Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing

Well, that's not exactly what I'm doing all the time, but I often do a little of each now - and this is day 1 of taper to Ironman Canada, and there's about 17 days left, give or take some hours here and there.

I haven't written anything in my blog for a while.  I've been busy.  Busy hanging on.  Every once in a while, when I was able to borrow perspective from a friend in conversations over the last couple of months, I was able to realize how much training I've been able to do compared to last year.  In the middle of it, it just feels like a fog, and my only job was to focus on getting the work done day by day.  I've had my freak out moments.  I was told to focus on one day at a time.  Perspective is something of a rare item in the midst of it all.

I still don't have a total and complete picture of it all, an understanding, but I have finally felt like I've come out of the fog and have been able to feel some feelings besides the standard "tired", "sore", "dread", "disbelief", and "couch please".  That being said, I know deep down I actually l love a lot of those thoughts and I thrive in my ability to take them on and prove myself wrong.  But sometimes, when you put a lot of work in, the work can become bigger than your ability to conquer, and you're just holding on.  I have been holding on.  And it's been an interesting experience.  I'm learning a lot about myself.

It may sound cliche, but you really never know what you can do until you find your limits, and then you find these great big open doors in front of you.  When you are at your limit, ironically, you become even more limitless.  I have kept saying in my head for the past few months, the human body is one big stupid machine.  It just does what you tell it to.  The trick is, can you tell it to do what you want?

If I've learned anything in the past month, is that your brain must be the most important training tool in the world.  Yes, more than your garmins, your power meters, your dorkels and your aero (insert whatever here).  Nothing can make you race faster than your brain can.  Not a thing in the world.  And that is kind of neat.  Priceless.  You have it - it's attached (hopefully....although there were days I, and others, would question that...), and you are in control if you want to be.  Tough part is, the brain is so powerful, it can often become seemingly impossible to control.  And on the brink of exhaustion, it be becomes one tricky customer to please, but it can also be your greatest salvation and best friend.

The brain runs on glucose.  Training is constantly emptying your bank of glucose.  You can see where we're going here.  Insult to injury, your brain cells needs 2x what other cells need.  So if you are tearing your body apart, piece by piece, what do you think is happening up there?  Well, research would say a few things about this - but mostly what you read is that exercise is beneficial to the brain & I couldn't agree more.  However, anyone who has gone through some pretty long and arduous sessions understands some of the following negative thoughts & feelings often accompanied with low blood sugar, and here are my top 10.

1.  "I can't keep going, I need to slow down, I need to stop, I'm going to fall over, please fall over".
2.  "I hurt, I have nothing left, my tank is empty, please stop hitting me with a tire iron, no wait, please someone Nancy Kerrigan me, and make it look good"
3.  "I am going to crap my pants"
4.  "I cannot possibly get off this couch/floor/bed"
5.  "My legs have finally, and completely, turned to cement swiss cheese"
6.  "My arms are on fire and I'm about to drown in a 5-foot pool with a pullbuoy"
7.  "I should just divert this run/race and head straight for the ocean, no one will find me there"
8.  "I won't be able to do this effort when I need to, it's too tough, I'm going to fail"
9.  "It's ok if they pass me, I don't mind, I don't care" (anyone who knows me knows I care, a LOT)
10.  "It hurts, I'm scared"

I bet I'm not the only one to have those thoughts.  If I let them get the better of me all the time I wouldn't be where I am now.  So here is the magic power of the brain vs. the 'big stupid machine'.  You can choose to use what you've got - the best training tool there is - your noggin.  And 10 thoughts to trump the others?

1.  "You are hanging on, you can keep this effort going, you're strong"
2.  "You are loving this pain.  This pain is awesome.  This pain means you are training/racing damn hard.  Bring. It. On."
3.  "You haven't crapped your pants yet, and even if you do, it's hard core and you're going to run faster to get finished and get changed"
4.  "You are off the couch, and putting one foot in front of the other.  It's all that matters"
5.  "Cement swiss cheese is what champions are made of" HA.
6.  "You're doing the one thing you never thought you could do, and you're getting better at it, and you're beating people doing it"
7.  "The ocean will feel much better once you're done the workout, then you can head straight in"
8.  "Your race effort is always there, is always strong, and you don't fail.  No drama, keep going"
9.  "Hang on, use them, hold them, & show them what you can do.  Chick them"
10.  Finally, I think the best thought is no thought at all.  When it hurts, when I'm afraid, I often just tell myself it's time to stop thinking.  About anything.  It's time for the big stupid machine to do the work.

That is the beautiful balance.  They work together perfectly if you'll let them.  Force things and you might blow up beyond all imagined proportion.  You have to trust yourself, your brain, your body, on all the work you've done and know that it will be there for you if you let it.  Easier said than done, absolutely.  And I still get nervous thinking about what will happen in a few weeks time.  I'm moving toward my limits again, the scariest and most rewarding place of all.  But for now, it's time to restock this precious and slightly battered body and brain with some restoration, perspective, feel good sessions (my body has forgotten what the h these are).

The physical work is hard.  But the mental work is even tougher.  That's what I've learned this summer.  This also includes the mental work of rest & recovery, which I'm sure soon will become much harder than it is today.  It takes confidence, and confidence comes from perspective, and from out of the fog bank comes the ability to find those rays of light that help you to see what is really important.

I described sitting, waiting - but what about wishing?  Do I have a wish?

You bet I do.

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