I think an acupuncturist described me as such when I was in college after telling her about myself. I don’t know if I’d call myself a lazy perfectionist anymore. I think perhaps I’m lazy (can you relate?) but have developed habits that urgently push me out of bed in the morning and have learned set goals that keep me on track. And the simpler and shorter my goals and “to-do” list is the better…
Back in March some of you may know I signed up for a half-ironman.Seemed so exciting at the time…and doable! It’s next Saturday. The training has not been as consistent or as hard-core as I would’ve liked, and I have also had some great moments.
For any of you other Lazy Perfectionists or Type-A-Wanna Be-Neurotics you might be able to relate. Perhaps you you don’t always wake up saying,”YESSSSS!!!!!TODAY I’M GOING TOTRAIN! YESSSS!!!! or even, “TODAY I MUST TRAIN, AND I WON’T COMMIT TO ANYTHING LESS..” By the way, you can substitute work or any other goal (it doesn’t have to be training) and this entry still applies.
This mind of mine gets really excited about doing a large volume of training or a really fast pace.. But then And it gets really upset when I don’t complete that large volume or that really fast pace.
So lately I’ve started training my mind in a different way…instead of telling myself that we are going to train hard (anyone else have multiple personalities, ha!) I tell myself that we are going to train focused.
Lake of the Isles, Minneapolis
I know that sounds strange. One of the delights of longer trainings is letting the thoughts drift. Getting lost! Exploring! And it is! But that’s not necessarily what I need for my day at that time. And f I let my thoughts drift too much without feeling my body and my brain rooted in the training then I stop…and drift some more…
…..and knowing that sustained focus is something that I consistently need to practice, why not do it during a time in which a repetitive movement is already built in to my week.
On February 14, 2002 I wrote in my journal, “Floating in the ocean with nothing better to do than stare at the bright blue sky.” This was from the white sands of the beaches in Northeastern Brazil. It was my third year of college and this was my study abroad…I was studying the relationship between ocean and sky. I wasn’t, actually. But there was something that I was trying to grasp in that journal entry that I’m just finally moving towards twelve years later: relaxation.
The road outside my mom’s house. The start of the 40 mile biking adventure from the suburbs to Boston.
In that moment as in other vacation moments I’ve wondered how to bring that “floating” sensation to “every day life” or “the real world.” After leaving Mexico, where I taught 2nd grade for three years, I decided to take the year off from teaching.On purpose, with no job or home in place, I flew to Boston where I floated in between my parent’s homes by bike, by car, and by train. Things just worked out. My dad gave me his old car for the price of a new muffler. I found a job substitute teaching very easily, and out of the blue came the email that my acupuncturist said I would get. Would you like to staff the Basic Yoga Teacher Training it read from my yoga teacher.
The trails in Yogaville
And so I floated to Yogaville, an ashram situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Once there, floating was easy. My “work” was supporting a program that I truly believe in while I too practiced with the students. Work was learning the elements of Integral Yoga again, practicing yoga every day, and meditating. “Work” was getting to know participants and their floating lives, learning and conversing with the other interesting members of the staff. “Work” was hiking the trails,
long conversations in the dining hall with others’, and jamming to poetry and chants. While I was “working” the support and love I felt as a staff was the same that I had felt four years prior when participating in the program itself. Floating felt natural as I found that many participants in the program and others that were living in the ashram were also floating.
The Dunes Trail. Arcata, Ca
From there, I floated to another retreat on the coast of Northern California.. While these two retreats were different they had a very similar effect on me and the message was clear: “Relax into love and you can’t go wrong.” The question among many of us was, “But how do I do that during every day life?”
Something in both places that was said resonated me. “This is every day life.”
San Francisco in the Fog.
Living in community, acting with and discussing what it means to move with awareness. And most of all, learning to live in the in-between, because that is the only thing real that exists.”And yet, that is a very scary place to be, especially when living in a city; a city where“floating” doesn’t always feel acceptable because everyone’s always racing to get on the next train especially me!
Or where there are so many distractions it’s hard to remember what feels true and to remember to give myself the time to stop and listen to the voice of love inside. And being in a city has brought up old anxieties and it’s hard to be patient with myself. I somehow feel that because I just came from these magical places of conscious floaters that I should automatically be different and when I put that should on myself I feel the fear of being in that “in-between” place creep up and from that fear tension grows.
And yet, also while being in this city,I have been lucky enough to float from amazing person to person, including loving family that has let me into their home.
The stories of inspiration, trauma, and love that I have heard are incredible.No one has spoken of perfection or of lack of want. But everyone has spoken with an understanding of the importance of following one’s heart and understanding of that chilling fear when hearing the voice that says, I am lost. And yet, with patience and tranquility the answer of what’s next always comes.
Before I left Mexico, I had lunch with a friend. When I started telling him all of my plans and everything I wanted to do with all of my excitement he said, “Sarah, I see you as lost.” My face fell and I started crying. “You need to have a plan.” he said.
I heard a “but” creeping up inside me. What’s wrong with being lost? It said.
“Yes.” I nodded my head. “A plan.”
“And not just sit around and have long lunches and tea with people.”
“Right.” I thought.
And I left that lunch feeling miserable. Why hadn’t I voiced what I had heard? There was nothing wrong with being “lost.”. And besides, I love long teas! I learned how to do that in Mexico!
Tea Ceremony at Yogaville led by Ray.
Yesterday, I floated from one two hour tea date to the next. I was able to completely be with them in the moment because there was nothing else I had to do. Floating gives me the time to be still so that I can finally hear that voice within me that guides me to either go left, right, or stare at the blue sky while floating on the waves on the white sand beaches in Brazil.
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.
It’s 3 am. I can’t sleep, and I’m in the midst of getting over a cold. It started with a sore throat which some might say is a result of not expressing myself; there must be something I want to say, but don’t know how to say it. I’ll interpret it as a lack of keeping this blog updated for the past six months.
And where have I been? All over and under and in between.
What do I have to say? Thoughts are fleeting. I don’t have a story or an entry that can be neatly tied up with a bow, or something with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Isn’t that what we’re taught and what I teach about story lines?
Those are all the reasons that it’s taken me so long to publish something. And yet so much has happened! But where to begin? I suppose, at where, I left off before.
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.
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.
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 knew a couple things when I embarked on this “Ironman” journey. I knew it would be more mentally than physically tough. I knew that I would have to grapple with comparing myself and fears of not finishing, and good and bad training sessions. I didn’t know how much mindspace it would take up, conversations, grapplings, etc. I vowed never to be the person who could only talk about my training. I am that person right now.
It seems that all people ask me are “How’s your training going?” (because that’s all I can think about right now)And I either fiercely want to or don’t want to talk about it depending on how my training session was. And I find myself fiercely annoyed when people do or don’t ask me about it. Or putting up and taking down photos of myself at athletic events, and fiercely annoyed at people when they do or do not like the picture. I wonder if this is how famous actors feel (and there is a fair amount of drama that lives inside of me.). “How dare you talk to me…I’m out to dinner with my family.” “How come you’re not talking to me…don’t you know I’m famous?” I shouldn’t do it. Too much mind space.
I went out for lunch with two type A personality friends on Friday afternoon who also happen to be very competitive triathletes.They are in love with spreadsheets. That’s how I know that they are Type A.
I’m not Type A, but I’m collecting friends who are. They come in handy for spreadsheet making(and planning my life). A recent article was describing that the “ironman” are type A personalities sitting on the edge of their couch just in case something is about to happen. Right now I am sitting back in a chair with my feet up drinking a cup of coffee. I have no problem sitting back on my couch gazing at facebook for hours thinking how “I should go grocery shopping,” or grade some papers. Maybe I shouldn’t do it. I don’t have the right personality type.
And then there’s my friend who has done two Ironmans. Both of which she laughed and smiled throughout the trainings, doing it with her best friend, and without a care about time or pace, just having the time of her life with her friend (what?? you’re allowed to have fun???). Sometimes it’s hard. I shouldn’t do it because it’s not always fun.
Triathlons are trendy now I’m told. I don’t want to be trendy. Maybe I shouldn’t do it.
I am tired. Enough said.
“I cry when buying bread,” a new friend who is also doing her first ironman, confessed.
I cried for two hours on the bike yesterday, and cried some more when I came home before taking a nap. I’m crying too much. Maybe I shouldn’t do it.A dear friend, who has nothing to do with sports at all, commented to me yesterday, “Yeah, you know maybe do what you enjoy without this stress.”
I’m not going! I’m too busy hiding in my kitchen cabinet!
But there’s always been a level of stress in completing whatever goal I have at the time. Applying for a new job. Creating a piece for the stage (oh my gosh, a week before every performance I told my director, “I’m not doing it. And I mean it this time!!!) and she would nod her head and smile and say, “I’ll see you backstage!” And predictably I would show up and have the time of my life.
I wrote the above at 7:30 this morning. It is now 3:40 in the afternoon and I’ve just returned from a bike race that swore I wouldn’t do (after I picked up my packet yesterday) and then a run with a friend. A teammate who I met yesterday and I’m sure gave her an ugly stare as I frustratedly rounded corner after corner at the concrete jungle of a 4km track, found me lost (shockingly) trying to find the team this morning, pointed me in the right direction. Before the race started, my coaches said to me, “Today, I don’t want to see you riding alone. As a triathlete, yes, you go alone. But today I want to see you as a cyclist, working in a team.” I nodded solemnly.
“Smile!” my coach yelled at me.
During the race, that same teammate found me.”Vamos juntos!” she shouted, almost out of breath. We rode together, in front of a pack, and as we rounded the curve on the third round she whooped and hollered and from the sidelines we heard a blur of cheers meant for us.
And so it was that I cried for the thousandth time in the past two months.
I finished that race with my teammate. We howled and hooted through the finish line. Me: faster than I had ever ridden, wanting to throw up… and smiling. Greeted by friends’ congratulations and by coaches’ hugs and approvals.
Teaching in the classroom
So ironman, job, the stage…how about waking up each morning? The butterflies in the stomach, the excitement that today I’m going to make a difference!…and the fear…what if I don’t?