Some weeks the pursuit of my goals is a wild ride that I have to hang on to with a firm grip and both hands.
It started Monday. Monday was my easy day. Wait, I take that back. Thinking about it Monday was not my easy day. Monday was the day I swam the 1000 yards wearing an oversized long sleeved shirt with paddles on my hands. That was anything but easy. And when the lady in the lane next to me asked if she could help me put the shirt on – well, I realized I had reached the point where non-swimmers were now feeling sorry for me.
But Monday’s excitement didn’t stop there. I had a hard run with 10K intervals. My original plan was to run these on the track – it’s about 10 minutes from our house. Apparently the school though they would use their own track meaning I was not allowed. Plan B. Really there was no Plan B. There was just the only other option which was running in the neighborhoods around the track. Perhaps the most unattractive, industrial neighborhoods you can find around here and entirely on pavement. Not too great for 10K intervals but I thought to myself if I can push to 10K pace around these ugly parts I can do it anywhere.
Brassy attitude. But did I mention the 40 degrees and 500 mph headwind that day? The one that I had to run into going downhill at top end speed into oncoming traffic because the only place to run was literally in the gutter (good for IT Bands) and still finding myself 1 minute slower than 10K pace. I’ll blame that on the wind because based on the amount of snot blowing out of my noise and the wheezing in my chest you can’t say I wasn’t trying hard.
That was Monday. But being so early in the week I decided the weather, conditions and workouts couldn’t kill my spirit. Yet. So Tuesday morning I hopped in the car at 6:30 am and drove 45 minutes north to my coach’s house. Why? Because she has a computrainer and she wanted me to ride the St. Croix course. I was given a time limit and looking at the profile of the course I was a little scared. But I’m also incredibly stubborn and driven to succeed and told myself it will take me less than x:xx hours if my wheels burn off.
They almost burned off. Anyone who thinks training indoors on a computrainer is easy or nothing like the real thing I invite you to join me the next time I ride the St. Croix course. No there were no tropical breezes nor high humidity but I do believe that baking under a 100 watt track light bulb in a basement with a small fan counts for character points at the very least. Jennifer came downstairs at one point and said you are riding it hard and I thought to myself – is there any other way? Because I tell myself that if I can suffer, sweat, and bake while riding a 13% grade beast at 9 mph and 42 rpms while going nowhere in this basement then I can survive whatever happens on race day.
The day did not end there. Later that night I had to swim. Actually I was supposed to swim that morning. I believe the orders were to wake up for 5:30 am masters then drive to the coach’s house. But while I am usually good at following orders I am not crazy. But I’ll tell you what. I should have just followed her crazy command. Because swimming at 8 pm when you have ridden over 60 miles indoors earlier in the day – not a good thing. I believe the set was something like 3 x 400. And when I was supposed to negative split the second 200 and added 20 seconds instead…..I called myself done. But I was bound to keep swimming. So I turned off my kick, crossed my ankles and imagined swimming over the water in the ocean instead (very good exercise for forcing yourself to focus on front end swimming). After a 400 of that, the coach approached my lane.
“Elizabeth, what is going on with your swim tonight.”
Oh, that? You mean the fact that I am going about 15 seconds slower per 100 and have completely lost my kick? Well I believe you could blame it on the computrainer or my coach but I’m not pointing fingers yet.
“So that was on purpose.”
You could say.
“Because I was about to get out the hook and rescue you.”
Thanks. But totally unnecessary. There is a purpose to this. All of it. And even when I find myself scraping the bottom of the pool with totally trashed legs I will make something out of it. I will.
Because I’m determined. I’m driven. And I’m not giving up. Not yet. Wednesday however almost had me singing a different tune. I was in the pool. Again. For possibly the 20th time this week. I swam another 4000+ yards set and it involved holding my breath. So much breath holding that I actually had to exit the pool to poop (there are things I won’t even do in the pool) because Chris tells me when you hold your breath it can confuse your body into thinking you are trying to kill it and it then has to poop.
So then I was really tired. After all, my body is convinced I’m trying to kill it so I believe it just shut down. Sent coach an e-mail about the track workout that night and she pretty much said unless you have misplaced a leg you should get your ass on the track. Not in those words exactly but close.
Went to the track. Hadn’t been to track club in roughly 5 years. Slightly scared. As a runner I know that track is a very sacred place where you do very sacred painful things. That is why I don’t go often. It’s serious shit. So we decided this year I need to go to chase fast people and really learn to hurt again. That said, I put myself in the big boy group. I say big boy because I was the only girl. I had no business being in the big boy group. Not just because I was a girl. Because after they did the first mile which I hung with they decided to drop the pace. Since I was reeducating myself in the subject of hurt, I forced to myself to hang on for…two laps. The next one I barely made it one and hung on to my own pace for dear life for the next three laps. Afterwards, I was approached by one of the big boys.
“That was very brave what you did.”
Now what did I do? Did I do 3 miles with my goggles on? Is there a paddle attached to my hand because I’ve swum so much lately I wouldn’t know if there was. Or, worse yet, am I by any chance wearing a soaking wet oversized cotton t- shirt with a woman chasing me who is trying to help?
“You chased a faster group, not many would be willing to give that a try. You could have just led the second group but you went with the fast guys.”
Oh that. Well, I guess I have decided this year that I would rather hang on for dear life being the little fish in big pond than big fish in fish bowl. Call me crazy but I just need more room to grow and besides I’m tired of eating flakes.
After an easy spin that night I finally ate dinner at 9 pm. And it was more than flakes.
Thursday. I don’t remember Thursday. Wait, I do. It was my “easy” day. I use quotes because an easy day by definition in my dictionary is not a 2 hour indoor ride. But that’s what the schedule said – 2 hour easy ride. And I do as the schedule says. Most of the time.
Two hours inside is the equivalent of at least three outside. Four if it’s supposed be easy. Because hard rides have things like intervals, recoveries, rpms and wattages to keep you busy. Two hours easy is just two hours – you…ride. So I decided to get through this ride would take a major shake up. Changing the view. I used my husband’s trainer. Yes, I’m hoping the basement will look a world different when you change position to the right by about 6 feet.
And what do you know – it is. Especially since his trainer is smack under a track light. So not only is it a different point of view but it’s hotter than hell. This is good training for St. Croix I think. Now if I could just figure out a way to ride my bike up the stairs I could also train for the beast.
An hour goes by. Not that fast – oh no. It took flipping through over 547 songs on my I-Pod (of which I listened to about 3 all the way through) and then a lot of singing of songs (good for building lung capacity). My thoughts ranged from my athletes (how are they doing), Bree Wee (how fair is it that she is climbing mountains and I am slowly baking under a track light), my coach (evil for prescribing an easy ride lasting this long on an easy day), my husband (doesn’t he know it’s 100 degrees cooler six feet to the left), and the dog (what is he possibly crapping on upstairs). I save the deep thoughts for my hard rides. The easy rides – as you can see, anything goes.
After that the easy day went by much too fast. And then Friday arrived. A moderately easy day but one in which I would do all three. I chose to swim first. Lucky for me it’s a taper workout as our swim team tapers for the state meet. Not so lucky because it involved a lot of max effort 25’s with fins. Mid pool 25’s to work on turns. And then a 200 medley relay. I chose to do butterfly. Kind of by default it was either free or backstroke but then I said what if I offer to do fly. If you want to make friends really quick at masters you should offer to do fly.
After swimming I went for a run. Easy run in Zones 1 – 2. Legs however didn’t get the memo that this run was just supposed to feel good. It – did – not. It felt bad. Really bad. VERY VERY VERY bad. So bad I had to stop. And stretch. And then almost didn’t want to start up again. I can do this. But then I had a thought – what if I can’t. What if my legs won’t go. I almost burst into tears. How is it I can emerge victorious from the computrainer setting a new CP30, 60 and 180 but be on the edge of breakdown at an easy 45 minute run. I wanted to quit. I have never wanted to quit before. Who quits? Not I. But I was tired of feeling pain. I wondered if I could do it anymore.
But then I got mad. I often get mad at myself. For allowing such useless thoughts. For considering a quit. I haven’t quit yet and I’m not quitting now. I will run into the headwind and have the best run I can. So I picked up sticks. Held on to them to work on eliminating crossover. I am the crazy girl in the forest running into the wind while holding sticks. I have hit a new low. But there is a purpose behind this. The sticks are really for my head. Because I have found when all else fails I can focus on form and distract myself from more unsettling thoughts.
I left my sticks behind. I also may have left my mind about four days ago. But for the rest of my day I really just needed my legs. So I could not worry about my head. It was time to bike. The bike wasn’t easy but it wasn’t hard. But thank goodness it was only one hour. At this point one hour is like why bother at all. It takes me longer than an hour to put on my shoes. Let’s go for two. But of course I stop at one. Finally I am done!
For the day. Because then Saturday arrived. It was 37 degrees and pouring rain. Not exactly ideal for a 100 minute run. So I swap workouts instead. I do Sunday’s two hour ride and 30 minute run. With coach out of town I take it upon myself to write my own misery for the day. A two hour workout with set cadence and speed. It was hard! Why did I do that to myself? I should have just pled "no workout written" and ridden easy instead. And then off to run.
Running on the treadmill I thought to myself you chose this, you could have been some place else. As you can tell, I ended up staying home this past weekend. I had many enticing invitations to train all over the country in beautiful locations, hills, and warm weather with substitute sherpas. But in the end I decided to stay at home. Because I knew it would come to this – a week’s worth of workouts that had mentally – and physically – kicked my ass. Training in Illinois does this to you. It is ugly, hard, cold, wet, undesirable – it is all of these things for 6 months out of the year. But if you can get through it you emerge stronger than you were before.
What do you know. I am stronger. I’m hauling ass on the treadmill in Zone 2 and it feels so good. I feel good. So good I decide to run again Sunday. That’s a lie. It was part of the plan. But not so easy to start the plan. It was sleeting and 40 degrees. I waited until later in the day. I called the coach for an out, to move the run to Monday and by some miracle she gave it to me. And I almost took it until my husband told me you are being a wuss, you need to run today.
Change in the change of plans. I am running today. And I am running fast. Because on the plan it says I have the green light to suffer today. 1 hour and 40 minutes of suffer. I am on the path. I feel good. It is cold and wet but I don’t care. I came out here today to make something better of myself not to make excuses for why I should fail. I warm up 20 minutes then decide to take the next 70 hard. Push them all the way. Could I do it? Only one way to know – TRY. What if you find out you can do it? How would that feel? You’d be a rockstar for a day.
Being a rockstar is hard. It hurts! 50 minutes have elapsed and I wonder if I have anything left. I almost pull out my YOU CAN DO THIS but then I realize at the end of a week like this – that phrase is not necessary any more. I know I can do this. Because I did. Seven days in a row. And I can do 20 minutes more. In fact once I get through the 20 minutes I say to myself why not go the full distance today. That last 1.1 miles hurt my legs and gave me a cramp but in the end…..I was proud because it was done.
Afterwards I still had to swim. There is no getting out of that with my coach so I don’t even try. I am swimming so slow that I decide I should just swim with the ankle leash. Chris laps me after 200 yards. Then he just puts himself into a different lane. Finally we finished, into the hot tub and time to…breathe.
Done! A big week, I hung on and for an evening I can let go until it starts again. Because there is more. There is always more. When you reach a new milestone you just turn that stone over and start again. You find your next level. You look for more. You never stop being satisfied with yourself. When I breakthrough to a new level or speed I want more. I want to see what else is in me that I didn’t know about. The impossible become possible. I keep taking limits off myself.
This isn’t easy. So many times I have wanted to burst into tears or stop all of this. It is so much easier just to give up your goals. But I’m not convinced it would hurt any less. And if I can convince myself to keep pursuing the goals and working hard every day I am convinced I will find something better for myself.
And over the course of all of this, I have realized that success isn’t about who is the fastest, strongest, smartest , possessing the best equipment, body or coach. No, it’s about what they don’t let go. It’s about not giving up. Hanging on when it hurts the most.
I read something the other day that made a lot of sense:
Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.
I am not letting go. Each time I hold on I find something stronger in myself. I redefine a limit - whether physically or mentally. Mind you it is never easy and it always hurts. Moments where you want to let go the most are really those that you need to hang on the hardest. Those are the moments that count. Anyone can hold on when it's easy. When it gets tough, though, most will let go. And in doing so let go of their goals and confidence in themselves.
Hang on a little longer, firm your grip. What you'll find is that it is worth all of the pain. You'll learn how to hold on next time with even more tenacity. The longer you hang on, the harder it is to let go, the more likely you'll last it out until you arrive at your goal.