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.