Monday, June 08, 2009

harder, better, faster...smarter.

A funny thing happened on the way to 60 miles yesterday.

I was on my bike, doing my thing and feeling good, wondering if I'd outride the thunder storms that were forecast. About 35 miles in I heard my first rumblings of thunder, then a few minutes later the first spatters of rain. A few minutes after that the downpour started.

I'm not opposed to riding in a downpour - in fact I think it's pretty dope (minus the cleaning the machine requires afterwards - that's a pain in the ass) - but the rain reached a point where I couldn't see through my Oakleys, couldn't make sense of if the rain was falling down or ricocheting back up off the road, couldn't see far enough ahead of me to be sure that drivers could see me. So I found a wooded spot, pulled over, and dragged my bike down into the woods, finding a collection of close-together trees that provided some protection. It was annoyingly cold, so I mostly tried to keep warm and avoid the worst of the rain.

The sky flickered with lightning, and I remember thinking - geez, that has to be bright stuff, lightning. To actually brighten past daylight. The thunder cracked, the lightning came, the rain fell, and me and my machine chilled out. It was about 7:30 in the morning, sensible people were still asleep, but I was at some kind of church, I'll tell you.

10 or 15 minutes passed, and rain lightened up enough where I thought I'd get back on my horse and hit the trail. There was still a lot of thunder though, still a lot of flickering. I was in a pretty forested stretch of road, though, so couldn't really see enough of the sky to get a sense for what was coming or going.

A few miles later I turned onto a more open stretch of road, and the sky broiled ahead of me, all gray and angry and wanting to take me to Oz. I was headed straight into it with the miles I'd have in this direction. The sky flickered again, and I thought - well, if it's just flickery lightning, that's one thing, but if I see the crazy Strike You Down splinters of light crack the sky, that's a whole other thing. It wasn't two seconds later when, coinciding with a huge crescendo in rainfall, a big splinter of light shattered the sky ahead and to the left. All while I was rolling in open terrain, a lonely thing on a lonely road.

Does Carbon Fiber conduct electricity? Don't they say you're safe in cars because the tires are rubber? That sounds like bullshit to me. I wonder if I'd be safe on my bike, then, with my rubber tires? That sounds like more bullshit. I read where this dude's shirt melted into his skin once when he was struck by lightning. I wonder what technical thermal fabric is like when it melts. I have metal on the cleats of my shoes, I wonder what that would do to a person. All this passed through my mind in about 2 seconds, when I became suddenly very nervous about the whole situation. I think the lightning was still a few miles ahead of me. But I was creeping myself out. Plus, I couldn't see a damn thing anymore. But at the moment, there was zero protection around. About a quarter mile ahead was a small copse of trees in a lower-lying area. I kicked into gear into a pissed-off wind and rode like hell.

I waited for another 15 minutes, huddled under some pretty useless branches and getting generally soaked, watching the show, when I finally decided it was enough, I'd cut my ride short by 6 miles and head home. The sky was still electrified, and the wind was still crazy, but at least heading the opposite direction of the storm I felt like things were less dangerous.

Two things really rolled through my head as I cruised the 20 miles home. The first, which had really been on my mind since I found myself feeling stranded in the middle of lightning-fest, was my daughter. And of course that's cliche, and expected, but there you go. I don't want to be overly dramatic here - it's not like I felt my life was at risk or anything like that, but I had a choice to increase, or decrease my risk. And the game has, by nature, a lot of risks that I understand and accept already. I'm uninterested in uncovering more just because they might be interesting to find. When I say I was thinking of my daughter, it's not quite as visceral as "I owe it to her" or anything like that (though, I do). It's really a complex thought process, that involves responsibility for and to others. Acceptable and responsible behaviors. Avoiding stupid things - I tell this to my dog Jack all the time, "don't do stupid things". If I find myself in trouble somewhere, sometime - well, that's life, and that's triathlon. But if I find myself in trouble because I did something stupid - and "trouble" can be defined as something really threatening or just going south on the run because I stupidly rode too hard on the bike after pushing too hard in the water - well then I can only hold myself accountable for that. It seems pretty obvious that riding into lightning qualifies as a stupid thing. And of course, there is that more visceral thing - I do owe it to her, and to myself, and to my family, to work hard out there - but within sensible limits. It's just a game, after all.

The second thing in my head was how completely opposite this entire approach is to anything I experienced when I was training for Ironman the first time. Then I would've seen the thunder and lightning and ridden as hard as I could into it. I would've dared the thunderbolts to come find me. I had, so fruitlessly, so much to prove; strictly to myself. Everything was some epic battleground. The world was my combatant enemy, and Ironman was just our convenient theater. When I did Ironman in '06, I did it thinking I was so much stronger than I really was. The fact that I was so restless, so eager to find a fight, proves only my weakness, my lack of self-confidence and awareness, my distortion of priorities and purpose. You'll find this theme throughout all of '06 (go ahead and re-read entries from back then if you like, I'll wait...) - I remember doing a half Iron race where the volunteers sent me 2 miles or something out of the way, and I, enraged, pushed the pedals like crazy to make up the time. Only to, inevitably, fall apart on the run. Really - how stupid is that? Every long ride, every long run, every race was a duel with ghosts and monsters and spectres who each and all looked just like me.

But - except with the objective perspective of that time - I'm not critical of it. That's what my process was about, then. It was so much less about the game and so much all about me. But that's the personal space I was in. And if I want to get a little self-analyzing, I'll probably find more examples than I'm comfortable with of self-defeat, of personal punishment. Of choosing to take the stairs when I could just as easily take the elevator, because dammit the stairs are harder. Well and good, I guess. I needed that, then. I needed to pick a fight. I'm glad I found myself a worthy opponent.

Inasmuch, though, as Ironman has hardly ever been about the miles, I am struck by the sharp contrast of this experience. First of all, I'm so much more patient. I have a perfectly laid out plan - which I'm happy to deviate from if it proves I should at any time - that gets me the miles I need in a time I need to (hopefully) peak at Ironman. I'm not about just finishing this race (with the normal disclaimers that, of course, that's the first and only real goal of the day). I'm putting myself to it just like I did last year's 70.3 and marathon - I want to do the race under the optimum conditions for success. That's not about coming in under a certain time or goal, it's just knowing that I did it to the very peak of my ability, wherever that gets me, whatever that is. I'm not fearful of the race, I'm not even intimidated by its grueling distance and challenge. I welcome that. I enjoy it, I submerse myself into it. Maybe that's the difference this time around - I don't feel in opposition to Ironman, and that I need to conquer some part of myself to acquire the title. I feel, this time around, so far perfectly in tune and in time with Ironman. I'm going with the current. I'm trusting myself, my experience, my abilities. I don't require convincing myself that the distances are even possible. I'm not afraid of this.

Which isn't at all to say or suggest that I'm not feeling tremendously challenged, or like I'm not having to bust my ass to make this all happen, or that I don't think this is hard, hard work. Because it is. And if there are not epic battles this time around, there are definitely skirmishes. I said the first time around - and I believe this - that you have to be a little mad to do Ironman. You have to have something deep within you that is restless, or angry, or unsatisfied, to think it logical to subject yourself to it. But this time around, those elements are so much lesser a part of the scene that, really, they're not useful to think about. I don't have any chip on my shoulder this time is my point. I'm strategic, rather than tactical. I choose to work smarter instead of work harder. My head is much more in the game, rather than the game being so much in my head. True enough that these things all come, as one would expect, with time spent in training and racing - you live, you learn. But moreso, it's a different me out there now. A me that knows so much more. And a me that expects so much more.

Anyway, that's what's up with me lately.

In the next few days, I'll hopefully share a post about all the cool new toys, gadgets, and gizmos I've been playing with. Lots of cool stuff around here. Until then, train hard and be smart everybody -


Team Brazo said...

I really look forward to seeing your IMWI09 results - it's fun "hearing" about your progress/plan and I can just see it coming together. Hopefully we get some nice weather for the day. Like I tell the kids - do the work, try your best, and enjoy.

Have a nice day.

Erin said...

Awesome. You're going to rock this year.

KodaFit said...

My apologies again, if someone upstairs was indeed upset with me, and the rain was all my fault!

That was truly inspiring - not quite "the print it out and tape it on my aero-bars" type inspiration, but it makes me think about where I'm at, why I'm racing and training for equally insane events. I particularly liked the description of battles against demons, spectres and ghosts...

Thanks for sharing!

Alili said...

I'm living vicariously through you this season - thank you for not killing us both via lightening strike.

Anonymous said...

technically once you are hit the electricity would probably have been conducted through your feet and since your hands were most likely touching some metal, i think that it would have gone directly out the top of your head. and, fyi, it is really hard to swim with a tupee on. so, wise choice in turning around picasso. also, the shirt would have totally melted to your skin. but then you probably never have to buy another shirt again. sick eh?

JK said...

Hey X -

T Schell's buddy Jesse here...I'll be toeing the line at IMWI with you in just a couple of months.

I really appreciate your perspective on 2nd vs. 1st time Ironman.

As a first timer, you're helping me see that I am indeed racing to prove something (to myself in this case). That's good energy, if you're smart, realize it, and harness it appropriately.

Thanks for keeping me in check. I might be out right now doing a century + 20 mile runoff if not for your words of wisdom!