion have completed an Ironman.

And every time I sit and think, maybe I should relax, maybe I don't need to push so hard.... I feel a pain. It's almost physical. It rages within me. It's not my body. My body is usually in pain. It's my spirit, screaming, don't you dare lock me up. My spirit isn't interested in the limits of my body. It's not interested in the tribulations of my mind. It just wants to experience the richness of life: The depth and breadth of it.

I can't do that to myself. As exhausting as it is to my body, it's also liberating. I see it in my friends, when they cross that finish line. It's a feeling that transcends mere physicality. It's a moment of such glory and such beauty, that for a moment you feel utterly beyond yourself. I've seen it on their faces, and I've experienced it myself.

There's no other way to achieve that. It's nailing your violin solo. It's acing your graduate level exam. It's making a sculpture that's just perfect. It's crossing the finish line at Ironman. But if you settle, if you just coast along through life, you will never experience that.

It's not easy. It takes an obscene amount of work to get to that one glorious moment. It's not just about the prize though. That work defines you. It's what sets you apart. Because most people don't have the stamina. They don't have the discipline. But you do.

Because you're exceptional.