Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A funny thing happened on the way to 5k...

Today some Finisher apparel that I'd purchased in the 10 days after Ironman arrived. First off - some tasty gear, let me tell you. I got a Soft Shell Jacket and a fleece vest. Before Ironman I'd owned exactly one fleece vest, about 5 years ago. Now I own two, and I find them pleasing. This one is black with the Ironman Wisconsin logo stuff on the front and FINISHER with the distances on the back. The jacket is really killer, a great winter running jacket. Same kind of embroidery, performance fleece inside, wind and water resistant on the outer shell and breathable throughout. Even without the Ironman stuff it's a really great workout jacket. With the Ironman stuff...well. It's a Finisher's jacket.

I headed out for 5k today, and wore the jacket to test it against the Elements. Today was a bonafide cold ass day. Nasty, biting wind and temps just around 30 degrees. Happy to report the jacket was awesome.

Anyway, this isn't really about the jacket at all, but now you have the necessary prologue. I was conscious as I headed out on the run that the word FINISHER was struck across my back. That the cars going by would no doubt see it, and though the distances embroidered underneath it are probably too small to be read from their distances, they'd know I was a FINISHER of something as they scanned the rest of the world they were driving by. I got to thinking what that meant. To me. To the world.

I was telling Amy's mom the other day that Ironman is not the most difficult thing I've done. It's not the most meaningful, it's not the most painful, it's not the most grueling. Nor is it the most rewarding, the most beautiful, the most remarkable. But Ironman, for me, represented all those things. It made tangible and practical my sleepless nights, my teeth-gnashing grief, my devastated heart. It made touchable my gratitude for my life and its inhabitants, my existence on this other side of despair, the refining of a belief system. The race, which was the capstone to a thousand miles before it that were no less part of Ironman, was a singular hallmark for this part of my life. It's a literal bookmark between what came before and the pages not yet turned.

There are major events in life. Things that wound us, or bind us, or build us. Things that make us. Things that, once experienced, leave us changed in its wake, or its wreckage. Places where, when we come out of them, we can honestly say, "I can never be who I used to be, ever again."

Ironman is such a thing for me. And you have to realize that it is with versed perspective that I can tell you that. There is nothing left about me that's naive. And I can tell you this now sobered from the drunken delirium that we all feel in the days immediately after the race. I can tell you that the man who shrugs his arms into the FINISHER emblazoned cloak was once one who couldn't even lift his shoulders for the effort. This is a truth. This is how it is.

As it turns out, it's not just a race. At least, it wasn't for me...and hell, it isn't for anybody. Even the professionals out there who've long since exhausted the metaphors are dueling something much baser than each other. It wasn't life and death - I've been there before. It wasn't the end of the world - I've stood on that edge too. But what you must understand is that it took going through there, to get to here. It took knowing the limits of that darkness to overcome them, and Ironman is where I made that stand. Maybe I could have made it elsewhere. Maybe I could have drawn that line on a beach somewhere, or on a road trip, or climbing a mountain, and said finally, "Ghosts, I'll be haunted no more." But I don't think so. This kind of catharsis, this kind of purging, this kind of's rooted in cultures much older than this where at some point a person goes out into his wilderness, looks into his soul, and faces himself. And in that process, he is not meant to come back unchanged.

I don't think about my workouts when I think of Ironman. I don't think of it as the culmination of an insane dedication to fitness. The things that physically get you through the race, and which are such a focus for the year or more before the race, they are secondary in my heart and mind when I think of Ironman. When I think of Ironman, I think of the choice to go out last April in numbing 40 degree temperatures, relentless rain and 30mph winds. I don't think of the ride as much, but the choice I made to ride. I think of arguing with my body to get through 3 final, painful miles on the cusp of a snowstorm last March. I can recall very few swim workouts. But I can remember getting up at 5am to go swim. I can't tell you how many miles I ran when I was on vacation. But I can tell you that I ran while I was on vacation. These were the ingredients to Becoming Ironman. Finding within myself some level of discipline and dedication where before there was none, or at least not this kind. Choosing the difficult road. Choosing in fact to abandon the road and just run like hell through the wild. It turns out it wasn't so much the doing, as the choosing to do. And friends, that is indeed what separates some from most.

So with that in mind, as I wrapped up my 3 miles, I considered that FINISHER is really a celebrated term for the descriptor of all champions: BEGINNER. He who chooses to begin the race, whatever that race is in his life. To say finally, simply, "No more. Now I go," and do something extraordinary.


triteacher said...

Once again - you've said it so well! I agree - it's all the tough choices along the way that made/make me an Ironman. (Man, do we rock.;))

TriSaraTops said...




I was THINKING all of this Tuesday when I did my first run in my NEW FINISHER TECHNICAL TEE...but you nailed it more eloquently than I ever could.

Seriously. I think you are me, but in the form of a guy who lives in Minnesota. Other than that we're right on.