Endurance: the word defines my life. The mantra of my childhood? Quitters never win and winners never quit. Thanks, Dad. . .I think. Well, that and, courtesy of my mother, “Are you really going to leave the house looking like that?” Dad’s advice sunk in; Mom’s never quite took.
I’m trying to maintain the mental endurance to finish my second novel while I suffer through the pain of looking for representation on the first one. Until I took up writing novels, I thought marathons and plantar fasciitis were bad. How naïve I was.
My training for physical endurance events serves me well in writing. Athletics do not come easily for me. I have no real talent, except the ability to keep going. But I have that ability in great measure, although my efforts aren’t always pretty.
A few years ago I was struggling – big time struggling — through training for my first Half Ironman Triathlon. I had done a number of sprint distance triathlons, but nothing longer than a sprint. For all you non-triathletes, a little tri-info will be useful here: triathlons come in several models, but all include a swim, a bicycle, and a run segment, in that order. The swim zaps your energy, and the bicycle burns out your quads. By the time you run, your legs feel like bricks; hence, running after biking is often called a brick.
The shortest triathlons are sprints. The swim distance in a sprint is usually about 800 meters, the bicycle approximately 12 miles, and the run 3 miles. The next length is the Olympic (intermediate) distance triathlon: 1500 meter swim, 24 mile bike, and 6 mile run. I was training for a Half Ironman, known also as an “70.3.” A 70.3 is named for its distance in miles: 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run. It is exactly half the distance of a full Ironman, also known as a “140.6”: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and a full 26.2 mile marathon tagged on the end, just for fun. Yes, you purists, I know these distances vary and that I have mixed my metrics with my miles; so, sue me.
My training one hot Sunday in August included all three sports: swim, bike, and run. Here is the blog I wrote about my day. Those that know me well will be tickled to see me talk about my inner demons, but this is a tale of ordinary, everyday endurance:
Today I did a “reverse” Olympic-distance-“plus” triathlon in Houston’s August heat, spread out over the course of the day. Lest you think this is too impressive, let me assure you that reversing the order of events in a triathlon makes a huge difference. Running with fresh. non-biked-out legs is much easier, and swimming after any high-temperature activity is nothing more than a great way to cool down. So, a run followed by swim equals triathlon training nirvana. Plus, getting to dash into the house and have client conference calls while resting in the air conditioning between “events” brings the heart rate down and allows time for re-charge of energy.
But it was still going to be a challenging day. In the morning I had postponed my 6:00 a.m. run due to a headache, having postponed last night’s bike due to an ugly mood swing (hey, it doesn’t happen as often as some people would like to claim — I hadn’t been feeling good), and I knew I also faced a mid-day swim as well. I was under a big deadline for a client, on which I was managing to just barely get enough done to make finishing on time possible but unpleasant. And my beloved and I, normally blissed-out and gaga, were shredding each other for no clear reason.
I set off alone for my “10k” at 8:00 a.m., the Shuffle on as loud as I could stand without causing permanent hearing loss, jamming to Bon Jovi’s Runaway, black Tifosi sunglasses over my half-closed eyes. Within the first mile I went from “I feel surprisingly good” to “WTF.” I found myself sprawled on my back trying to figure out how I could fall on flat pavement. I studied the road behind me and saw it: a rock — medium-sized, innocuous and seemingly without a twinge of guilt, the rat bastard. For ten seconds I surveyed my middle-aged parts, both hands and both knees bleeding and painful but no broken bones, and my back bleeding from the automatic but too late shoulder roll I had executed. I wiped off the gravel and a few angry “why make it so hard on me today God” tears and started running again.
At about the two mile mark I was cruising along Bray’s Bayou cursing the sun, when I realized I would not make it through the run without an emergency visit to the McDonald’s bathroom at Hillcroft. I was not as “over” some abdominal issues from the previous day as I thought. Oh joy. I sprinted across the street for five minutes of fun getting in and out of sweaty spandex in a bathroom not yet cleaned up from Saturday night. A few more angry tears slipped out before I could stop them.
I started running again. The rest of the run was uncomfortable but required no more Britney Spears-like stops at public restrooms. I ran the specified distance at the specified pace (with a subtraction for the Mickey D’s incident).
Next up: a one hour break for a conference call with a prospective client about a proposal we had sent to them.
I spent the last five minutes of the conference call with the phone on mute while I put together my nuun tablets, water bottles, gu, energy bars, swim gear, and a sack lunch for my husband Eric. I made a dash for our pool. I swam 2000 meters, which was a good bit more than Olympic distance; actually, it was greater than Half Ironman distance. My bronchitis/asthma was finally lessening, so I choked less than usual, but I choked nonetheless and struggled to keep my sucky attitude from getting worse.
Now I had to take another one hour break to prepare and transmit draft documents to a different client.
Finally, I hopped on the bike for a solo ride along scenic, sweet-smelling (ha!) Bray’s Bayou in 100+ degree heat. It was a quick ride — 1.5 hours, totaling about 23 miles — because it’s hard to get up any speed when you have to stop for traffic lights every mile or so to cross major streets. I managed not to crash even as I dodged the clouds of little black bugs that I kept spitting out of my teeth. The sweat burned in the road rash from earlier.
Let’s see what I accomplished today: I personally generated an entire load of laundry, my house is dirty, I didn’t make dinner, I haven’t fed the animals, and I will be working late tonight to make up for ignoring all but the most critical work to do my personal Meyerland-area reverse triathlon.
But I finished my training, until tomorrow, with only minor injuries, and my black toenail stayed on another day. I am happy about my major improvement in the pool; I didn’t get motion-sick from slinging the fluid in my sick head with alternate side breathing. And I know I am lucky to have even had this day — if the kids hadn’t been visiting the grandparents, the training would have been over before it started.
I feel sure that I didn’t crack a smile the entire time, though. I might even have pouted most of the way and of course I shed tears more than once. Someone tell me why this is fun (oh yeah, because I like to suffer), and explain to me why I still have cellulite???
I will say this. I absolutely know on days like these that I am a warrior goddess fighting against traffic, smog, my job, medium-sized rocks, heat, sunscreen in my eyes, and my inner demons, and that Dara Torres is not a fluke among over-40 women. We all have more in us than we use, and I think God was teaching me a lesson today about stick-to-it-ness, a lesson I know I need for the really tough days — real-life days and triathlon days.
I am not a quitter. I am an example to my children. I run the race to finish, not for speed. I guess I have even become, somewhere along the way, not just a woman spending “quality time” with a triathlete husband, but a real triathlete, too.
Fast forward to 2010, and, yes, I am still not a quitter, not in athletics, life, or writing. My training changes based on injuries or events, but I approach it with confidence now built from days like that reverse Olympic day several years ago. IMHO, you have to stretch into your discomfort zone before you become comfortable with something new.
Endurance training is now comfortable to me while marketing my writing is not. But, I welcome the discomfort because I know I can take it, that I can endure. I have written one novel which I believe in, and I am about to finish my second. Watch out publishing world. You can make this hard on me and I may pout the whole way, but I warn you: I show up on race day and reach the finish line.
Wishing you a week filled with discomfort and even a few pouts,