The Surprise Comes Now

28 Feb

I started writing this post two weeks ago. I’ve had a hard time finishing it. It’s because I stopped in the first place–I lost momentum. Momentum is a big thing for me. I am the kind of person who has made a life of muscling through. I don’t like to rest. I think this is one of the reasons I gravitate towards sports that require a lot of training. This is one of the reasons my personality is multi to begin with. One sport is not enough, one career is not enough, one project is not enough, etc…

I really wanted this post to be intelligent and well-conceived; well-executed and stylish. Perfect.

Fuck it.

This is what I wrote on Friday 2/24:

Today is rest day but there will be no rest for me. Since I took Wednesday off to have my head examined, I have to make up my hour bike and my bike te.I actually rested because Saturday was a long training day. A short bike-long run brick and then yet another 2,000+ yard swim session in the pool. Sunday was a shorter long training day: long bike-short run brick but it hurt more because of Saturday. Yesterday, I took Tito (my beloved red Impreza) into the shop for a brake inspection and came out with an $1,150 bill for work that I will admit, I’d been putting of having done for months.

This is what I wrote on Tuesday 2/21:

It’s 7:40AM and I have had no caffeine since Sunday morning. I am drinking tea. TEA! I am drinking tea with sugar in it because I figure trading one stimulant for another might be the thing that keeps me from killing an old lady today. Somehow, I must summon the energy to get into the pool for a swim test. I have to do a warm up and then swim 1000 yards; track time, heart-rate, etc… I can’t express to you how badly I want to skip it. Tomorrow, I submit myself for four hours of neurological testing to make sure that my wires aren’t so badly crossed that I might fall of my bike at some point soon.

This is what I wrote the first day I sat down to write this stupid post all the way back on February 17th:

So much gear, so many early mornings, so many miles, so many laps. And I’m still human. I still can’t fly. Or breathe under water. Such a commitment. What’s the point?

Last week, I had a swim workout that consisted of 2,200 yards and broke down like this:

2ooyds kick for warm up; 200yds mixed; 4 x 400 yards at a high level of effort with a mere 30 seconds of rest between sets; 200yds kick for cool down.

I was supposed to complete this workout in 45 minutes. I saw that on my training schedule and my first thought was that it would be impossible. Then I had a chat with myself. I said, “Self, you can try. You can at least try to haul ass and get it all done. It’s gonna be hard but what’s the worst that can happen? You’re not going to drown in the pool.” My self, the smart ass, responded: “Infants and cats drown in toilets all the time! And I am only moderately smarter than infants and cats.”

But I do this: I dwell on the worst case scenario. I’m trying to stop. It’s a process. I have an open water phobia. I’m not ashamed to admit it because I know I’m not the only one. And yes, I know the chances of shark attack are slim to none but I still fear being attacked by a shark. Just like, part of me still fears drowning in four feet of water with a lifeguard on duty and at least three other swimmers in the pool. Or I fear that I will run out of steam mid-length and look stupid. And almost nothing trumps the fear of looking stupid.

What I don’t fear apparently is getting clipped by a car on my bike. I can cross three lanes of traffic against the light on my bike and I’m fine. This is dumb. Sometimes I don’t hug the curb as close as I should. This is dumb. I know. And I try to be careful because it is way more likely that I will be hit by a car in this town than I will be attacked by a shark. Or drown in the pool at UM.

Then I stopped writing and picked up again on the 21st and changed the “present” to reflect the point in time from which I was then narrating:

Miami lost a cyclist last week. His name was/is Aaron Cohen. I didn’t know him. I never rode or ran with him. All I know is that he was 36 years old, a father to two small kids and a husband to his wife. He was killed in a hit and run by a driver who has luckily already been removed from the road. This is a boon. But Aaron Cohen is gone. My heart goes out to his family and I applaud the hundreds of friends and supporters who gathered Saturday morning for a massive ride from downtown Miami to Key Biscayne in honor of his memory, despite the fact that very few of them (at least few in the crew I saw while out running that morning) were wearing helmets.

On Wednesday night,

I’m talking about 2/15, now:

I had a nice long catch-up conversation with my friend Susan. She is a long-time runner and also a triathlete. I was bitching to her about not hitting my time goals and describing all the negative self talk that started to creep in when I hit mile nine of the ING and realized I wasn’t going to finish under 2 hours. I told her that by the last mile, I’d just given up. And I started to get angry. And I started to feel the pain. And I started to hate running. She said, “Edith, I’ve got a mantra for you. For the home stretch. You say this:


During my swim the other day, I decided to do what my training schedule told me to do. Work hard. Stay in Zone 5. Push myself for four hundred yards and then take 30 seconds of rest before doing it again. And again. And again. Swim as fast as possible and try get it all done in half an hour. And when I got tired or frustrated or angry, I would say to myself: it’s the last fucking interval. It’s the last fucking half. It’s the last fucking lap. It’s the last fucking length.

I didn’t even almost make it. I swam 1,600 yards in 45 minutes. And that was my best possible effort. That is what my hard work yielded. I was almost pissed. And then I realized how selfish it would be to get angry about something like that. And how amazing it is that we get to be in the water. Or on our bikes. Or our feet. How lucky we are when our lungs work and our arms work and our hearts beat and we’re alive. And we forget this. We get distracted. By gear. By time goals. By stats. By cell phones.  By cocaine. By rage. By training to be super human or simply something just a little bit better than what we essentially are.

I have been involved in amateur athletics for a very long time. For about as long as I have been involved, in one way or another, in the theater.  I need sport because, while there is no one single way to carve out a career for yourself–success is a slippery bitch. Intangible. Incalculable–sport is Newtonian. If I put in the effort and do my speed work, my half marathon time will improve. The more I swim, the better I swim. There may be some kind of law of diminishing returns in there somewhere. There is probably a point after which I will no longer improve but I don’t think I’m there yet.

All athletes have goals.  They can often appear insane or illogical. But they keep us motivated and on-track and satisfied. Goals are awesome but too often those goals are fueled by the wrong kind of fire. Too often we get so obsessed with performing that we completely lose sight of what is most important about the pursuit.

And this is the point where I consistently lost track of the narrative through-line, got frustrated and stopped writing.

Back on Tuesday 2/21 (exactly a week ago), I wrote:

“Somehow, I must summon the energy to get into the pool for a swim test. I have to do a warm up and then swim 1000 yards; track time, heart-rate.”

I completed that 1000 yards in 23:15. I’d never swum a thousand yards straight without stopping. Ever. I had no idea what my time might be. So really, that swim was more diagnostic than anything else. I felt good about finishing in 23:15.

Today I had the same swim test on my schedule. I was very excited to beat my time. Guess what? I didn’t. I finished over a minute slower: 24:23. And I’ll tell you, I WAS PISSED OFF. I gave myself NO END OF SHIT for that lost minute.

Did I stop to congratulate myself on the fact that I had just finished a 1,000 yards (just over a half mile), without stopping, almost four minutes faster than I swam the same distance at MiamiMan back in November? Did I take a moment to recognize my improvement over the last six months? Back in August, I couldn’t go more than 50 yards without needing a rest. In six months, I have gotten 20x better than I was when I started.

But no. I was angry about 68 seconds.

The original title of this post was “The Last Fucking Mile.” But I think today I realized that it’s not actually about the last fucking mile or whatever that means metaphorically. It’s not about Aaron Cohen and how lucky we should all count ourselves to be alive and healthy. It’s not about phobias and overcoming them.

It’s about performance. It’s not surprising to me that I lost this essay around the point that I started talking about performance. “Too often we get so obsessed with performing that we completely lose sight of what is most important about the pursuit.”

Yeah, no shit, Sherlock.

It is not surprising that my need for this post to be perfect caused me to stop writing it. It was not surprising when my first response after that swim today was, “You are so fucking slow.”

The surprise comes now. When I publish this post without going back over it a dozen times to make tiny, imperceptible “fixes,” to fuck with word choice; to clean up the narrative. I’m not even going to spell-check or grammar check. And that’s all good.

And a thousand yards is still a thousand yards.


13 Responses to “The Surprise Comes Now”

  1. iwanttobeatriathlete February 28, 2012 at 7:17 pm #

    Love it… but especially love where “This is what I wrote on Tuesday 2/21:” was going… lol.

  2. mymultipersonality February 29, 2012 at 12:00 am #

    Thanks my friend. Just realized the whole first paragraph is a mess! It’s killing me not to go back and correct everything. But I will be strong.

    • iwanttobeatriathlete February 29, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

      Leave like that! It’s an interesting perspective of how the mind works depending on what you are facing each day. We are constantly talking in our heads… not a good thing. But this represents it all so well.

      • mymultipersonality February 29, 2012 at 7:42 pm #

        Yes, I agree. many sports come with many ways to psych yourself out or in.

  3. sexyflexi March 1, 2012 at 12:13 am #

    I totally needed this. Great post 🙂

  4. Mark March 1, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

    The mental portion of athletics is what killed me during the ING. I had mentally locked myself into running a 4-hour marathon, and made the physical effort to keep up with the four hour pacer, without paying attention to conditions or what my body was telling me. As a result, I burned out and was feeling horrible at mile 11, and had to take the exit for the half-marathon, even though I had paid for the full.

    And all my friends said “It’s still great that you ran thirteen miles!” but in my head, that’s only a score of 50%, since I was supposed to finish the 26. Lesson learned: run according to current conditions, and not according to whatever ideal I’ve cooked up for myself. So I don’t fault you for being angry about 68 seconds at all.

    On an unrelated note, “A Useful Mess” would be a great title for an autobiography.

    • mymultipersonality March 1, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

      HA! I’ll keep that title in mind.
      People who don’t participate in race sports don’t understand how a few seconds or even 13 miles can mean the difference between loving yourself and hating yourself. I have a friend who does Ultras and had planned to run a 50 miler in CO in September. Conditions were bad, cold, wet, etc… and he I think ended up with a little hypothermia and had to bail at 36. He felt totally dejected. I was like, “YOU RAN 36 MILES!” But then I thought, well, if I’d planned for 50 and I didn’t finish, I’d be bummed too.” It’s all relative.

      • Mark March 1, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

        Isn’t this what physicists call “frames of reference?”

      • iwanttobeatriathlete March 1, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

        During last year’s ING Half I had to walk the last part because of a knee injury. I pushed myself as much as I could but by mile 9 the knee just said “no”. When I got to the finish line I “bunny hopped” into it in pain (I was NOT going to walk), but after receiving my medal I had a sweet and sour moment, and still have… I didn’t feel “worthy” of it because I had to walk. Still my team mates said “you did 13 miles, yada, yada, yada!!!” Fortunately this year I didn’t have a knee problem, but was having issues with my IT bands, so the stress of having to walk again was haunting me. On race day I had my strategy in place and paced myself, and did make it running all the way, minus the water station stops for a quick stretch. This year I felt I earned every mile that medal represented. But as I look back, running and walking 13 miles is not bad at all. I guess I just chose to be hard on myself back then.

      • mymultipersonality March 2, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

        It’s amazing how quickly perspective changes. The first goal is sometimes just to finish and then suddenly, finishing isn’t good enough. You need to run the whole thing. Then running isn’t good enough, you need to PR. Then PR isn’t good enough, you need to place, etc… We’re lucky to have such problems.

  5. iwanttobeatriathlete March 4, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    I know! We could have worse problems.

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