Monday, July 28, 2014

You can do hard things!

Summer is an incredible time to be an athlete. You get to do things just for fun, even while trying to fit in the stuff that must be done. If you're lucky, those two things intersect. For me, tri training means I get to swim, bike and run ... and call it a workout. We swim all year long, but in the summer, we get to find a lap lane outside. We abandon the spin bike for the bike trail, and the treadmill for the great outdoors. It's delicious and perfect and quite wonderful.

But sometimes, it's just seriously hard. So hard you want to give up. Sometimes it's ridiculous. So ridiculous, you have no idea why you started in the first place, and the only thing that makes sense is packing up your shit and going home.

63rd Street Beach, as the sun rises. It looked so innocent.
That pretty much describes the events of last Saturday, when Linda and I headed into the city - to 63rd Street Beach, to be exact - for a tri training event. Several hundred triathletes would do a practice tri, swimming in Lake Michigan, biking along the lakefront path, and running through the nearby park.

As soon as we racked our bikes, it started to rain. I practically begged Linda to call it quits and go home. She would not relent, and our friends Vidya, Gina and Betsy were pushing through, too. There was no turning back; it was go time.
Me, half-in my wetsuit.
 We got into our wetsuits and headed to the water. I have never felt more like a whale than I do when I'm in a wetsuit. I seriously look ridiculous. Every lump - and I have many - is enhanced by neoprene. But it might just save me in the open water, so I was happy to have it. In addition to keeping you a little warm in the water, a wetsuit allows you to stay afloat, lending a little buoyancy (a real plus when you're talking about a big, unpredictable body of water). We stepped into the water to see what it was like.

And instantly questioned our sanity.

Sixty-four degrees. That's it. That's what we got.

The water was 68 degrees for the Esprit de She back in early June, and it was fine; those four degrees make a huge difference. It was awful, and we hadn't even really begun.

We lined up, and it was time to go. As I approached the water line, I hated myself and everything I stand for. I hated you, I hated puppies, I hated that guy with the biceps. Seriously, I hated pretty much all the things. But still, Linda and I entered the water together and started to run into the deep. Our feet were numb. Once submerged - once my face was in the water and I started "swimming" - I immediately lost my breath. It was so cold it actually took my breath away.

It wasn't so deep that I couldn't touch the bottom, so I stopped to catch my breath. I stopped to walk/run/gasp for air. I did what I could and I kept moving. It was a triangular course, and to get to a half mile, you had to loop it twice. By the time I was half done with my first loop, I'd decided I was only doing one. I mean, it was awful. As I approached the beach again, a woman named Dominique challenged me to finish both loops.

I never say no to a challenge.

Out I went again, this time swimming more than running through the ice-cold frigidity. Count your strokes. Get to 30. Determine whether or not you can feel your extremities. Keep going.

As I approached finishing that second loop, I kept repeating the same mantra to myself. With every stroke, it went like this:

You
Can
Do
The
Hard
Things

And I made it. Turns out, that last loop wasn't awful. (To be truthful, though, it remains one of the toughest challenges I've faced.)

Out of the water, thank GOD, I ran/stumbled toward the bike, stripped off my wetsuit (which I'm pretty sure would be hysterical on video) and dripped all over hell, trying to dry off and put on socks and shoes and glasses and a helmet. Shit. Transition is not my forte. Finally, grabbed the bike and headed for the trail.

Here, I found heaven.

It was a gorgeous day, and I was that girl. I was that girl who rides her bike in Chicago around the lake! I was that girl who wished people "good morning" as she passed. (I was also that girl who passed other cyclists, because her legs are friggin' strong, but that's another story for another time.) I felt like I was receiving a gift; being able to be out there, biking (hell, after the swim, being able to feel my feet was like a gift) on a day like this was just incredible.

The bike course was two loops. Again, I could've stopped after one; we weren't being timed, this was just for practice, but I wanted the full experience. I pressed on.

Eventually, I finished the bike and racked it back in transition; time to run. By now, it was hot. I was well in the back of the pack at this point, because let's face it - I'm not what you would consider fast or even not very slow in any of the triathlon disciplines. I am, however, determined, so I pressed on. Past the one mile mark. Nearing the two-mile mark. I was almost home, as the course was 2.5 miles.

Finally I saw my friend Betsy up ahead, cheering me on. Because she is out of her mind, she ran back to get me, because no one finishes alone. (At least, not on her watch.) A true superstar, Betsy ran at my snail's pace the entire time, reminding me to breathe, encouraging me. She was amazing. My heart kept beating, and I kept running. I had to stop momentarily to get my feet back under me and reassure myself that my lungs still functioned, and then I was off again, Betsy by my side. Soon, Linda and Vidya appeared in the distance, waiting to cheer me on.

As we neared the finish line, Betsy encouraged me to find what power I had left and use it up. I dug as deep as I could, and shaved maybe a few seconds off my run to the finish line. It was hard. It was hot. But I was done.

I did what I came to do, but I received so much more. The notion that the fastest among us allows no one else to finish alone is really incredible. Having someone come back for me, and people waiting for me at the end, is one of the greatest joys of racing. It means the world to know that someone cares enough to be there. To show up, to wait, and to tell you "good job."

We can do hard things.

1 comment:

Kelly Rathunde said...

Even the guy with the biceps? That's pretty bad. ;-)