So, we left off in Mexico. In San Gil at the Water’s Edge where I swam 1900 meters in 37 minutes!
And then, things started to get hard. Friends came back to Mexico and it was so so wonderful to see them! But they were all headed back to school. I wanted…I needed something to do and I knew it wasn’t school, but I didn’t know how to start what I wanted to do…and I found myself in that negative cycle of…but if I open door number one then what if door number two won’t open and then I’ll be stuck again and in the same place that I was before, and then there’s no point and… down the rabbit hole. I was completely stuck.
So many wonderful places to go and things to do, and I felt like all the stuff that I had spread all over the room that my friends were kind enough to let me stay were boxing me in.
All My Bags are Packed, I’m Ready to Go
It’s time to leave, Mexico. I heard the voice over and over again say. No, no. Not yet! Just let me figure this out. I pleaded back.
And it wasn’t until I wrote an email to a friend thatI thought I wrote from the depths of my soul that I got a wake-up call. “Sarah!” he wrote me back. “Stop feeling sorry
Alexa (teammate), Mike (coach), and Me in Veracruz
for yourself. You are an independent smart woman. Do something about this! You are not happy. I tried to justify his statements. “Maybe YOU don’t like what I’m doing, but I’m perfectly FINE!” I snapped at him in defense. But I wasn’t.
I spent the weekend at my ironman partner’s Paloma’s house with her and her family.”Go home.” she encouraged. “You’ll see.”
Paloma’s children watching for the dinner guests
Indeed it was the only place that came up over and over again…home, I know, ultimately is where the heart is, but in this case home…meant my mom and my dad.
And so I booked my ticket; . It goes without saying I hope, that I savored that time with the good friends and community that I was lucky enough to have in DF. Here’s a short list of activities:
got in a couple more walks/talks/and healthy food exchanges with a friend whom I’d been running with since arriving in Mexico three years prior.
accompanied a friend wedding dress shopping
held a “see you later party”
attended one more yoga class, and of course
trained for one more triathlon, Veracruz in August.
It was a wonderful weekend, reminding me of why I had started with the sport in the first place. I spent the weekend, laughing my head off with athletes from both Endurance and Fortia,
Endurance and Fortia Together at Veracruz Triathlon
and my coaches, who had become good friends.
Coach Mike, Me, Coach Luisen, Coach Alejandra in Veracruz
Before my final departure in late August, I visited my acupuncturist one last time. “I can’t believe I’m going home.” I told him. “Well why are you going?” he asked.. “I don’t know. Something in my heart tells me that’s where I need to go.” I responded. “Well,” he said. “Go home. Relax. And you’ll get the email or phone call you need in two weeks.”
I’m sure my eyes widened at his words, hopeful and skeptical at the same time. “Could there really be something to this whole follow your heart thing?” I thought. And with that I bid him farewell and headed to Massachusetts on the early morning of August 26th.
The weekend of May 23rd was the most fun-disasterous-ego-busting-laughing-learn-my-lesson the-hard-way weekend of the year . My friend Kate and I had planned to do a triathlon on the coast of Ixtapa. It really was one of those everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong types of weekends, but so fun that everything worked out in a wonderful way. Here’s a “Fortunately/Unfortunately” synapsis of our weekend:
Start of the race in Ixtapa. Our international crew.
10. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find cheap tickets to the beach.
9. Fortunately we decide to take an overnight bus! And then, Kate finds cheap tickets!
8. Unfortunately, she bought them backwards. And so we have to buy a new set of tickets.
7. Fortunately, they have tickets available.
6.Unfortunately, the return flight is for Monday. This means we have to miss a day of work.
5. Fortunately, we have to miss a day of work to stay at the beach another night!
Suffering at the beach one more day.
4. Unfortunately, our flight is delayed….and delayed…and deeelaaayyyeed. (we spent more time in the airport than on the plane)
3. Fortunately, they gave us food vouchers so we got to eat a pretty good meal at the airport.
2. Unfortunately, we were going to get in after packet-pick up and registration closed.
1. Fortunately, the owner of the race was on our flight and so they kept registration open and when we got our packets just as they closed the doors!
On the physical side of things I had hurt my foot pretty badly the week before. “Tendinitis. Stay off of it for two weeks,” were the orthopedic’s recommendations. “MMmmm. Listen. I have a competition in a week. Let me do that and then I will rest for as long as I need to. And um, listen, I’ll just swim and bike if I need to, and will stay off of it for the run.” I pleaded.
I did realize the ridiculousness of my negotiation. It was as if I was six and my mom and I were negotiating how many more bites of broccoli before I could have dessert…only, I’m 33 and this is not about dessert this is about recuperating from an injury! What patience doctors must have working with athletes! It’s not like I can say to my foot, “Hey..pssst…just heal for now and then you can hurt afterwards.” [although admittedly, I did].
My most important rule about racing is that I cross the finish line with a smile. Races always have their moments, but I do this for fun.
“I really will just do the swim and the bike, and stop there.” I thought to myself. Yeah..right.
Unfortunately, I finished that race… with a grimace on my face. I think I came in last. What a lesson in humility, injury, and letting go. It was a great weekend-cheering on my teammates and spending an extra day at the beach with Kate.
Returning to DF I got a stern lecture from Coach 1, Coach 2, an orthopedic doctor, and my foot might-as-well… in which the message rang clear: OFF YOUR FOOT.
I asked my coach about his thoughts on this race.
“You did an ironman, Sarah. That’s awesome. But your ego made you do this race. And now you want to ride 90km on an injured foot. For what?” [I had just signed a teammate and I up for a ironman in July in which I was going to swim and bike and he was going to run] . Also, cut the bullshit. Start training.”
I was puzzled. “I am training. I’m training every day.”
Still not quite grasping his meaning another coach pointed out to me, “You come here tired and stressed.” Oh ,that’s true.
The thing that no one tells you about the aftermath of an Ironman is how long the let down is going to last and how it manifests itself. I knew that it was going to be hard afterwards. I figured two weeks. Maybe a month at most. And the most obvious part of it probably lasted two months (the first month after everyone wanted to talk about it still, so that was fun!). But then regular life settles in.
Paloma (my partner in Ironman) and I would talk about this periodically. She was able to identify more easily her struggles with the aftermath. “I’m fine.” I told myself. “I don’t have a problem slowing down. I’m still training every day. But I’m good!” Or so I thought.
But really I wasn’t good. I was pushing at everything I was doing; I was afraid that I stopped pushing then I would lose all my strength, gain weight, and god-forbid, have no purpose! Enjoyment and ease of course did not even enter this conversation. I am an ironman. I am a long-distance triathlete. I must teach all day, tutor twice a week, teach yoga, complete a master’s program, and compete 90 kilometers on a bike because that’s what I do.
And so I pushed. I pushed at everything. And without realizing it I was just kind of physically present to whatever was there but didn’t have my whole being into anything in particular. And as a result: I lost strength, gained weight, and wasn’t sure for what I was training. And what pushed me to go and go and go? This idea that I couldn’t stop or else I’d be a total failure….look at all of the people around me and how fast they swim and their workload! Of course I can keep up…I have to keep up!
I finally hit bottom when I was examining yet another option for the summer and on the brink of taking it, I cried to my mom, How can I know what I want to do next when I have not even submitted grades yet. When my apartment is still a mess and I have to move in a week? My whole life I have been rushing to do the next thing and meet the next goal. I just need to be.
After that race in May I started counting my steps.Training was my godsend in the craziness that was going on and I showed up. Not always my fastest times or my “strongest” moments, but I smiled more. Started to become more conscientious of my body, my breath, my attitude, and the other people around me.
In the pool (where I was spending a lot of time since I couldn’t run) my coach badgered me. Every time I did a long distance work out he would say, Much better than Ixtapa, huh? 1500 meters in 32 minutes-not okay anymore.
Endurance sports are about personal bests for me. 32 minutes is an awesome time. So is 40. So is finishing! So is getting in the water and taking a stroke. . Everyone’s goals are different for them. So the time references here are not a general statement for what everyone should/shouldn’t do. For me I only use time as a reference because I know what I am capable of. 32 minutes is slow especially because I hadn’t been able to break that time in open water.
5:30am waiting to go to the start line for San Gil.
Sunday, July 13th I stood on the edge of the lake at the start of San Gil in San Juan del Rio, Queretaro. My race mate walked down to the start with me. I was freezing. It was 6:30 in the morning and the sun hadn’t risen yet.”Oh yeah, even in Mexico it’s cold when the sun’s not up.” I didn’t have a jacket with me.
My job was to swim 1900 meters in under thirty-eight minutes and then cheer on my teammates as they raced 90 km on the bike up a mountain and ran 21km for a strong finish. Nervous. That I’d get the route wrong and get my team disqualified. That I’d be stuck forever with the same speed in open waters even after two months of solid training in the pool practically every day.
Why? I thought. Why do I do this for so much anxiety. I don’t get money for it. Why? Ni modo. Here I am. My teammate who walked down with me to the start said, “You are so brave to swim in this water so early in the morning!” “The air is colder than the water,” I reassured him. And I knew it to. But still what if I was wrong and it took me the whole swim to warm up?
I stood, at my coach’s suggestion towards the front of the pack, ready to jump in at the sound of the race. What if I get run over?Yellow buoys to the right and green buoys to the left. Breathe.
The sound went off and so did we. Counting my strokes, listening to my breath, sighting the buoys. This was just like any other race. This was the pool…find the line, push the hand down in in the water, relax the elbow as it comes across…one, two, three…next buoy.
So why? Why do it? Every time: as I stand on the water’s edge, the stage’s edge, whatever edge…always, why? Am I an adrenaline junkie…? Probably. But then I am there: swimming, acting, being. And then the question becomes always, why wasn’t I here before? All I know in that moment is that I forget about what or why and hear only my heart beating strong.
The cyclist on our team just off the bike
It it only when I pass another colored cap, or when another swimmer passes me does my mind come back and say Yessss! or Shit, what place am I in? …and then it comes back for a split second when the coach is at the water’s finish holding up a 3 and a 7. Panting, slightly dizzy, and disoriented I can only give a thumbs up about ohmygawd37minutes!!! as I sprint up the cobblestones in bare feet to meet my cyclist who is waiting in the relays tent for me so that she can climb the mountain. With all the spectators clapping and yelling animo! I am there giving her a big high five send off as I collapse ready to enjoy the sun for the rest of the day.
Enjoying the sun with teammates.
It is a relief to not climb 90 km up and down a mountain, nor run 21km in the heat of the day. It is so fun to spend the day in the sun with the other athletes on my team and cheer on the cyclists and the runners. And it is then that finally I see the results of my strength; the grin from ear to ear is back and it started the minute my teammates arrived the evening before and continued well into the evening of the race day and pretty sure it stuck when I went to bed that evening.
There will continue to be bad races, annoying training sessions, maybe hopefully no more injuries (please!), internal battles, and ego checks.
Our Awesome Relay!
I sometimes worry about my adrenaline junkie. It’s not very heart-oriented and I worry that because of her I will continue to seek these very highs that then lead to the very lows. But then I think that perhaps actually she is what takes me to that unknown edge even when there is fear and anxiety, and then my heart is what steadies me when I’m there. I never know what’s going to happen at the start of the race. Can’t control it. And that unknown space is the only thing that is real in this life.
I heard a car door shut and my coach’s voice, “Sarah, solo es tu y tu camino!” and then it was just me….well, me, my bike and a highway of roaring cars. This was back in November. The last long ride before the Ironman. I stared ahead of me and felt the beating sun on my face. I looked up at the green rolling hills and thought, “This is how I fell in love with Mexico.” And when I looked down at the white line that I was tracking I thought, “Oh hell, this road needs some song!” And assuming that no one could hear me busted out “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at the top of my lungs.
When I was little my grandparents’ house in San Francisco was my magical kingdom: besides being spoiled rotten with sugar cereals for breakfast, jelly donuts on Sundays, two ice cream sundaes for dessert I was also the ever- gorgeous and willing model for my grandmother’s continuous clicking camera.
Upon arrival to the castle from Boston, I dropped my bags at the door, and raced up the winding carpeted staircase, where to the immediate left was the king and queen’s bedroom (my grandparents).My grandfather lay in his the big comfy bed with a breakfast tray lying on his belly and the crossword puzzle in his hand. Upon seeing him, I shouted “PAPA!” and he in his gruntling papa way would say, “Eyyyy, Sarahla, good to see ya.” Black and white photos taken and developed my grandma lined the walls with my mom, aunts and uncles, me and all my cousins.
But the best part…the real reason that I raced up those stairs so quickly was the Royal Closet. A three part door with mirrors on each one. When you closed the two doors it became a hall of mirrors…I spent hours in there making up songs and plays and conversations with the millions of mes so engrossed in my own imaginary play not giving a care in the world what adult might be laughing hysterically on the other side of that closet.
Fast forward twenty-five years, a little more hesitation and reserve has settled in. But on that hot November morning on the roaring highway, after 100 kilometers of riding, I really was not thinking about who might be on the lookout (well, except for maybe that broadway producer who just happened to pass by).
At lunch later that afternoon of the bike ride one of my coaches looked at me and said, “So in the car all the sudden I heard, ‘And IIII will always love you.” And everyone busted out laughing. So much for solitude. Another coach reprimanded me not for singing, but for my choice of song. And so began Sarah’s reputation for singing during whatever she does. (to this day, there are certain songs I am not “allowed’ to sing).
Around the same time, I was introduced to the rodillo libre–
the panic-and -run roller….
…a bike trainer in which the only way to keep yourself from falling is to breathe, pedal, balance, and relax. The first time I got on, my coach said, “Sing to me.” HA. I couldn’t tell him he was crazy, I couldn’t say anything but whimper and cry out “WOAAAAHHH!! AND DON’T YOU DARE LET GO!” nonetheless, not a single lyric would come out of my mouth.
My coach is in front of me saying “Relax!”
Rodillo and I have almost a year together. As much as I panicked (and still panic) over it, it has also been the best meditation. Letting go of the stresses of the day, focusing on just rhythm and breathing (cuz if not, the damn thing will throw me overboard),and allowing myself to be okay with not having a good moment. It has taught me what it means to to fall out and come back, to let go of disappointment, and know that no matter what happens I am loved…
as well of course balance, cadence, and hand position.
The rodillo libre is just me and my road…with the distractions of people moving around, coaches bumping into me as a lesson to keep pedaling and balanced, heavy rain falling on the tin roof, music blasting with coaches and my panicked mind saying “REEEELLLAAAAX.”
Thursday I had come a little late and so everyone else had finished their rodillo libre and went to swim. It was just me, the rodillo, and the wall. The music had stopped. “Coach! Please put on the music!” (I could finally say a few words that weren’t “Shit, I’m going to fall!”)
“What’s that one song that you always sing?” my coach asked me.
Oh how the coaches spoil me! Just me and my road, mirrors of myself all around. My choice of song and the echo of my own voice at the top of my lungs (well as much as my breath would allow)…my very own American Idol Diva Moment….all on tape. And I was not about to pass that up.
Ladies and gentlemen I present to you…free-rollin to karaoke.
A little girl stands next to a water fountain. She thoughtfully looks over the glistening penny in her hand and focuses in on her wish. I hope my parents get back together she thinksas she whisks the penny into the fountain. She knows this is never going to happen and somehow she knows that it’s not a good idea, nor does she really know if that what she wants. So why wish it?
That is my adult analysis of my four or five year old self. My parents divorced when I was one, and I have no recollection of them ever being together. So it seems odd to me, having no memory of them ever being together, wanting that for myself. Could it be, so young, that I already was feeling that social conformity demanded that the family unit be a mom, a dad, and a child living under the same roof? Could it be that I just wanted things the way they were supposed to be according to what I saw around me? Quite possibly.
During school (especially math class) I found myself in the front lines of a war torn country, being the key to reuniting the two lands, or the heroine in a hostage story while my teachers droned on about adding numbers together. But I knew I had bigger things to conquer.
A psychoanalyst, I think, might have a field day with me: “Tell me about this unsung-heroism-fantasy of yours where you are off saving the world joining lands together?” Might this have anything to do with…your parents divorce at such a young age?
Or, is it just another childhood fantasy that I must be so unique in the world of divorced children that of course a psychoanalyst would find my case interesting?
We learn as adults that courage and heroism do not have to be grand gestures. It can be found in the every day random acts of kindness that we pass onto one another. And yet, there’s a small part of me that thinks that that is complete bullshit. How glorious to save the world in some valiant manner, nothing short of a cape or a glistening wand or the halo that teeters above my head.
Immediately following college I enlisted in a workshop with a political theatre group . In exchange for some hours of labor we were given a workshop in which we learned some fundamentals of melodrama and comedia d’elle arte. Our final product was three plays, written and performed by us. Our play, of course, was about the failures of our education system (we chose melodrama). Having somehow a cast of all different ethnicities we played up our stereotypes (me being the white nerd whose parents sent her to inner city schools because they thought it would be safer than a suburban school where a random school shooting might take place). Through a cookie, the students became indoctrinated with the politics of No Child Left Behind and it was up to those who hadn’t eaten the cookie to somehow save the school from the evil superintendent!
And so we did! Harrah! And as writers, in a fit of idealistic flurry wrote an ending so beautiful and magical in which the school became the most perfect, performing, multi-ethnic-everyone-getting-along school-after, and we all lived happily ever after killing the evil superintendent.
We read the script aloud, and marvelled at our brilliance. Yes, kill No Child Left Behind and leave our emblem of emblems of schools! And yet… somehow we knew even as we read the script for the first time, that even for the fairy-tale/fantasy play we created we had to shut down the school. With hanging heads and big sighs we walked over to our facilitator and broke the news. “We have to shut down the school.”
She looked at us with incredible empathy, and sighed.. “I know,” she said wistfully. We turned around, slumped back to our posts, and reluctantly began the sad business of destroying the school that we had created and had become so attached. If that’s fiction, how might we react to such scenarios when our ideals conflict with reality?
Just recently, I find myself in such conflict. The team that I have been a part of for what seems like forever (really since October) has decided to split into two. This occurred right before I was to leave for the beach for a week. Throughout this week, I took walks on the long sandy beaches, gazed into the sunset,
Sunset in Puerto Escondido
and knew in my heart: that I, heroine-extravaganza, could get both sides to see how important they were to me (oh, yeah, and everyone else) and then of course they would get back together.
Psychoanalysts get your pen ready!
Like the little girl at the fountain sure that the penny would fly like cupid into the hearts of my parents, and the playwright ten years ago, I wrote friends eagerly. “This could work, right?” “Yes!” they responded to me enthusiastically. “Yes! What a grand idea!” I planned my speech carefully-starting of course off with an apology for my lack of mastery in Spanish. And then with incredible articulateness, wit, and empathy dove into how the team had served me. “Too much about me?” I thought. “Maybe so…” and then revised it as such to make it more about “us.”
Returning to the city, ready with my post inviting both teams to a place of mutual agreement, I called my good friend for back up. “This is a good idea, right?”
“Yes,” he responded.
“Not overly idealistic and ridiculous?”
“No. Do it.”
All right. Ready to launch.” Excited and nervous I copied and pasted my comments on the two FB pages only to find that…one member was already talking about different logos. My heart sank. I called my friend. “This isn’t a good idea,” I said. “
No,” he said. “People have already moved on.” “
“Yes.” And sadly I erased my posts.
I have spent all week wondering at my dissapointment. I have told myself I am not disappointed. I have told myself to stop being so emotional about it. I have told myself that I’m fine. But for some good reasons it is a big deal. And there is nothing I can do about it, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s sad. And Goddammnit, as I make changes in my life It would be nice if just one thing stayed the same!! But we all know that the only permanence on this planet is change.
And there’s another truth to this…a selfish-morbid truth:the heroine who at four was so sure that she, single-handedly, could be the answer to her parents reunion, at thirteen could be the re-uniter of two war-torn lands, and at thirty-three, as she danced on the shores of sunset while the waves furiously crashed around her, could join two teams as one, would once again have to sink into the every-day reality of being just another human being.
So I made a big decision. Well, I made it back in October, but every day it gets closer. And the ups and downs of that decision has been difficult to put onto paper in a way that conveys meaning and productivity instead of just a round-about of thoughts. So, here’s my attempt:
My life is wonderfully busy. I teach the most interesting, hilarious children with wonderful supportive, smart colleagues. When I walk into school in the morning someone has sent some miraculous activity for our unit and some child has a huge smile on his or her face ready to tell me the most fantastic thing that happened to him or her that weekend.
I belong to an incredible triathlon team who, even when I wake up in the worst mood ever thinking it might be better to pull the covers over my head and stay in bed for the day moaning in self-pity so that I don’t expose anyone else to such an attitude, somehow make me want to get out of bed at some ridiculous hour on a Sunday morning and pack my bag for biking, while I run into my neighbor who is just finishing her night and headed to bed. Not only that, but then they make me forget that I was ever wanting to be in bed and, not-even-so-reluctantly coax me out of my self-pitiness so that then I am a cheerful, smiling, “buenos dias!” coffee-drinking, picture-taking, person. Damn athletes!
I teach yoga to a kind, forgiving, and fun group of friends and colleagues who let me experiment on them with different yoga poses or my latest massage technique.
I live in a quiet building on the top floor where I have lots of light, wonderful neighbors and access to a terrace outside my door. Two blocks away is a fabulous market with fresh produce and every juice you could want to buy. Public transportation, public bikes, tortillerias are just outside my door. Yes, a wonderfully busy life. After two and a half years I call this bustling, traffic-crazed, smog-filled, crazy crowded, city home.
Since coming back from Christmas break (January) I have not had a single day in which I slept past five o’clock in the morning (self-imposed). I hadn’t been sleeping well either, and so I was quite relieved for a wedding that allowed for a five day rest in my other home San Francisco where I stayed with my kind and warm aunt and uncle who fed me licorice and chocolate (as staples, of course). No worries: I also ate dumplings, pizza, ice cream, and gnocci.
Wandering around the city, good friends said, “Welcome home!” and the question always remains, “Where is home?” Yes, home is where the heart is….soooo how many places can I live in at the same time? My heart is torn among many places and does not always make financially sound decisions. Although, I’m starting to think it might be smarter than I realize.
Of course, life is not so blissfully PolyAnna all the time. Children fight, lessons sometimes fall to pieces, grad school papers need to be written, and bike rides often go uphill (and downhill). Going “home” meant staying for a five day vacation and being busy was meeting friends for lunch and going for a reasonable timed morning run around the lake.
It was not so bad either to travel back to Mexico city, have a friend pick me up from the airport where we promptly met two other friends for nopalitos con queso de panela and a limonada mineral.
So what about next year? What am I to do? I have resigned from my teaching job here in Mexico, and much to my delight and terror, do not have a 9-5 job lined up for the upcoming school year. What will I do without a bell telling me what to do every forty minutes? And I do not mean that sarcastically! I thrive on structure and as much as I push against it it’s somewhat a relief to always find that those walls are there.
Crying to my mom on the phone the other day I said, “What the hell did I do!?!?! I love my life!! Why did I have to go an interrupt it?” and relying on an old line, one that I knew that was coming she said, “Well, your soul needed a jumpstart.” Yes. Indeed. Or a break. Or a challenge. Or..?
I moved to Mexico 3 years ago because, well, why not? I arrived here,looked around at the smog and traffic and said, “ “What the hell did I do?!?!” And it worked out pretty darn good.
So with three thousand ideas, a supportive community of friends and family, and newly rested, I am excited to stay present in the crazy busyness giving myself fully to the beautiful life I have created right now here (with the fleeting emotions of ups and downs and all arounds that exist with or without 9-5 jobs), and looking
forward to the new adventure that I will embark on this summer.
Suggestions, dreams, stars, contacts, unicorns, and ideas are welcome.
Saturday night, November 30th, I couldn’t sleep. I don’t know if it was thinking about the incredible luck I had in having the best people around to support me both far and wide, or the excitement of the next day, or….?
I laid down at nine pm to be only slightly awoken two hours later by a phone call. “Todo listo?” said Coach Edgar’s voice on the other end. He was calling from Mexico City.
“Si,” I responded, hoping indeed that I had packed everything the day before. “What time is it?” hoping so hoping that it was already 4:00 so I could just get up and go already! “Todavia es muy de noche.” He wished me luck, a hug, and reminded me that this was going to be one of the best days of my life.
I fell into a very fitful sleep. At 4:15 my alarm went off (not that I really needed it) and mom and I went up to the roof of our hotel who had provided a special Ironman breakfast. How fun it was to see all the competitors and their families getting ready…nervous mumblings, intense chewing, and excited glances among us all.
We rode a taxi down to the transition area where I got my bike tires pumped, stripped down to my bathing suit, and walked back and forth between where my mom was spectating and my bike, reminding her of last minute details or asking her to just hold one more thing. I felt like I was at a high school swim meet again (let it be noted that whenever my mom or dad is around I think I automatically regress to fifteen years old).
As I was walking back to my bike for the umpteenth time in the semi-dark I heard a familar, “Hola.” It was Antonio, the owner of Asdeporte who really was the reason that I was able to participate in this journey. I gave him a huge smile. “Antonio,” I said, my heart swelling with gratitude, “Thank you so much for this. You have no idea what an incredible journey this has been.” “Estas contenta?” he asked back calmly. Hardly being able to control the emotion in my voice, I told him,”Yes, very content.Thank you.”
I found my ironwoman pair, Paloma, and together we received hugs and we walked over to the busses where we were being carted for a new start to the swim (3100 meters with the current because of strong winds)…yessss!! I gave a hearty hug to the amazing cheerleaders and photographer, my mom, Vail, and Diane and headed off to the bus.
Having to pee so badly, I decided to exercise my it’s MY ironman- and-no rules- apply, found a tree in a not-so-secluded area before boarding the bus.
I followed Paloma into another bathroom after getting off the bus. The line was long and there were only two stalls. The countdown to 7 am was upon us and in both English and Spanish we pleaded with each other to please hurry…we were on the beach with 3 minutes to spare when I glanced up and saw Luisen, our coach. “LUIIIIISEEEEEEENN!!!” we shouted and he came running down to give us a huge hug and suddenly without me even realizing it the horn sounded and Paloma said, “Vamos juntos?”
My Ironman partner Paloma and me
And so along with 2,000 other red swimming caps at 7 am sharp we began the year-long-anticipated day. Swimming with the current, looking down at the coral reef where I could actually see the bottom was just like everyone said, beautiful.I found my space (among 2,000 swimmers not so easy) and settled into being a “snorkeler” telling myself to take it easy, breathe, I was going to be here for what I anticipated, about an hour and half.
I glanced up to make sure I was on track and heard a large booming microphone and realized that I didn’t see any buoys anymore…whaa? Oh my gosh, it’s the shore? I’m…done??? I raced with other swimmers (careful not to get kicked) clamored out of the water, and glanced down at my watch…51 MINUTES!! I tore off my swim cap, eyes wide, smile big, when I heard, “SAAARRAAAAHH!!” I glanced back and saw my friend Armando as he waved with his head and shouted, “VAMMOS!!”
Running to the bike
I ran to get my bike bag, praying that I hadn’t forgotten to pack anything from the night before. I found a chair to put my things on, stripped out of my bathing suit (again the it’s-my-ironman-no- rules-apply) and shimmied into my two piece tri-suit (including the ironman tri-top that my mom had purchased for me the day before). A woman shouted, “We did it!!” and a huge hollering went up in the tent. Volunteers lathered me up with sunblock and I grabbed my nutrition (nutella sandwich, honey stinger waffle, and gawd-knows how many gels) with one hand and my bike shoes with the other and ran awkwardly to my bike where I tried to fit all of my food into my bento box….had to leave some things behind…(there was an ironman who said if only 12 things go wrong during the event, you’re doing well). I counted this as one of the 12, cut my losses relieved for the cliff blocks and the knowledge that stations along the way would have gel.
And there I was. On the bike! Oh my gawd! I’m actually doing this!!! This is happening!! The cool thing about an ironman is that your race tag has your name and your country of origin (mine said, Sarah, Mexico City, United States)…and so as I was biking I heard, “Go Sarah!” and was confused for a second at who might know who I am especially from behind and then got excited that I could also root on total strangers by name! However, trying to read names and countries is a little difficult and so sometimes I would start out in English? no…Spanish? Portuguese?? Sorry, don’t speak French–
The first part of the course was awesome. Winds in our favor, going a steady 30-32km an hour, paying attention to cadence at 90rpms a minute–and just so much fun. And then to the Punta Azul….the wind. The day before my coach and I had had a conversation about this. “And what are you going to do?” he said. The bike is not my strong point, and lots of learnings of surrender have been had while riding.
“Just sit in the wind and pedal, I guess. There’s nothing else TO do.”
“Exactly.” And so, there I was, on my aerobars, surrendering, breathing, smiling, into…10 miles or so of cross-winds.
And then we turned the corner again and oh, soo nice to have the wind behind us and pedaling at a normal pace again! We got into town and there were my faithful cheerleaders with their morracas as I heard, “Saaaraaah!!!” and gave them a huge smile and a thumbs up as I rounded the corner for lap number two.
Mom with her hat and morraccas
The volunteers and fans were amazing. I think my favorite sign was “Smile! It makes you go faster!”
I lost track of how far I had gone because I had failed to turn on my watch at the very start…(and then realized that that was the mistake, not that it wasn’t working, and with much relief turned it on). Your mind does start messing with you a little bit. And so at some point on the third lap I would ask a cyclist if he/she had clocked the distance and then depending if they were from the States or the rest of the world I would spend five minutes converting miles into kilometers or kilometers into miles and doing that again and again and again….something to keep my mind occupied.
I think it was at mile 70 (kilometer 105 or so) that I realized that I was going to finish the bike. That I could do another 42 miles…and even with the stupid wind (sorry) I was doing just fine. During the last lap, as I was settling into the wind once again, I thought about Endurance, my team. I thought about my coaches. I remembered the first bike ride that I did with them. Frustrated by the hot sun, frustrated that I couldn’t keep up, and within seconds of expressing this frustration my coach said, “Smile! You can suffer if you want, but that’s not what this is about!” and I thought about the conversation with my coach the day before…and then I thought about what had been drilled into me since day one of joining that team. “What’s Endurance’s mantra?” I joked with Coach Edgar back in Mexico City after.
“What?” he asked back.
“Who told you that?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye. But it worked. Without worrying about speed (I knew pushing would waste my legs for the 42km run I had at the end) I just focused on that 90 rpms a minute, breathing, and smiling. As I rounded that final corner and pulled into town I saw my coach and my mom standing by the tent. “Heeeey!!” I greeted them. No stomach aches, totally hydrated, legs totally mobile. “How do you feel?” Luisen asked me. “Great!” and it was true! “Go put water on your feet in the tent.”
I asked volunteers for water for my feet and they asked if I wanted ice. “Yes!” I exclaimed. And so began the best five minute ice foot massage I have ever received in my life. I teared up and looked at the two women massaging my feet. “You guys are the best…” I told them in Spanish.
I got my run bag, put my visor on, and without socks, put on my already laced up sneakers to begin the last third of this journey. “What time is it?” I asked Luisen as I exited the tent. “Four o-clock.” Awesome. If I need 8 hours to finish this damn marathon, I can take 8 hours (not that it would take me that long). “Just keep moving!” he advised. Diane met me a few minutes into the run. “How you doing?” she asked. “Soooo goood!! Is it bad that I have this much energy right now?” “No,” she said. “Just go with it.”
“What did you guys do all day?” I asked her. And as she started to reveal the day I said, “Oh my gosh. A whole day has passed!” at which point it started to downpour and what a relief that was. We both started laughing. “Paloma’s about 40 minutes ahead of you.” she let me know. “You’ll see her as she comes this way.” She let me go as I ran my first lap of 7km (it was out and back three times) and as I came back for my second loop I started to panic just a tiny bit. In the distance I could hear the announcer shouting people’s names as they came over the finish line.
Because it’s a loop, I had to go all the way down past the screaming fans and then bypass the finish line and turn around again. Crowds and loud music put me in a panic anyway, and knowing that that those cheers were not for me yet made me panic just a little bit more. I wanted to yell, “Stop cheering! not yet!” and as I rounded for my second lap I heard my mom and Diane talking. I shouted to them,but they didn’t hear me. At that moment I needed a little bit of love so badly that for the third time I applied the who-cares-it’s-an-ironman and shouted their names until they turned around and said, “Gooo!” I felt much better and continued my run.
As I Paloma and I passed each other I saw the determined and tired look on her face. “How are you?” she asked. “I’m good!” I responded, and it was true. At some point during the run, however, I had taken a small pink pill, unaware of what it was…and all the sudden started to feel a little dizzy.[turns out it was a muscle relaxer] Focus, breathe. Eat a banana. What-number-of-things-that-go-wrong were we on?
Coming back after the second loop was a little easier, although a small pain on the bottom of my feet started to develop and I pushed the thought of shit-I-should’ve-worn-socks- those-are-big blisters out of my mind. How-many-things-wrong were we up to now? My coaches caught me on the last loop, and Luisen instructed Mike to run with me as he continued with Paloma.
“How are you?” he asked. And true to form, yes, tired, sore muscles, yes, but knowing I was going to finish strong, I said, “I’m really good!”
“You look good!” he said as we continued along our way. We ran in silence for awhile (passing people sitting on the sidewalk, or seeing people with a shaking hand reach down to pick up their gel) and others who were in good spirits, passing the tents of music in which I said again tearing up, “you guys are the best!” at which they saluted me with their beers and shots of tequila offering me a hearty “vamos!”
Cheerleaders-Mom and Vail
I know this entry is long already. I’m applying once again it’s-my-ironman- and I can do what I want rule. And so I will pause to say this: as a competitor I knew I was getting myself into a long, hard day that would be both mentally and physically challenging. Volunteers and cheerleaders….well they almost have a harder job!–standing out there for fifteen or so hours simply because they love their friends and their family. That does not go unnoticed, and as I told my colleagues at work, when my legs did not want to move anymore it was all of you, all of your amazing kindness and words of support and wisdom and goofiness that kept me going…
My pace had slowed so much that Mike at one point started walking beside me. I laughed. “I’m going so slow you can walk!” “No, no,” he said, and started running again. He had brought his iphone with him. And for all of his making-fun-of-my-singing he very sneakily, put on a song that we both like. “Just one song,” he said when it was over. “Okay,” I said. “Thanks.” and then started humming to get me started singing of which I couldn’t help of course, but entertain.
The pier came into view and I knew for sure I was going to finish. I told Mike, “I’m not doing another loop! I’m done!” He laughed and said, “Here, do you want an Endurance shirt with which to cross the finish line?” I nodded yes and somehow found the fine motor skills to put on another shirt. As I got closer, the cheers got louder. My eyes got wider, and I thought, “Holy shit! I really am going to finish!”
The sides were lined with people and hands to slap, and somehow even with the blisters and the crazy sore quads I found it in me to find some speed and slapping hands sped across that finish line to hear….”Sarah….con Endurance! Tu eres…un Ironman!”
I was greeted with a medal and a towel. Hardly being able to speak, a woman from the medical tent came up to me. “Congratulations!” I nodded a yes in thanks. “How you feeling?” I nodded yes. “Do you need anything?” I nodded no. “Do you speak English?” I laughed and nodded yes. So overwhelmed with emotion words failed me. I found my mom and Diane, the coaches, and Paloma.
Coach Luisen, Me, Paloma, Rafa, Coach Mike
The rest…is in the pictures.
The aftermath is a whole different story and for a different entry. For now I will say, this was a journey about what people say it’s about: testing my limits and going beyond what I think is possible. But even more than that: this was a journey in learning to open myself to the abundance of love, taking that love giving it to myself and shining that onto others. So, thank you for shining in your light. Thank you for making it possible for me to shine in mine.
I’ve been talking to my aunt (an ironwoman) a lot lately making sure that my ups and downs during this thing are somewhat in check. I mentioned to her some time ago that I find myself super weepy in every way when it comes to kindness and athletics. (or just kindness in general). “I wonder why?” she responded.
“Well, anyone who shows such interest simply because they love what they do and they see that you are trying so hard to accomplish something and they really and truly want to help you get there make me cry. They are examples of I guess what one might call pure intentions. A friend gave me a framed poem the other day and put her own artistic spin on it, and I started tearing up. So it doesn’t take much…”
She wrote, “So exciting to be soooo out there taking risks with folks supporting and cheering you.”
Yes. So amazing to be supported and cheered for. I feel so lucky to be a part of an international community that include friends, writers, yoga teachers, directors,massage therapists, actors, teachers, students, athletes, coaches, teammates, family members, taxi drivers, tamale ladies, empathetic strangers,cleaning ladies, to name a few…all of these people have at some point (or multiple points) gone out of their way to help or to support me in some way.
I have no idea what the outcome of this crazy race will be in 9 days..(9 DAYS)!! But it is goofy moments, big hugs, long walks, meeting your families (parents, children, nieces, nephews), staying in your homes, long car or bus rides, running, walking, kind reprimands, impromptu dancing in front of youtube videos, long and short bike rides,brunch, watching you on stage,teacher talks, flying into crazy ocean waves, coffee dates, sharing the stage with you, training with you,getting an email from you, hanging out with your cats and dogs, cycling with you, laughing and laughing and laughing, your random acts of kindness, that I end up focusing on when the winds start blowing hard, and my legs don’t wanna move anymore.
So here’s the bottom line: Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for taking a risk.