Sunday, September 20, 2009
We don't promise you a Rose Garden
Well folks, my last long run is in the books, and I can safely say that it was the most ugly run I've ever done. Period. Rarely is it true that both the body and mind feel weak, but Saturday's run was an exception.
My heart rate felt high, my breathing was embarrassingly loud - at times feeling like I was breathing through a straw, my layers upon layers of black clothing made me look like an idiot and the three hours that I spent outside running only confirmed that fact. I'm sure the Marines and Family at the HMLA-367 Family Pick-nick were wondering who hired the freak show to keep plodding by, every 37-40 minutes.
Heck, had they taken me in, stripped off the ungainly layers, and given me a few ounces of cool-ish beverages, I would have volunteered for the dunk tank (they were looking for takers). As it was during my fifth pass, it was all I could do to restrain myself from tackling the CO (commanding officer), wrestling him out of the tank and yelling, "DUNK ME!"
Suffice to say, it didn't get that extreme.
But we were close.
At twenty minutes in, I was convinced that after my first pass of the car (where I had another 4 bottles of water, 4 gels, and enough salt that would put any bag of jumbo pretzels to shame) at mile 4.4 would be my last. I would call it quits. Finito. This. Just. Wastn'. Fun.
It was no longer fun.
My mood actually picked up in - what I thought would be - my last ten minutes of running. I had a brief cooling breeze and the grade was slightly downhill. My breathing sounded less Darth-Vadar-ish and I was actually on pace and making decent time. I just felt like shit, but everything else was great.
But as I ran to the car, I realized that I just couldn't stop. If it were any other race at all....
But it wasn't.
With Ironman Hawaii on the horizon and looming closer with each passing day, I knew that I needed this workout - perhaps not so much physically, but mentally. Because in Ironman, in a race, and as oftentimes with life - we don't always have the pleasure or even the ability to quit when things get tough. Instead, we are forced to grit our teeth, to carry on, to finish what we started in spite of the space between our ears and how our bodies respond.
I knew that when the going gets tough out in Kona, IF I WERE TO INCOMPLETE OR FAIL THIS WORKOUT IN ANY WAY, I WOULD HAVE THAT KNOWLEDGE HANGING OVER MY HEAD. And in a race where so much of your result is based on mental fortitude, I didn't want to be weakened in any way. I don't want to look back on this run and remember what I didn't do.
So I quickly grabbed a gel, three salt tabs and a fresh bottle of water, and was on my way for another 4.4 mile loop.
I tried to break it down. Lap by lap, step by step. Just put one foot ahead of the other. I thought about other friends, training for their own races and drew inspiration from that. In passing the Wounded Warrior Battalion, I thought about all the injured service members who would love to just run, who would be grateful to go even for a 'shitty' run, because right now they can't. I thought about Herrad and and access-denied life with MS and knew she would relish the opportunity to be outside.
But it was still hard. My breathing was reaching a comical pitch, my clothes were covered in salt, and my heart rate was somewhere up up and away!
And I really don't know why: but I kept going. Lap after lap after bloody lap. In the middle I could tell what a dark, uncomfortable, unhappy place I was in and convince myself that this would be the last lap. 8.8..and then..13.2...and then..17.6.....respective miles are plenty.
For lack of a better word, I was just uncomfortable. I never had my breathing under control - within the first few steps it was loud (embarrassingly loud), and in thinking back, I've NEVER sounded like this while running in a non-race situation.
But as the car came in sight at the end of each successive lap, I realized that in spite of my steam-engine breathing, high heart rate, and general uncomfortableness, I still needed to finish, to go all the way. Pausing briefly to pick up another gel, more salt tablets, and yet another luke-warm bottle of water, it dawned on me that my motivation stemmed from fear.
I was afraid of failure.
I was afraid that if I stopped this run, I wouldn't be prepared to the best of my ability for Ironman Hawaii.
I was afraid that if I LET myself quit now, that it will be easier to quit in the future when the going gets REALLY tough.
I was afraid that for the first time, my body was stronger than my mind.
I was afraid of stopping because I didn't know how, when, or if I could start again.
I was afraid that if I couldn't suck it up in practice, then I'll never be able to make it during a race.
I was afraid of failure.
It was at that point - after completing three 4.4 mile loops, that I had a conversation with myself. Out loud. And yes, the Marines exiting the Hospital Gym gave me a funny look and a wide berth, but I didn't care. I think they just blamed it on the heat.
"Okay...here's the deal. This is the LAST loop that you've got to do. The body will follow whatever the mind dictates. Your mid IS stronger than your body. If you can will it, it will happen."
I pushed the pace as much as I could, even running 5 minutes HARD at the top of two hours, and was later reduced back to my snail's pace. Just put one foot in front of the other.... This is what you'll need for mile 18 coming out of the Energy Lab....this is what you need....be strong....I know you're miserable - but there will be plenty of time to think of that when you're done....no crying now...that just takes up precious oxygen, and lord knows we're not getting enough of that as it is....if you can will it to happen...will it....I willl.....I willll
Passing the car at 2:30 after my fourth lap was easier than I thought. Now that the majority of the work was done, I knew that the end was within sight. Still breathing loudly, dripping wet and sporting black layers of clothing, I ran back to the restrooms at Lake O'Neil, past the dunk tank and then looped around back to the car.
I knew that my finishing time of 2:45 wasn't exactly on target mileage-wise...but no one would know and I could put this blasted run behind me...
But somewhere, in the back of my head, a little voice piped in, "I would know. Do you really think 19.4 miles is enough? After all you've been though. How hard would it be to finish this thing the right way?"
Ignoring the car as I ran by, I decided to run 3:00 up the road and then loop 3:00 back. If I could do that...I could do just about anything...
And in the end I did.
It wasn't pretty, and it really wasn't fun. Then again - it didn't need to be. I just needed to do it. To shut OFF my mind. keep the negative thoughts at bay, to keep my body moving, to be out there putting in the time for what will undeniable be one of the most challenging races of my life.
No one ever said Ironman training would be easy.
More difficult than my run, was trying to explain it to Nathaniel. He could tell something was amiss, but just didn't know what to say or how to say it. Pushing through an experience like I had running yesterday...well, it almost feels as though you've built a wall between yourself and the rest of the world. Deep down, how do you explain the monsters and demons that terrify? How can I describe to someone the effort of will? How do you tell someone it was the most difficult run ever and that your main source of motivation was through fear?
I just couldn't.
I had done it, completed the run, earned my stripes, step by bloody step. No, it wasn't pretty and it certainly wasn't sweet smelling...but I did it, and can one day look back and think, "Man...that was one helluva tough run. If I could do that, I could do anything."
And in the end - that's what really matters. Not necessarily how you feel, but what you do about it. And while I realize that it wasn't my fastest pace, I still did it. I still got it done.
And you can too.