Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Of Myth and Mystery, of Sublime and Surreal.

I'm going to try and describe today's events, but before I do just know that I'm going to fail to do it even an ounce of justice. There's no way I could succeed, however disciplined with the language I could be. So if we both understand that, then I'll not feel I need to convince you.

The plot: It's my last long workout before the June 10th Half Ironman. It's not all that long anyway - and hour on the bike followed by an hour run. My intention on the bike is to try and thrash my legs; sit in a low cadence, even when climbing, and really try and wear myself out for my run to follow. On the run, I just want to be comfortable - no speed or distance goals today, just one hour, comfortable.

So it's been blazing sunshine all day, and hot and humid. I sat out on my deck while I ate lunch and about melted. But I've lately been looking forward to workouts on miserably hot days, because it's a weakness I simply have to overcome. I got out the door for my workout around 5:00pm, and was on my bike and ready to go at 5:30.

While I was driving to my launch-spot for my bike workouts, it was like being between two worlds. To the east were the day's blue skies and heat, and to the west was a massive storm moving in. The sky was grey like ash, and deep and complicated. There were layers and tendrils of shades, clouds quickly moving all over one another. I figured for sure I'd be in for some serious rain on the bike. But it was warm and I felt good, so come whatever will. I didn't feel like fighting the Elements today, and didn't think probably they were picking fights anyway.

Just before I get on my bike I notice that the flags hanging on the buildings around me are at a stand-still. Dead calm. Creepy and never a good sign - I actually remembered what my Grandpa told me just this weekend about tornados (his father having told him)... "If you see them moving, you're okay. But if it looks like it's just standing there, it's coming right for you so get the hell out of the way." It didn't look or feel tornadoey to me, but what do I know? I snapped this picture of the polarized sky just before I left. It didn't feel so much like a storm was moving in as it did the blue skies were running away.

Maybe a mile into the bike and the storm surge starts. The wind is nuts. Swirling directionless all around. I'm leaning left, then right on my bike to not get knocked over. Suddenly it's a headwind. Suddenly it's behind me. I never felt threatened, and it was never joyless. To the contrary - I felt somehow invited into the middle of something grand. Something primitive and epic. Somehow, probably because I was grinding huge gears, I never slowed down. I clipped along through this Prologue to a Storm at some 20mph. When I turned east, I looked into bright blue skies while thunder urged me on behind. I felt surreal, and it was my first glimpse of the Sublime that the day had in store.

I turned north again, and the rain still didn't come. The wind shrieked through my helmet, the wind danced senselessly, but the promised storm never delivered. I'd feel a drop, and be sure that any second now it's be pouring. I felt thrilled and alive.

I turned around at 30 minutes and faced the storm that had been chasing me. It was awesome. To my left were the chased fragments of blue sky. Behind me and to my right were dark, but not sinister skies. But to my south - just to my south, probably exactly over where I'd left my car - was the kind of lightning that artists imitate. Creepy and jagged and sharp and everywhere. It was the weirdest thing - this single patch of purple hung under the other storm clouds, like some kind of mothership, and just spewed electricity. I pulled into the ditch, and me and 'Blue waited it out.

The mothership hovered only a few moments, then looked further east for something to do. I got back on and headed home, still ready for rain, still bracing for some kind of sensible wind, but it was just more of the same; swirling, dancing, dervish wind. And still, somehow, I wasn't slowed. My legs were working hard, my muscles feeling well ached, but my heart-rate stayed low. In the midst of all this, I was having a hell of a great workout.

I got back into the city, 20 miles in exactly an hour. The roads were wet, but not like I'd expected - the mothership hadn't landed here like I thought. To my surprise the softball fields were filled with the usual children (aren't there rules about lightning???), and more ingredients to the Sublime were mixed in with all the people biking, playing, running. Here we were, all of us surrounded by this weird storm that only wanted to peer through the window at us, never really wanting to come in and play. And now the skies were breaking; or rather, the weird storm was passing over. It had edges - you could see the blue now far in the east, then this long slick of grey, and now its tattered opposite edge, where through blue poked through again.

I started my run, and my legs were sufficiently shredded. My hamstrings felt thick, my calves felt worn. Yet, still, somehow, I easily found a 9:20 pace. Totally effortlessly; I'd thought I'd comfortably hover around 10:00. Surely it'll get harder. Surely in another 2 or 3 miles I'll have slowed. But I wasn't concerned with pace, so just kept running at whatever felt good. Now the first drops came - big, thick, huge. Ah. Now the skies will open. Now we'll all get what for, and kids and moms will scatter to minivans and dog-walkers will become runners and all the park picnic shelters will be full of people looking into the sky. But still, it never came. Just as quickly as they came, promising something profound, they dimmed to a gentle, pleasing shower.

Now it got interesting.

Around 3 miles in, as I've been heading south on my run, I turn west where I'm greeted with the blue skies now pushing the storm away eastward. Suddenly the sun, in some grand and dramatic epiphany, fires through like a spotlight. I mean, the world is bright, just like that. Yet, it's raining - this pleasing, gentle rain. You've seen this before. It's one of those perfect summer nights, where the storm is almost passed, and it's raining but only enough to have presence, not enough to draw children in from bicycles and tee-ball. And the sun is shining, and you have those lovely long summer shadows around you. This is what I turned into, as if on cue, heading east. And it felt so damn good, that I found myself grinning - stupid, silly grinning, thinking about what a surreal and sublime thing this was. It's like the atmosphere was following suit with the spring goslings that chase away as I approach, or like some colt wobbling next to its mother as I ride by; testing, trying, attempting. Experimenting with its world. And somehow I'm witness, and in this glorious instant there is no Ironman. There are no running shoes or high performance running shirt or sunglasses or GPS monitor on my arm. It's suddenly so basic, so easy, so damn simple; just a man running, like he's done for thousands and thousands of years, and a world breathing, as its done for thousands of years before that. I felt so small and so grand. I thought about how there is infinitely more to Becoming Ironman than 140.6 miles come September. What an adventure! Who gets to do this - run through the waking world like this? Becoming Ironman is a vessel for exploration on every level, through every complex facet of every piece of one's life, internal and external. It's like discovering a country, and each turn points to something completely new and strange and different and awesome. And I smiled and still, so easily, continued to have a brilliant run. All this around me, and I'm having an amazing workout besides.

I'm in this state of sort of focused delirium, running very happily along and in awe with all around me, when at 4 miles I turn around and head now directly west, opposite my present heading. And as I make the turnaround I very nearly literally lose my breath. I come to a place where I understand whatever truth exists behind that cliche. In my head I use the word thunderstruck for the first time in my life. There in the west, on the largest, deepest grey canvas is the most perfect rainbow I've ever seen. Like, fake perfect. Computer generated. It's a full, complete arc, end to end, 180 degrees of brilliance. The colors are alive they're so vivid - you can actually see the blue from the indigo from the violet. To this point there were, I think, two "natural" experiences that felt supernatural to me: Once 11 years ago when hiking with friends, on a particularly poignant lookout where we all stopped to look quietly, this huge eagle burst out from below the cliff and took wing. We stared gape jawed in surprise and wonder. And once, at the end of those days, when my friends were driving me home the day after my Dad died, countless, pointless mile after mile, and I in a hazy stupor of disbelief and bitter Dakota winter suffocating us, but suddenly a sun-dog hung over the sun and somehow, reflected off the icy atmosphere, formed this oddly perfect crucifix of light, its epicenter marked by the sun. And add now to that list this: On this increasingly perfect day, a union between humble man and great earth and holy sky, this blazing rainbow painted across the heavens. I ran effortless with the storm in front of me, the sun behind me, the raindrops glittery and twinkling all around me, and prayed thanks to my God.

So now I'm running, maybe 15 minutes to go, and I feel like I'm in some kind of postcard or movie. I'm a living Nike commercial. And then, with the evening sunshine hot behind me, the wet ground begins to evaporate and - as if it couldn't get any better - I'm suddenly running through mist. So if you can picture this - bright as can be yet raining, huge rainbow overlooking the world, gentle mist rising from the earth, and me. I felt small and huge. It was surreal and perfect and good.

The rainbow stayed with me the rest of the run, fading with each step until, as I took my last strides, it was just a small arc, something more typical. It's wonder was still there, as all rainbows possess, however small ("Look!" you say, pointing out the car window, "A rainbow!"), but its majesty was meant only for the duration of my miles, and its colors and presence were now more incidental. I wish I would've taken my camera with me on the run (not sure how I'd manage that), but here's what was left when I finished. You'll simply have to imagine its previous grandeur.

And so I finished my workout feeling so perfectly exercised - all mysteries aside, it was just a physically very sound workout. I felt really really great. I snapped one last picture of the skies as they were when I finished, the storm now spent, it having made its appearance in perfect unison with my hours out there. The sky looked impossible. The stuff of tiny church basement paintings.

I am not left unchanged by these days. I am Becoming, and Ironman is only part of it.

Of course I don't think it was all meant for me. But I do think that, today, I was meant for it.


Kylie said...

Wow. Just... wow. That was beautiful. I felt like I was running and biking along with you, and loving every second.

Michael Anderson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael Anderson said...

Weather: ever the divine and petulant companion.

Your workouts: ever idyllic and epic.

I am fascinated at your Becoming. And that in the midst of Great things, you find Greater.

Carry on.

Todd said...

A little glimpse of heaven...

Anonymous said...

the reading is not done yet, I will have to finish tomorrow. I am sure that I will have more to say then, but before I forget...

I am feeling that I have just stepped into the twilight zone and the rules for lightning for most people apply to swimming in water.


waterproof mp3 said...

You've description of your bike training is very vivid and full of description. Do you use music to help you motivate yourself?