I've charted a course to Ironman again for 2013. I had toyed, a year ago, with the idea of doing Ironman again in 2012, but it's been one thing after another this year, making those plans unfeasible. But much more than that, the switch wasn't on. I wanted to race Ironman again. But I wasn't invested yet in becoming Ironman again. I don't know how to explain it, really, other than to call it a switch. A thing that drives me. More than just an idea or purposeful thought. It can live in my head, but it wasn't yet living in my heart. It is again, now.
When this blog began way back in 2006, and when I first had the outlandish, ridiculous idea of training for an Ironman race in 2004, things were different. I was different. I was only just emerging into a time of enlightenment in my life, after spending many years in a sort of haze and darkness. That first Ironman for me - and go ahead, start at the beginning if you like - my mother called it my Vision Quest. It was a mechanism through which I came to understand myself, my world, my potential. It was exhausting. And I don't mean the cold, rainy race day. That was only the very fitting environment to serve as capstone. The saga was exhausting. It required every ounce of my mind and spirit to outrun ghosts, make discoveries, join the living, find the world. I did not embark on the chase for any of those reasons - I just thought it looked like hard thing to do, and I was in a place where doing hard things was time well spent. I had no idea it would change me.
Inevitably, after finishing a first Ironman and considering doing another (in 2009) - and particularly with as much personal intensity as I approached the experience the first time - the battle cry goes from YOU WILL DO THIS (which is really just a manly rephrasing of HOLY SHIT, HOW WILL I EVER DO THIS?) to the far less interesting HOW FAST WILL YOU DO THIS. That seems to be the logical progression of perspective, and isn't that sad. One is exhilarating, terrifying, glorious, awesome in true sense. The other is narcissistic, competitive, self-serving. And okay, yes, the argument is there that triathlon, and Ironman in particular, can be generally all those things (can 6 hours alone on a bike be anything but self-serving?), but there's a distinction, at least to me. One is an exploration of mystery. The other is just…trying to get to the finish line as fast as you can. I've never gotten truly sucked into that - I've always thought it was a rare privilege just to be on-course - but in 2009 my race goals revolved around hoping to achieve time-based goals. So inevitably, if one doesn't achieve those goals, he takes it in stride, but suffers some disappointment, however tempered.
I think that's stupid. I think that's the wrong way to play this game.
All any of us should want - in anything we're doing, whatever it is in life - is to become part of the mystery. "Give me success or its constant pursuit, and I'll choose the pursuit." I saw that in a store once, and I've tried to attribute it to somebody but I don't know who wrote it. I have it on a huge poster in my training room. It's in fact something I generally subscribe to, however imperfectly, in all part of my life.
On my bike this weekend, while contemplating these things about Ironman, a fox crossed the road right in front of me. Just ambling along. A fox. If you've been here awhile, you know the fox has a certain kind of mysterious purpose for me specifically in regards to Ironman. On the one hand, encountering the fox blew my mind. Almost fell off my bike. On the other, seeing it made me say, "Of course. And welcome back." I don't understand it at all, and have no need to. I just know I'm supposed to pay attention. Be in the mystery. Or if "mystery" is too vague, then rephrase. Just - show up. Get in the game. Whatever that is for you. Truly engage. Don't spectate, don't sit in the bleachers and shout about how it should be done, just get to doing it. Put up. Try not, do. Pick it up and set it down.
So when I say "I've charted a course for Ironman in 2013", what I mean is - what I hope, after all this time we've all learned is - you see, it's already begun. The having to carve an Ironman's muscle again out of this presently lax form. Preparing for a winter of base training to race smart next summer, learning lessons and sharpening knowledge again. Working for something two years away, knowing that hell, anything can happen in two years. Race day is the celebration of that stuff. What I really mean, though, is step back into the mystery. Refocus. Rediscover.
And Ironman may, I maintain, remain just the vessel. I wonder if I purposely (though subconsciously) sabotage my fitness in the years after Ironman races, just so I reach some point where it seems a shade insurmountable to have to achieve it again. Because I like the odds against me. Because I'm goal oriented, and I like big goals. I run marathons, and I enjoy them very much - but truth? I don't take them too seriously. They hold no fire, only a tiny spark. Ironman is where it's at for me. So I will daydream again about a day in September a couple years from now and the way the sun rises over Lake Monona, and flying down Witte and Garfoot, and the cheers for heroes up the Three Bitches. The lights on State Street. I'll hope my daughter will know and understand and cheer me on with her mom, and I'll swoop her up in my arms and ask her to be a fast cat with me, if she still plays her game fast cats (which is "run as fast as you can") - which is doubtful, but see, it's the stuff I need now to get me back to the starting gun. Man that stuff will be thick in my head. But you know what? After the race, the next winter or the next summer or two, what I'll think about when I look back on Ironman are the purposeful sounds of the machine underneath me at 5:30am in June, and an 8-miler in a thunderstorm, and my Grandpa on the dock as I come in from an open water swim and me and D for three miles in the running stroller or helping me "fix my bike" when I'm changing tires or degreasing the chain. That's the stuff, man. That's it right there. And doing that outside of Ironman is great, and it's fun, and it's meaningful. But it's not the same. So that's what I'm already engaging in. And yes, I'll always be working to get faster, be smarter. Chase speed to see what I can achieve. But really - how fast I go on race day? Man, seriously. Who cares.
I've changed, too. I'm not infatuated with the gear and trappings anymore - I think first the engine needs work before a person drops $200 to save 20 grams. I'll always enjoy the shiny things - that's who I am - but it seems like energy and resources spent elsewhere. I'm not interested in proving to myself how far or fast I can go in training - I'm interesting in fitting training around the rest of my life instead of the other way around. I'm not paranoid about missing a ride or a run, or needing to make it up tomorrow (that doesn't work, yo), or making sure I have 4 century rides underneath me by August, or whatever. I like structure, and I like a plan - but my plans now are - by necessity and design - a lot more flexible and fluid. This is the stuff of enjoying the experience, rather than becoming slave to it. And it's only stuff that, for me, required experience and maturity - in the game and in life - to embrace.
One other thing - this will be it for the blog. A few reasons - "social media" wasn't even a phrase in January 2006 when I started this thing, and now twitter (xt4) serves me a lot better for the occasional training update or thought, or many of you are friends at Facebook. I will be chronicling the journey back to Ironman - but only through pictures, using instagram (also xt4). Mostly - talking about this part of my life isn't interesting anymore (as indicated by the total lack of posts in almost a year). There was a time when talking about it was as essential for me as doing it - not because it validated it, but because the experience was only complete when I could rehash, analyze, understand, quantify and qualify, deconstruct and reconstruct. None of those things are true anymore for me in the game. I just want to play it now, that's all. Besides, there's now a whole subset of my social circle - an entire small but meaningful universe of friends - that at first existed only through this medium. We only used to know each other by our blog handles because we were all working through this crazy thing together. And now I know what your kids are up to, and we talk about our jobs, you've met my daughter, we've hung out, and we could go have a beer and talk about any number of things away from the game. That's way cooler, anyway.
So in completing this thought now, as I throw my leg around the top tube and get to pedaling off into the sunset, I'll sign off. If I had any advice - well hell, this whole thing is full of my often foolish, rarely solid, but quite alacritous advice. But if I had any other advice, it's - do it. Yes, do it. Whatever it is. Whatever your Ironman is. You'll be changed for it. In so many ways.
Thanks for coming along. Tailwinds, one and all -
September 6, 2011
"You want to say something important and significant. You want some phrase that simply captures something momentous...something like "In The Beginning", or maybe "And So Began", or "Once Upon A Time", or "All children, except one, grow up", or "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away", or at least, "Marley was dead, to begin with." But ultimately it's a day, just like most other days, and so in most ways unremarkable. Except that today, Ironman begins."