Friday, October 19, 2007

Riding Into The Light

Thursday was a wet, wild, rainy, loud, rainy, thunderous, (did I mention rainy?), heckuva day. I started the day out with a battle of the "Selves", which was useless because the External Motivator got me up and going anyways (see previous post). Got the swim accomplished and then had to figure out what to do for my intense bike workout. I was supposed to do an hour in hr zone 4-5a - I tell you, my coach has a sick sense of humor. I always joke to my training friends and to Nathaniel that Memo is evil - but he's really got my best interests at heart, and I wouldn't be the athlete that I am without his support. And besides, I really do enjoy the hard stuff, the workouts that not only help build your physical performance, but that also challenge you mentally. Back to the weather dilemma. By 11:15 am we had already had 3 confirmed tornadoes sweep through Escambia Co., and one direct hit in downtown Pensacola. Nate and I were safe and sound, and while I was VERY happy that I got my swim in early (the pool REALLY would have been closed during the afternoon), the bike workout posed a completely new problem.

I really don't like the trainer all that much. It's not my friend, and if I can get out of using it - after all, we do live in Sunny Florida (The Sunshine State!) - I will. I would much rather bike outside... the way biking was intended. Go from point A to point B. None of this stationary stuff - it makes me feel like a hamster stuck in my own torturous spinning wheel.

But I've also had my close share of lightning encounters, so I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mother Nature in all of her splendor. The worst being a freak storm that broke directly over my head while we were living in North Carolina. It was literally raining lightning (imagine Thor, Norse God of Thunder, throwing down lightning bolts one after another in rapid succession), and after a 1/4 frantic sprint across an open field to an office building probably saved my life, I never want to be in that situation again. It was by far the scariest moment of my life. It still gives me shivers to this day. Anyways, while curling up on the couch and admiring the lightning display is a fun thing to do on a gloomy fall afternoon, being stuck outside on a bike during such said storm is NOT a fun thing to do. So with a heavy heart, I dragged out the trainer and mentally prepared myself for a tough workout.

I set up my gear, bike, bottles, nutrition, ipod (I don't usually use the ipod while biking or running, preferring instead to listen to the constant buzzing and dialogue in my head - but for this kind of workout, the ipod would be essential, as the buzzing would instead be screaming for mercy. Sometimes mindless, upbeat, motivating music is what gets you through, plain and simple), mirror (for form checking - a habit that I can't seem to break back from my days of rowing and erging indoors. We always had mirrors to check our technique), and got the overhead fan going. After puttering around for half an hour (who knew that throwing on bike clothes could be so time consuming?), I was finally ready to go. I had my gear in order, my clothes on, hr monitor beeping, blood flowing, gumption up: I was ready to tackle the workout.

Only one more thing to do: write the motivational words I would use to get me through the workout. Something else to focus on when my mind and body were telling me to stop! Words to remind me to keep going - you CAN do it! Key phrases that when I found myself inevitably hitting a wall 38 minutes into my piece, I could remind myself why I was here, why I was doing this. And that this workout was just a small piece of the puzzle. That when things got dark, when I was at my weakest moment and didn't think I could push a bigger gear that in fact I could! Just focus. Believe. I paused. I thought for a few minutes, and then with careful consideration, made my list.

And then I started. Warm-up went fine, thankfully uneventful. I noted the flashes of lightning outside, and felt the rumbling of thunder as it reverberated through my core. Or maybe that was my breathing in anticipation of the workout. The suffering would soon begin, but with my trusty ipod, motivational words, and a will that was stronger than any weakness that I felt, I knew I would succeed. Just tick off 5 minutes at a time. I had enough words to keep me going, hell, I could do this workout for 2 hours if I wanted, I was that focused.

As my watch beeped down to start time, I felt my heart rate rise, I started sweating, and I just wanted to rip the pedals off my bike and GO! This workout was no longer about anger at the storm, frustration with the lightning, or fear of pain. I was ready. I was set. I was willing no, nay, looking forward to suffering on this piece. Lactate threshold? Bring it on, I say. Just try to get the best of me, because I'm stronger than you. I won't crack. I CAN! My body will do this, it will be hard, it will be painful, and I accept that. This is now my reality, this is now my focus for the next 60 minutes. This workout is mine, and nothing, not fear, not pain, nothing will take this away from me.

So there I was, cranking out a great set on my bike. It was hard, I was sweaty, and I sounded like a caboose, wheezing away, pushing the train forward with all of my might. But this was MY train. Think of "The Little Engine That Could". I think I can I think I can I think I can. I used my keywords, I focused, pushed, and I propelled myself to beyond pain, beyond fear. And I just went. Thunderstorm be damned, trainer or not, nothing could hold me back, not even the mental fatigue I knew would inevitably occur. And whenever I felt this - unspeakable pain or faintness of heart, or dropping of my heart rate below my set zone - I would look and my list and redouble my efforts. I was here. I was doing it. And I would know if I didn't truly give my best effort. And that, my friends, was the key.

In the end, only I would know if I truly gave it my all. Days from now, weeks, hell - even years from now this single workout will not be an intrinsic part of my life. It would not be life altering like the lightning storm or the stairway banner that was kicked down the stairs (see the post "Happy Birthday Karyna"). It would not be a treasured souvenir carried with me whenever we moved, or something that I might even remember. It'll just be another workout in my log, something else that I did, that I accomplished, and then moved on. But that's the entire point. Deep down, I would know, my body would remember, and I would carry that knowledge with me into my next workout and into my next race. I've learned so much in the past few years with this sport, one of the most important lessons being that once you give up, once you let yourself slip, ease up, or stop, despite a significant mental dialogue, it becomes much easier to stop the next time. No one would know if I eased up during the workout, no one would know if I took the easy way. But I would have know.

I would have known.

Once you do something, it's done, finished, finito. Have a bad race or workout - that's okay. Get over it. Just learn from your mistakes, figure out why, and then try to fix the problem in the future. I've learned the hard way that while it may be easy to ease up during a workout or race and your body soon gets over the effort, you mind doesn't soon forget. Regret is an awful feeling, and wondering "what if" and "could I have done more?", is something that you can't change. I would much rather push through and find new limits, rather than question "what if".

And that's how I found myself "riding into the light." Sometimes you just have a great day, things are going well, and you feel at your peak. Other times you have to work a little harder. Nathaniel snapped this picture when I was halfway through the ride. I didn't even realize he was there until he nearly scared me out of my wits and appeared next to me. Thankfully I didn't pee my pants. I was focused, ready, and willing to go. And the thunder rumbled, lightning flashed, and I had no regrets.

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