Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Six-Week Itch

Though I’m still battling sniffles, lung congestion, and overall tiredness from my post-Kona sinus infection, while watching today’s online coverage of Ironman Arizona, I realized that I have a far bigger disease to worry about.

The 6-Week Itch.

Those familiar with the 1955 iconic film “The Seven Year Itch” may have a sense as to what lay ahead. For all others, let me fill you in. In short, the movie’s titular phrase was coined earlier by psychologists in reference to declining interest in one’s monogamous relationship after seven years of marriage.


And no – this has nothing to do with me and Nathaniel. (Though we have been married for nearly seven years… Um…wow. Has it really been that long? Ho hum…)

But instead, everything to do with triathlon, specifically Ironman.

In my lead up to Kona, I vowed that I would never do another Ironman. The long hours, the constant-sluggishness during workouts, the nerves, and insatiable hunger…just wasn’t my proverbial cup of tea. But I made it, completed the race, and was absolutely grateful for the process AND experience.

If not a little tired from everything.

Then the weeks passed. I got sick, suffered through the never-ending sinus infection; and life returned to a somewhat ‘normal’ state. Save for the fact that I (whispered) miss training. (Though I am in NO rush to get back to it... I'm letting my body my off-season...trying to get over this damned sinus crap...lung congestion...letting the body heal...)

There, I said it and admitted it.

I MISS training.

I miss the routine, miss riding my bike, miss feeling that post-workout rush when you know in your heart of hearts that you could have given up, but you didn’t and in the end that made all the difference. And you’re grateful for those times because they –more than any other – prove that you’re alive and experiencing life to the fullest. And deep down you realize that through the hard times and suffering, you’re growing and becoming a better person – because that’s just what happens when you work towards a goal that’s bigger than anything you could have ever imagined.

Plus - swimming, biking, and running - is just plain fun.

Okay, so a bit cliché – but you get my drift.

But does that mean I really need to do Ironman?

Why this distance? Why now?

Ironman is interesting; to most people, the idea of swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112, and then running 26.2 is crazy at best, impossible at worst. Then again, to those ‘types’ (and please take NO offense, because I proudly consider myself one of these ‘types’) who chose to tackle this challenge, the allure is tantalizing and promise of ‘the perfect race’ is but one race away (especially after that first one). But no one ever succeeded in life by not taking risks, by not assuming challenges. Ironman is no different.

It takes guts, it takes dedication, it takes going beyond what we thought possible into that uncomfortable realm of not knowing and definitely not having a predictable outcome. We take a risk just by gathering at that start line. Why does one person succeed at the distance while another struggles? How can one person execute a failed race strategy and still thrive, while someone else who worked for years, barely pass? Ironman takes a little bit of crazy, a lot of perseverance, and a good dose of addictive personality to boot.

Because let's face it: if it were easy, everyone would do it.

And why – for someone who was so burnt out just six weeks ago – why would they even consider doing another Ironman?

I don’t know and I certainly don’t have all the answers.

To some extent I believe it returns to the very slogan of Ironman: “Anything is Possible.”

Yes! Anything IS possible, as long as we believe, as long as we’re willing to work, as long as we can push through and GO for it. That perfect race, that slot to Kona, that age group win is JUST within our grasp and IS indeed possible…and therein lies the appeal. The belief that we can do the unfeasible, that we can make the improbable probable, that the race of our dreams is waiting for us. Always waiting.

And still…why Ironman?

What specifically about 2.4 miles of swimming, biking 112 miles, and running a marathon is so bloody appealing? Why do we keep pushing the boundaries and where does it stop? True, Ironman has been dubbed the toughest single-day endurance event on the planet; meant to test participants on many levels – from physical, to mental, to emotional. The drive, the passion, the motivation – must ALL be present. Through the endless hours spent in preparation, throughout grueling workouts, much was sacrificed for one day of sport.

True, it is one day that will forever change your life.

But why?

Perhaps by conquering the Ironman, through success beyond our imaginations, by proving that indeed anything IS possible – we can prove something greater to ourselves. That we can do it, we can succeed, and ultimately when times get tough – we will survive and live to tell the tale. Personal glory is but a small piece of the much bigger personal puzzle and mystery of Ironman. We are constantly seeking perfection from something that we have so little control over, and damn it – we won’t give up until we get it right (the way we want to get it).

It is the challenge, the struggle, our means to perfection through something so simple as sport. We do it because we love it, because we want perfection, because we're striving towards success and WANT to achieve the impossible. We want to hear Mike Reilley scream, "YOU _____________________ are an Ironman!"

I get that, and I'm with you.

But still - after everything this past year...why me? Why now?

I can tell you that while watching online and cheering virtually for my friends and fellow athletes competing in Ironman Arizona – I wanted to be there. I wanted to be out on that course, to bike those 112 miles, and to run the marathon I know I can. To slay the demons within and yell exuberantly at that finishing line. I would be remiss by letting you believe that I’m happy with my Ironman Hawaii race (note: I did NOT say results). Sure, I did the best that I could at the time, given the circumstances and considering the weeks leading up to the race – but the bottom and at the end of the day…IM Hawaii left me wanting more.

I confessed this to Nathaniel while waiting at the Kona tarmac less than 14 hours after my Kona finish. “I have unfinished business with this race…” I trailed off.

He nearly fell out of his seat.

But I knew that I wasn’t the only one.

During the race while passing a man on the Queen K just after the sun set, I heard him wistfully call out, “Next year I won’t watch the sun set from this spot. One of these years, I’ll get it right…”

The promise of that Next Great Race will always be there. Anything is possible; I truly believe that.

And therein lays the appeal.

Ironman was an impossible goal that I strove towards after breaking my back. It became my focus, something that I wanted to achieve to prove to myself that I could still do whatever I set my heart upon. At the time, I needed Ironman, it was great for me and it was there for me.

Even after qualifying for Kona at Oceanside 70.3, I still wanted to go the entire 140.6 distance, because the race was bigger still than even the Hawaii World Championship version. I wanted to be an Ironman; I had spent nearly a year before my crash working towards that goal, and to have my opportunity taken away from me less than 5 weeks before the race was excruciatingly difficult. And painful. I wanted the title of Ironman – it was about redemption, about proving that I could be better ME after enduring something so catastrophic. That even when times got tough, I could push through, survive, and be better than I was before my crash.

And I did it.

But now things are different.

Is it greedy to admit that I want that ‘perfect’ race? That I crave the age group win…? Is it shameful to confess that I want a new personal record (even though deep down, I think ‘personal records’ are trivial because all courses are different, conditions change, and it’s just downright silly to profess something that you have so little control over)? And maybe one day, if the stars are in alignment and I’m willing to do the work that it takes – a coveted wooden bowl?

Absolutely not. I’m human and I love triathlon. Moreover, I’m a goal-oriented person who isn’t afraid to dream big.

And deep down – we all are.

For a few hours today, I was convinced that tomorrow – when online registration for Ironman Arizona 2010 opened – I would sign up. Even though I’ve already tabulated and written my 2010 goals and planned my race season, I was prepared to toss it aside in exchange for Ironman.

But then I got to thinking…

What AM I willing to sacrifice and why? For what purpose?

There are so many other races out there, new adventures to try, different experiences to be had. There IS life after Ironman…and plenty of races to choose from. I’ve never actually competed in USAT Age Group Nationals; my last attempt was the infamous flooded-out and cancelled Kansas City 2005 version. I spent more time pushing stranded cars out of a wet and muddied field than actual time racing. Halfmax Nationals is also appealing – as are (deep breath) Olympic distance races. The last true International distance I competed in was…The Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon…back in July 2007.


And what about regaining my running speed? I spent so much time this past year, missing my ‘speedy’ run legs, that I doubt my problems would be solved through Ironman. Part of me jumps for joy when I confess the longest I want to run is an open half marathon. Ninety minutes…and I’m done. What about the 5k? 20 minutes – or (hopefully!) less, and I’m finished! Hooray!

Can you imagine that? I could actually eat a second breakfast and enjoy the rest of my day (albeit with sore legs and lungs), instead of racing for 10+ hours.

But still, I can hear the siren’s song of Ironman, calling my name.

Next year will be an interesting one for many reasons. I’m trying to expand my writing with more free-lance work and short story narratives; this is a new career choice for me and I’m excited at the prospects and potential. I’ve struggled for nearly all my adult life with what I want to do and where I want to go career-wise. Having a spouse in the military has only added to my indecision and uncertainty. Just as I find myself, figure things out, or getting promoted…we move. It’s easy to lose heart and get frustrated. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s tough for me, and random odd jobs, starting over with each move – is no fun. Resenting Nathaniel for doing something he loves and having a natural talent for it – does neither of us any good. So from that perspective, my new year looks towards new promise.

Additionally, Nathaniel will be spending much time working internationally and I’ll have extra time to train without the added guilt of missing our together time. I’ll be traveling more and I’m excited to see friends, family, and experience the thrill of new places. And a small part of me whispers it would be ideal to train for...Ironman...ideal...

Though it’s only been six weeks since Ironman Hawaii, it feels as good as six years. How soon we forget…

Maybe things would be better if I gave it another go? Now that I know what to expect – won’t that make the process easier to bear? I know how my body responds, will be able to recognize the inevitable downs and ups and ups and downs, and have already experienced success at my first attempt…won’t it get better? Is that perfect IM waiting just around the unseen corner?

If I DON’T sign up, what will I miss?

After all – as Wayne Gretzky once so famously said – “We miss 100% of the shots we don’t take.”

But what if my path lay in a different direction?

And what if the BEST thing I could do for myself, is to NOT do Ironman? I can honestly say the thought never crossed my mind; but now that it has…the possibilities seem…endless.

So with that, I’ll have to wait to pull the invisible trigger on Ironman Arizona – or any Ironman, for that matter. I’ve already decided to not race IM St. George in May. My body needs a break, especially given the fact I’m still sick and my blood counts are a bit out of whack. If that's not a sign in and of itself, I don't know what is. There will be plenty of time in the future for Ironman.

And I know that I only have a limited number of these efforts in me - so I want to use them wisely. So really… where’s the fire? Crossing the IM finish line is wonderful – but I’m not willing to give up so much of my time (and health) in order to do it the way I want to do it. Or just because the timing (in the next year) seems "right".

There has to be MORE, a better reason - the kinds that makes me leap for joy and get jittery from excitement. And I'm just not feeling those reasons now.

I know that Ironman will always be there, especially in lieu of the brand’s success. One day when I’m physically, mentally (and emotionally) ready to part with an entry fee that is akin to a fabulous –albeit cheap – pair of Jimmy Choo shoes, I’ll be the first in line to sign up. And I have so much respect for the distance and what it means to become and Ironman, that I want to be sure the reasons behind my journey are right for me.

Until then, I’ll push aside my 6-week itch and think about short races, fast sprints, track workouts, swimming with speedy German ITU visitors, hard bike intervals that last no more than six minutes, having the energy to hike with Nathaniel and spending time with friends. And that makes me…happy.

It is true: with Ironman, ANYTHING is possible. So is waiting another year or two until I’m ready.

To those of you ready to embark upon your own Ironman journeys in 2010, I salute you! It will be an exciting one, filled with adventure, personal growth, and valuable life lessons. I’ll be cheering for YOU from the sidelines, supporting every step of the way and happy that I’m not out there.

This past year, Ironman was an incredible journey –for which I’ll always be grateful. One day I’m excited to return, but for now, I’m looking forward to short, quick, fast, and speedy, different, and new. And I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.

Yes – anything IS possible!


Nicole said...

Oh my gosh! I feel your pain! Try being a lifeguard and picking out poop from the pool with a net, and thinking, "I was an engineer before I came here..." Yes, yes. I thought that I was past that odd job stage in my life after I graduated from college. I guess I was wrong. I hate the uncertainty. I have worked very hard to not resent Steve for doing something that he is indeed very natural at as well, but everyone has their crazy time... I'm so excited for your writing endevours! You are a great writer, and I look forward to reading more!! At least you can do that from anywhere!

Pedergraham said...

Marit, I enjoyed this post. I have to confess that I am glad that you didn't "pull the trigger" for Arizona...given your fatigue from this fall. BUT, on the other hand, I can completely understand your need to come up with your own adventure while Nathaniel is having his. I hope that your adventure ends up being the perfect parts of challenge, hard work, fun, and satisfaction. (Maybe a trip to Vermont for open water swim camp? We don't have any water monsters here besides the ones in my imagination!) I will keep my fingers crossed that lots of great writing opportunities come your way.

D said...

I've got to say it...
I'd take Steve King at a finish line ANY DAY over Mike Reilly.

Charisa said...

Love your pics of the ball and hiking! And the cake story - so good :) You're going to have tons of fun next year - can't wait!

Beth said...

Oh Marit!! You are going to have so much fun next year doing all short stuff. It's GREAT - you can race all the time!! :) And when you are ready to come back to IM, you will be coming from a different angle - a speedy angle. And you'll be so glad you "only have to run 8 minute pace" :) Can't wait to follow you on your next journey!!

Ryan said...

Wow, I'm 3 post behind and that was A LOT of reading.

Nice hike, nice kitty kitty. I am glad you didn't see the owner of that paw print. Wonder if lions purr while they eat you?

Just imagine how cool it would look to have an MDOT logo on your shoulder while wearing your ball gown at the Marine Corp ball ;-)

I think when you look at what is happening at Ironman races with the short course athletes making the step up to Ironman distance you are right on track to go back, speed up, and come back stronger and faster.

As for me...I closed the window just before hitting send (I had my credit card # entered) on my entry into Ironman AZ. I too have some unfinished business in Kona and AZ would have just given me an excuse to ease up in Hawaii...

Maria said...

damn...I was really hoping you would sign up for an IM next year, I love following your adventures! Oh well, I supposed I can wait around...

Mary said...

Everyone should be scared because the Diesel is just going to be that much faster at shorter distances! You'll also have plenty of adventures and great stories without the IM training and races. Hope you get back to good health soon!

Jennifer Yake Neuschwander said...

I don't know if they will continue to offer this...but I got my IMAZ spot at Oceanside last year. At the end of the awards they opened up spots for almost all of the NAS IM's . There were more spots available than those who wanted them. The price is the same, no penalty and it allowed me the time to think about if I really wanted to do the distance again.