September 25, 2007

The Few, The Proud...

I know a guy who used to be in Special Ops. The Special Operations sector of the US Army (or "Special Ops" for people like me who want to sound cool) is a group of highly trained masochists who have the responsibility of putting themselves in harms way and doing things that most normal citizens believe only happens in Tom Clancy books and Tom Cruise movies.

You probably also know of them as the Green Berets, though I'm not quite sure if they actually still sport the highly fashionable beret. I can only imagine that a beret might fall off while you're parachuting behind enemy lines in the dark of night with missiles whizzing by your earlobes. Then again, I've never claimed to be a headwear specialist.

So this guy I know, his name is Tony. Really super-nice fellow, but kinda crazy. Not crazy in a push-a-shopping-cart-filled-with-empty-boxes-and-yell-random-things type of way. His version of crazy extends more to the push-yourself-beyond-the-limit-and-enjoy-it kind of way.

This type of crazy makes sense because out there in the Special Ops world, there is no such thing as quitting. If you suddenly decide mid-mission that you don't want to continue on, tough cookies. If you quit, you not only put yourself in danger but you put your entire team at risk.

I can only imagine that one of the main personality characteristics of a top notch Special Op-er is the ability to keep moving forward when every bone in your body screams for you to stop.

Tony's got some crazy stories about his days in Special Ops. Truly nutty stories about laughing in the face of fear and danger. But Tony left the military quite a few years ago and channeled all of his physical prowess and intelligence into adventure racing, which I reckon is a much better way to channel the energy than, say, becoming a contract killer. Tony is now one of the top adventure racers on the international circuit

Tony used to be my triathlon coach. He put me through some of the most grueling workouts I've ever experienced. There were runs that were so tough I'd practically throw up in the end; Bike rides that were so demanding I could barely lift my legs for days.

I used to meet with Tony once a week for these sessions. In retrospect, it seems like I was volunteering for electro-shock therapy - like I was actually paying somebody to beat the crap out of me and then showing up seven days later for more of the same. In actuality, that pretty much sums it up. Then again, sometimes that's what it takes to get you focused.

One of the best parts of my training back then was hearing Tony's stories. At the end of a particularly painful session, he'd reward me with stories of his military past. Tony, you see, was about as close to Mission:Impossible as I will probably get.

He's the guy that parachuted in the dark of night into the middle of the ocean, then swam to the coast, behind enemy lines, and crept into the remote building to rescue the hostages and sneak them out to safety. He was that guy.

Tony was in the first Gulf War before we even knew we were fighting a war. Two days before we ever heard of Shock and Awe, he was scrambling through the sands with his troop of men in the dead of night, scouting for land mines and enemy hiding places to make it safe for the rest of the military to thunder in and kick ass.

Tony was the guy that radioed back to the troops with the "all clear" sign, only to be stuck smack in the middle of the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air as he and his team hauled ass back from across enemy lines before the bad guys caught up to them.

As you can probably imagine, he's got a lot of will-power and focus, this Tony fellow. When there's pain, Tony pushes through it. And as a coach, that's what he teaches his minions.

I owe a lot to Tony. He taught me how to focus and face the pain. When things get bad out there and I don't think I could possibly go on for another step, I hear his voice in my head pushing me further. And that's what gets me to not only take another step, but to take it harder and faster than the previous step.

All this was a tremendous asset this morning on the elliptical machine.

Elliptical machine? you're asking incredulously.
Yep, elliptical.

Remember those achilles problems I was having at the SOS? Well guess what.... my doctor told me that I can't run for at least two weeks. It's a case of achilles tendinitis which isn't that bad in the scheme of things. That is, if you hadn't had plans to run the NY Marathon six weeks hence.

Who needs to train for a marathon anyway. It's only 26 miles, right?

I feel like I should get a medal for my elliptical workout this morning. An endurance medal. I was on the damn thing for an hour and forty minutes! Can you believe it?! What kind of mindless retard can numb his brain long enough to stay on an elliptical for an hour and forty minutes without going absolutely crazy, maybe even speaking in tongues. Me, that's the answer. I'm the kind of mindless retard.

I don't know if anybody else has ever used one of the YMCA's elliptical machines for 110 minutes straight. I'd imagine most people might hang themselves somewhere around 80 minutes. That's where it starts getting tough. And that's about where I heard Tony's voice coursing through the grey matter in my aforementioned mindlessly retarded pea brain.

I'm not sure what I heard him say, all I know is that one minute I would give anything to get off the silly machine and the next minute I realize that I'm pushing harder and faster than I had all day. And it was starting to feel good!

30 minutes later I finished and I was damn proud of myself when I stepped off that stupid thing. Proud that I completed a mentally challenging workout - and one I didn't think I'd be able to finish. I always get proud when I accomplish something I don't think I could do. Isn't that somewhat the definition of pride - the feeling of pushing forward when everything else is forcing you to fall back.

I suppose that's what it all comes down to. Through all of the training, all of the hill repeats and sand sprints, the pain and self-induced nausea, Tony didn't teach me how to run faster or push harder. He didn't teach me how to buckle down and bear the pain.

He taught me how to break through the mental chains that confined me and to be the absolute best person I could possibly be. Tony taught me how to be proud; to smile at the end of the day. And I suppose that's a lesson that is worth any amount of agony.


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

I think that the most impressive thing of the day is that no soccer moms pushed you off the elliptical machine in all those 110 minutes. That's 5 1/2 20-minute soccer mom "cardio sessions"!

I wish I could train to be a Tony, it's kind of been a lifelong dream of mine. The problem is I don't eat meat and believe killing is wrong, so the military doesn't seem like a good fit. I guess the only thing we civilians can do is channel GI Jane or Tony and try to make ourselves better people and athletes all on our own. But it looks like even though you're not paying Tony anymore, you sure got your money's worth!

1HappyAthlete said...


Andra Sue said...

I think if I had to use the elliptical trainer for 110 minutes, I might be tempted to purposely fall off or poke my eye out with a water bottle so I could have an excuse to get the hell off. YOU? Are a machine. And a pillar of mental strength.

Melissa said...

congratulations to you for your elliptical pursuits!

a team mate of mine sent me your blog - after complaining about my 85 minute elliptical session this morning, mine seems easy in comparison. i am battling some knee problems and also training for a marathon on the elliptical. why? b/c i said iwas goign to run a marathon and darn it i'm gonna do it - and so will you! i finished a half iron (albeit slow) with only running on the elliptical beforehand so i know you can take your time on the eliptical and continue to increase your training. keep it up!

mitch said...

110 minutes on an elliptical? Doesn't that qualify for some kind of Special Ops medalin and of itself?

Tea said...

I thought I was insane, but way I could spend THAT much time on the elliptical. You're my hero.