Monday, October 16, 2006

The Packing Blues

It was around 9 o’clock on Saturday night and I was in the middle of packing for Hawaii when Chris came into the bathroom to tell me he was going to bed.

“Not in here you’re not,” I said pointing out towards our bedroom, “I’ve still got more packing to do.”

He looked at me standing amidst a mess of traveling items, sports gear, clothing, all of the items necessary for a race taking place thousands of miles away. Grabbing his pillow, he happily headed towards the other bedroom. He obviously sensed that it would be awhile before my mess settled down.

Packing had been dragging on for hours, as I kept adding and removing things, thinking through my plan, and trying to prepare for as much as possible. It was a few weeks ago that I had come across a quote from Paula Newby-Fraser about Ironman Hawaii in which she said, “Expect nothing, prepare for everything.” In the past few days, this phrase had become my mantra as I began thinking of every twist and turn in race scenarios, trying to prepare for any and every situation. If I could be prepared, I thought, I could at least control some part of my race, not letting the weather, the wind, or the day get me down. I had a plan for rain, a flat, two flats, dropping my salt tabs, losing food, what to think when looking at the fish in the ocean. And with each plan came a growing list of items I would need to execute that plan over 5,000 miles away.

A few days ago, when the number of items continued to increase and started bursting beyond the seams of my brain, I decided to make an Ironman packing list. At first there was the typical race wear, shoes, socks, gels. Then I added on a toiletries list. Then a general stuff category. And a clothing list. Shoes to bring. A list of grocery items to buy in Hawaii. Weather needs. Coffee cup. Heck, coffee because even though I will be staying on an island known for coffee, you never know if you’ll find yourself on in a dry part of town with no coffee to be found. Lastly, add on a list of things other people have suggested bringing but I’m not sure what I would need it for. After awhile, my list had grown to almost 4 pages of things to bring to Hawaii.

In one suitcase.

On 3 different planes.

At that point, I immediately thought of my standard black suitcase shuffling between 3 different planes en route to Oakland, then Honolulu, and by almighty miracle arriving safely in Kona with all contents in tact. I began to have worry and fears that my suitcase, with everything I need for the race, and for survival away from home, would be routed to Ellenwood, Georgia, just like my time trial bike when it got misrouted in Texas for the Buffalo Springs Lake 70.3 Triathlon. I decided to add brightly colored unmistakably identifiable ribbon for my suitcase to my packing list.

I started pulling things out of my closet, but soon forgot what I had already gotten and what I still needed to get. So I began marking everything in the computer, editing the list with each item. Piles were stacking on the floor filled with everything I would or could need. After going through the whole list, I double-checked and even made another list of things I still needed to gather. In fact, I was starting to feel surrounded by my lists; hand-written, computer generated, post-it notes on top of piles. I needed a list just to manage all of my other lists.

This list-making mania didn’t just stop at gear to pack. I made a list of activities for the entire week – breakfasts to attend, places to be – a list of questions I still needed to ask – which helmet should I wear – information to find on the internet – what time is check out, where is the nearest coffee shop - a list of things to find around the house – chamois butter - things to buy at the store – powder, coffee, Vaseline - things to do the night before the race – cut bars in ½ - things to say to myself if something starts going wrong – relax, refocus, react, recharge - things to say during the run – the faster you run the faster you get it done. I even had a list of things I wanted to do after the race – spend an entire day eating nothing but peanut butter, coffee, ice cream, cookie dough, and frosting, while washing it down with a fruity cocktail.

I still had a lot of work to do.

And there I was, standing in the kitchen, feeling overwhelmed and underpacked, and glanced over at the clock realizing that it was almost 10 pm. I stopped thinking about packing, and traveling, and instead pictured myself in a blue racing suit, running down the road with the sun growing lower in the sky. I knew that in exactly one week, I would be in Hawaii, still on the run course, on route to becoming an Ironman. What had seemed so intangible and so distant for months, was now inching closer and closer and I could see it all happening before my eyes. I laughed knowing that I would likely be in a terrible place of pain, covered in salt, sweat, and sports drink, shuffling through mile after mile. And as I stood visualizing the moment, I realized that at the end of this day, just 1 week away, and 140.6 miles later, I would be an Ironman.

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