June 16, 2007

Ironman Dreams

I remember my first triathlon. I remember the fear.

Everybody looked so serious and professional. And then there was me. I felt as if I stood out like a tone-deaf Jew going Christmas caroling. (That's another story for a different time.)

I had no clue what I was doing and was too scared to ask. Oh my God, I thought to myself as I wheeled my dodderingly pathetic mountain bike to the transition area, what have I gotten myself into?

I had no concept of how to set up my transition zone and stood there in my shorts and t-shirt, quizzically gazing at the focused fastidiousness of others in their pre-race rituals. I tried to look busy and puttered about mindlessly. I stared with fear at all the other racers in their color-coded clothing and racing gear, and I wondered if I could still sneak out of here without anybody noticing.

Of all my stupid ideas, I told myself, this was definitely near the top of the list.

Eventually I got to the starting line and eventually the gun went off. I was committed, there was no looking back.

That first race of mine was a backwards triathlon, which meant a run-bike-swim rather than the standard swim-bike-run. I'm a runner, or at least I was back in my youth before I was left with these tissue-paper excuses for calves, so a backwards tri should help me settle in. But the starting gun is not an antidote for fear. Once my legs started moving, so did my mind.

Am I running too fast? Am I biking too slow? When will my legs stop feeling so weird? Why does this hurt so much?

I didn't run too fast, I didn't bike too slow. Instead, I finished that race with a sense of accomplishment I had rarely experienced before. It was life changing.

Catherine and I volunteered this past weekend at the Redondo Beach Sprint Triathlon. We guarded the bike path area and stopped traffic to let the racers cross safely. We cheered them on as they struggled up the beach, plodding uncomfortably from the brutally cold ocean to T1 parking lot.

The Redondo Triathlon is a haven for new racers. This year there were 200 first timers. As I was walking around pre-race, preparing the area for competition, I saw the look on the faces of those 200 newbies as they came and stared at the water. I saw the fear. I remember that fear, he was at my first race too.

And when those new racers hesitantly approached me and asked about the water, or the racing process or how to get to transition, I could sense the uncertainty in their voice. I could hear the fear, their minds repeating the same words I had said to myself so many years before... What have I gotten myself into?

Last night I had a dream. I had a dream that I did an Ironman race. It was one of those dreams that seemed so real that when I opened my eyes this morning I was awash in the post-Iron feeling of elation and fully expected my body to be in post-race pain. It took a few minutes for me to realize that I was tucked safely in my bed, in my bedroom. I had not done an Ironman. It was just a dream.

And as my mind began to clear, I recognized the irony of it all. I remembered that Ironman WAS a dream for me over the course of many years. From the fear that encapsulated my first triathlon 15 years ago, was born a dream to compete in Ironman.

But Ironman is no longer a dream. I have lived that dream and experienced every minute moment of emotion that comes along with it. I have one Ironman under my belt and another on the docket. All I wished for is all I have.

I can still feel that fear from days gone by. I don't let it get too far away from me because there's a humility that comes with innocence. And though I have 15 years of triathlon experience under my belt, I'm never too old to have dreams.


triathlonmom said...

How do you know if that dream to do an Ironman is real...or if maybe you just wonder if you can. What if you are too scared to try? Or if your last race didn't offer you a new window on your soul and you wonder if the next one will?

j. said...

-->or if you're too scared to try<--

being scared is part of the process, otherwise we wouldn't be in such wonderment of the Ironman athletes. if we assumed it was easy, where's the challenge to drive us further?

coming from somebody who was going to do Ironman "someday in the future", i'll let you know that the fear doesn't go away. it's just a matter of figuring out when you'll confront it.

as i'm about to post, i remember the fear I felt of my first (sprint distance) race. but i jumped in and survived, somehow. we all do. that's why we're here.

like just about everything else, the soul searching is not something that happens before or after the significant accomplishment. more often soul searching works in conjunction with pushing yourself outside of the comfort zone.

of course, i'm writing this in the comfort of my couch. talk about comfort zone.

Rachel said...

There's always something new to to work towards. I still get butterflies on the start.

No Wetsuit Girl... overseas! said...

Wow. Really. That post gave me a jolt that my burnout doldrums really needed. I've been asking myself recently, "what's the big deal anyway? Do I really need to achieve this goal *someday* to die happy?" Thanks for reminding me that I don't HAVE to, but that's why I want to. Really, sincerely, thanks.