January 14, 2009

The Drug

I love being in shape. As it turns out, I also love getting out of shape. Ah, the pizza. The wine. The turkey reuben sandwiches with extra coleslaw and large dollops of thousand island dressing. Yum-ME.

The problem is that I despise getting back in shape. Big problem. It's kinda like the person who loves climbing up Everest but hates climbing down. Eventually you've gotta do it or you're going to become really unhappy pretty darn quickly.

The flip side of the joy of getting out of shape is the annoyance of having to get back in shape. The process sucks. Mentally and physically, it hurts. It's uncomfortable, not to mention embarrassing, squeezing back into a bathing suit and not being able to swim 400 yards without needing oxygen. It's annoying running for only 5 minutes at a 13 minute per mile pace when I was running marathons earlier in the year.

Here's my ideal - I want to be able to sit around all year eating pizza and watching TV, with one six pack on the table and another six pack on my abs, then one day on a whim get up and go run a sub 3 hour marathon like it ain't no thang. I want to be that guy. I want it to be natural. No work. No effort. No pain.

But those aren't the cards life dealt us - we all know the pain-gain life lesson there and we've heard it ad infinitum. So after nearly two decades of this silly sport and another decade of running, I've finally come to realize that there is pain and there always will be. Pain is part of life and it's surely a part of training. Regardless of your fitness level, whether you are a weekend warrior or a professional racer, progress and pain are identical twins.

The past couple of weeks in my "getting back in shape" mode, I've been doing some short rides, shorter swims and even shorter runs. Most of the effort is focused on form, with quick bursts of power sprinkled in every now and then. There's lots of drills and stretching and stuff that has no forward movement. It's monotonous. It's everything I hate about getting back in shape. If my year of training were that picture of the ascent of man, I'm still in the monkey phase. Once again, I am learning to crawl, knowing full well it will lead to a walk, a jog, a run. Problem is, I don't like crawling.

But I push because I know there will be progress. Though I struggle today, it will make me a better tomorrow.

And every once in a random while I get that feeling. You know what I'm talking about, it's the drug. For a brief nano-second in time, as I push through these beginner workouts while wearing far too much Ironman clothing for anybody who has even a modicum of pride, everything just clicks. It's that feeling... when you are pushing yourself to your limit, completely focused on the moment, on every single action of every single muscle in your body; when the carrot is dangling right there, just a millimeter out of reach and you are determined, with every cell in every part of your being, to grab it. To achieve. To progress. You can actually feel the adrenaline seeping into your blood stream, drop by drop by drop. It flows into your system like one of those IV packets. And you thrive on it. If you are Popeye, you've got your spinach.

Even though it's just a nanosecond, your entire life has led to that one feeling. And there comes a point when you're not sure if you're smiling, crying or if your cheek muscles have just started to tighten. Whatever it is you want to hold on. Tighter. You want more. You always want more.

It's the drug.
And suddenly I remember why I love this sport.


jbmmommy said...

I had one mile like that yesterday. The other two sucked, but one I enjoyed.

Good luck getting back into shape. If it makes you feel any better, some of us have never even gotten to your level of "in shape"- you'll be fine.

Susi said...

Great post...you captured the feeling perfectly!

Trihardist said...

I love the way you right about this stuff. Almost always say exactly what I'm thinking, but in much more articulate terms.

And I've told a couple of my clients, "It never stops hurting; you just get faster." They don't really like to hear that, though.