Two Simple Words

2 Mar

When I was in the midst of all my training, when all I did was eat, sleep and breathe running, when my goal still lay out ahead of me and I was still reaching for it, I had a secret fear. And this fear was in my mind in the form of a question, two simple words:

What’s next?

This fear went against everything I was trying to teach myself- don’t worry too much, don’t think so much about the future, and certainly don’t worry and think too much at once. But still, I couldn’t help it. This fear was real. I brushed it aside, I didn’t dwell on it, but it rose to the top of my mind every now and again. I couldn’t help it. What WAS next? My triathlon goal had a very concrete date- on July 26th I was going to be a triathlete (I didn’t allow myself to question this. It was not a question. I was going to do it). But what would July 27th be like?

I’m sure this fear is understandable. When you focus your life around one thing, and that thing is suddenly, seemingly over….what do you do? I didn’t know the answer. I didn’t think the triathlon defined me, but for the moment, I was defining myself by that goal. It was what I talked about when I saw people who I hadn’t seen in a while. It was what I talked about with the people I saw all the time. It was the biggest thing in my life. It almost WAS me. What would I do without it?

What’s funny is, while I usually tell everyone in my life everything, I never admitted this fear out loud. I don’t think I wanted to let it out in the world; if it was only in my head it wasn’t as real. If it was only in my head I didn’t have to answer the question.

What’s funny is, one day someone gently asked me this very question: “What’s next?”, two words that exposed all of my hidden fears and my answer: “I don’t know”, wasn’t as scary as I’d thought.

What’s funny is, as we continued on in this conversation he asked me what my biggest hope would be. And I said, I couldn’t help it but even after everything my secret daydream was that my Prince Charming would be waiting for me at the finish line.

What’s funny is, the person I was having this conversation with was James. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was my prince. And he was indeed waiting for me at the finish line.

What’s funny is, this whole experience has made me realize that the question “What’s next?” is nothing to be afraid of. It works out in ways you cannot imagine. But it works out.

Something I’ve understood from the start was that nothing in life is predictable. You never know what’s next. But what I’ve learned is, you’ve got to have faith, you’ve got to believe in better days ahead, in the life you can create and the life you can’t, in the possibilities of the future.

I am not naive enough to think this means nothing will ever go wrong, that everything will always be perfect. No. But I believe in the magic of the every day and I can find the beauty in the life around me.

Even though there is too much stress lately and not enough hours in the day, even though there are angry clients and cranberry juice spills on beige carpet and a pile of laundry that threatens to overtake the bedroom that’s only slightly larger than the pile of bills, I still look around and see so many great things happening.

Babies are growing in the bellies of three of my girlfriends– women who are fabulous, women who will make great mothers, who will make the world a better place by raising children who will be beautiful people in every sense of the word. There are smiles on the faces of people whose smiles had been gone for far too long. There’s friends, and family, there are birthday parties and engagements. Love seems to be everywhere. There is music, and dancing. There are so many great moments that none of us could ever have known were next.

And yes, throughout it all, there is running.

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Welcome to my life, 2010

31 Dec

Today we all stand at one of those interesting places in life, somewhere that is at once both the end and the beginning. While you might be able to mark a few events in the course of your life as simultaneously an ending and a beginning, it’s usually only in retrospect that you recognize it. Today is rare because we all know it as it’s happening.

While not one who usually believes in looking backward, only forward, the thought that came into my head early this morning was that I wasn’t sure if I was ready for 2009 to end. This has been a great year. If you’ll excuse me for saying so, it has been MY year. No matter what happens in the future, I know I’ll always look at 2009 as an amazing 365 days. It has been a year filled with more emotion, more smiles, more laughter, struggle, triumph, determination, support, appreciation, sweat, accomplishment and love than any of the 25 years I’ve lived before it. Whether it was hard or easy, I’ve enjoyed every single day of this year (which would be more accurately defined as a journey), and even more so from this vantage point, looking back at it all. I started somewhere so much different than where I ended up. This year has given me so much. I’m not sure I really want to leave the year of Me behind.

Yet what I realized after thinking about this for a few minutes took my worries away. 2009 didn’t give me anything. I took from 2009. Everything will come with me into 2010. And, like 2009, 2010 has no innate gifts to offer. It will have good moments and bad moments, too. It’s up to me to take from the next 365 days everything that I want; to achieve goals, to laugh harder, smile easier, worry less, love more, run faster, be stronger. Standing at the end of a year in which I reached out and grabbed every fabulous moment I could….well, that’s actually a great feeling. Will 2010 be better? I don’t know, but I know that it could be, and I know that how wonderful it will be rests largely on my shoulders. And if it’s up to me, then it’s going to be. Plus I’ll be ringing in the new year in a pair of insanely fabulous silver sequined heels, hand in hand with a guy that outshines the sparkliest of shoes, so I know I’ll be off to a good start.

As ‘09 draws to a close, I’m reminded of the wise words of my dad when I told him about my blog & the tri nearly a year ago: “You can do it if you put your mind and body to it, which you are and will. It won’t be easy, but what things are in life that test a person?” I know that I am capable of anything and ready to welcome what the next year has to offer.

I’m reminded of the infinite wisdom of Miley Cyrus, whose words always ring true:
“There’s always gonna be another mountain/I’m always gonna wanna make it move/Always gonna be an uphill battle/Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose/Ain’t about how fast I get there/Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side/ It’s the climb.” I know that I am ready to enjoy every great moment that will come to be in the year ahead.

I’m reminded of a Hallmark card that I love– I don’t think I could say it any better or simpler than this, or I would try: “This is the beginning of another 365 day journey around the sun. Enjoy the ride.” I know that I am looking forward to the adventure.

So goodbye, 2009. I’ll never forget you.
Bring it on, 2010. I am so, so, so ready for you.

Seven

20 Nov

It’s probably fitting that my first 5k since the triathlon was on a cold, windy, rainy Sunday morning in October, the kind where, if it was possible, you’d wake up, look outside, and go back to bed. I think it’s fitting because it really takes determination and commitment to want to run in such weather (and to watch others run in that weather- thanks Mom, Dad & James!). And determination and commitment to running is something that’s fallen a little by the wayside for me in the past few months.

I’ll level with you. I’ve gained 7 pounds since the triathlon. Seven. Two or three I would be ok with. Seven I’m not. But guess what? I totally deserve the seven pounds. My gym visits have been sporadic, my eating habits have gotten worse. If I gain any more weight I’ll be disappointing myself. The great thing is, I feel like I learned enough in the past ten months or so to know exactly how to get back on track. And getting back on track means, in part, running a 5k.

Besides that, this 5k was a significant one because it was the first one my brother and I were running together. I talked a LOT of smack all summer long about how I would leave him in the dust come race day. Even as I was saying it, I kinda knew it was baloney- my brother being a natural athlete, he has things going for him that I never will. But the smack-talking continued nonetheless. And then it dropped off somewhere around September. I’m not normally one to run my mouth, and I think I just ran out of steam. That, and I realized it was all fluff anyway. My brother said that I would probably beat him, or we could at least run together during the 5k, which was also baloney, whether he knew it or not.

‘Cause let me tell you, once the horn blew and the race started, I saw my brother for about 45 seconds before he disappeared into the crowd of runners ahead. Way ahead. Waaaaaaaaay ahead. I didn’t see him again til the finish line. Not only that, but I was in this weird place within the pack where there weren’t many people I could see right ahead of me, and I could see no one behind me. Nervousness started weighing me down more than my rain-soaked clothing was. Was I last? This has always been my fear, and in this race, it was more possible than ever— the horrible weather weeded out the novice and spur-of-the-moment runners (and probably the sane ones, too) so the number of people in the race was small. And, I figured these were dedicated, good, solid runners who were RUNNERS. I still have moments where I feel like I pretend to be a runner by running, and that’s what fools people. But an ACTUAL runner? Still go back and forth on that one.

Thankfully, I was not last. By the time I got to the finish line (at 37:30, a time that’s painful for me to admit. But on the bright side, I ran the whole thing besides a quick walk at the water station, so yay for me!) my brother had already been there for seven whole minutes. He could have been in his car, headed home to take a shower, put on dry clothes, and try to forgive me for what I had just put him through. But, of course, he joined the cheering squad at the finish line that was quite enthusiastically (given the cold, rainy conditions they had just spent 37 and a half minutes standing in) waiting for me to cross the finish line.

The next day, I felt like it did after my first 5K- meaning every movement I made caused my body to ache. That’s what I get for taking so much time off. And I’m sure I’m going to be feeling it again a week from today. I’ll be running a 4.748 mile race on Thanksgiving morning with my mom, brother, Lola, James and some friends. Oh, and about 10,000 other people. It’s going to be the longest, biggest race I’ve ever done. Despite my seven pounds, you better believe I will not feel bad later that afternoon when I have an extra helping of stuffing and a super long nap on the couch.

The bee is back!

28 Sep

I guess I couldn’t stay away for too long. Writing, like running, is a cleansing thing for me. And maybe you’re wondering….what happened next? And I hope I don’t disappoint.

But truth is, what happened next is an unwinding. Relaxation. Rest. Recovery. I needed it. To focus so intently on a goal for so long, to be physically and mentally moving so constantly, to remove all distractions and never waver…it’s exhausting. It was a phenomenal feeling of accomplishment to cross the finish line. And then I needed to not be doing it anymore. Just for a little while.

When I crossed that finish line I was a different person than the day I signed up for the race. Achieving everything you’ve set out to achieve is as awe-inspiring as it is humbling. Somehow, by the time I crossed that line, everything else in my life had fallen into place. Some things had changed drastically, others hadn’t changed at all. But my outlook on everything had changed- so therefore, everything was different. Everything was better.

And, perhaps one of the most mystifying things of all- in the midst of all of this, in the midst of not trying, of not thinking about dating, of not wanting to date, of being happy being just me- I met the greatest guy. By the time I crossed that finish line I was falling in love. And that was the one thing I didn’t really dream would actually happen. But somehow, by making other things happen- things for me happen- that happened, too.

I know that it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t gotten myself to a good place. My mom once told me that I had to focus on myself, on what I wanted, what made me happy, before I could ever hope to find a good relationship. Honestly, at the time, I thought she was missing the point- she had no idea what it felt like to be me, 26 and single for years, when she, at 26, was married and pregnant with me. Oh boy, I should have known better. As I think I’ve said before, my mom is smart and pretty much always right. Despite knowing that, I brushed off her comments at the time. But I never forgot the conversation we had, and I’ve since realized that she was right.

There are some things in life, like completing a triathlon, that you can work towards, and, through lots of hard work and effort, achieve. There are other things, like love, that you just can’t. You just have to get yourself to a place where you’ll be ready for it, should it come into your life. Without knowing it, I wasn’t ready before. And then, also without knowing it, I was. And love walked in.

Believe me, I’m well aware of how cliched and storybook-ending that sounds. And I don’t care, because it’s what happened. Cliches are cliches for a reason- because they’re true more often than not, and there is no such thing as a storybook-ending and I’m well aware of that. (Ok, that’s not quite true- I’ll always hold out for the storybook ending. My version of the storybook, that is). The point is…well, there’s lots of points, aren’t there? But ultimately, it’s just like I said in the beginning- it’s all in how you look at things. It’s that complicated, and it’s that simple. It’s still pretty emotional for me when I think about the past nine or so months- how far I’ve come, how hard I’ve worked, how happiness came once I stopped trying so hard to have it.

Somewhere in this period of recovery came another realization. While I needed to slow down, I really don’t want to lose my momentum, I don’t want to stop here. I decided I want to do the triathlon again next year- and I still don’t really know if I can pinpoint why. I just do. And so I will. Isn’t that how it’s always worked? I know that, moving forward, I want and need more of a balance between this and everything else. Before, it consumed me, and that was a good thing. Now, making sure it doesn’t consume me will also be a good thing. By focusing on that one thing for a while, I emerged with a well-rounded life, a new appreciation for every piece of it, and a fresh outlook on what’s to come. And I’m going to run with that.


Part 4: The finish line

3 Aug

And you know, that really is what I like the best about running. There’s nothing else involved. You can just run. I still have a love/hate relationship with it, but how does the saying go? Better the devil you know than the one you don’t? I’m most comfortable with running so it was a huge relief to reach that leg of the tri.

Even more encouraging was the fact that the run was 2.9 miles, not 3.1. That’s a small difference that makes a big difference, at least in my mind. Usually at some point during a 5K my mind is fixated on the deep desire to not be running anymore. But that never happened the day of the triathlon. I honestly think I was so happy to be in the moment I was in, that I didn’t want to rush it. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want it to last forever or anything. But I wanted to appreciate every step for what it was.

As I rounded the second-to-last corner, I started to get a little teary-eyed. It was the first moment I allowed myself to get overwhelmed, and I quickly stopped. I knew I couldn’t get emotional yet, I wasn’t done, and until I crossed the finish line I wouldn’t allow myself to get distracted.

It was only a minute or so later until I was crossing the finish line but the tears that had started to well up in my eyes were long gone. Crossing the finish line. I don’t know how to describe that feeling. Relief that it was over, that I did it. Pride in the fact that I was able to accomplish something that was so outside of my normal self. Happiness as I met up with the family and friends who had come to cheer me along, waving bumblebees and signs and cheering for me the whole way.

And I was also very humbled…to be surrounded by so many women whose goals were probably quite similar to mine, and to be surrounded by the people who have been so supportive and encouraging of me these past few months, who would get up early and stand around all morning just to see me for a few seconds here and there in order to see me cross the finish line.

It was also somehow humbling to realize I had done exactly what I set out to do. In the beginning I said: “For whatever reason and accumulation of circumstances, I want to complete a triathlon. So I will. I will use my energy to focus, concentrate, work hard, step outside the box. Actually, I will swim, bike and run outside the box. Why not?” And I did. And standing on the other side of that finish line, I knew there really isn’t anything I can’t do.

Now here’s the other thing I’ve truly learned that I hope I never forget. Life is crazy. It doesn’t happen how you expect it to. It doesn’t happen when you expect it to. But if you hang on for the ride, follow your heart and keep your head up no matter how rocky your path gets, the good things in life will prevail. There will be something to catch you before you fall. When you least expect it, something so good can happen.

When I set this goal for myself, it was a big deal to me. I said “I decided to change everything”, and I completely meant that. But never did I imagine how big it would get. Never did I imagine that when the goal was achieved, I would be so at peace with myself, with my life. That I would have everything, and want nothing. That I would be so entirely transformed, mentally and physically.

I never imagined that I could ask myself “What’s next?” and realize that I’m okay with the fact that I don’t really know for sure. But I’m incredibly excited to find out.

Part 3: Liking Biking

3 Aug

So, I was still pretty psyched by the time I reached my bike (which I was able to find thanks to the giant bumble bee balloon tied to my place on the bike rack, that my mom bought for the occasion). I mean, at least with the bike if something goes wrong you can stop and figure it out. Swimming doesn’t quite allow you that advantage. But to be honest, even before I reached my bike any negative feelings about the swim were gone. I had already mentally moved on to the next thing, which was getting to the transition area. Drying my feet, putting my socks on, putting my shoes on, putting my helmet on, grabbing my bike, and going. But I was calm. I took my time. I can’t quite explain the cool, composed focus I had going on. I wasn’t worried about time, I wasn’t concerned with anything other than doing the next thing I needed to do. My mind was completely clear of anything extraneous, I was completely in the moment.

So many people had told me, don’t forget to acknowledge the moment when you’re in it. Don’t forget to look around, take it in, really feel it as it’s happening. And I am so thankful I was able to do that. I enjoyed the scenery during the bike ride, the people on their front lawns cheering everyone on, the homemade signs dotting the race course. I got off my bike and walked up most of the two painfully steep hills when I found I couldn’t quite make it up. Ordinarily I would scold myself for doing such a thing. But this time I didn’t care. I was just in a zone….happy for the women who were speeding by me and glad to see there were women like me, huffing and puffing and barely moving up the hill until they got off and walked the rest of the way. I put zero pressure on myself. It was fine either way. That’s not to say I wasn’t trying or putting in an effort. Of course I was. But it was a relaxed, sane, happy effort.

Before long, I rounded a corner and a volunteer called out that we had 5 miles left. Ok, I thought to myself, that means I’ve done 7 miles already. So I’m more than halfway through. And I feel great. So this will be a breeze….And I just continued to enjoy it.

And then it was over. Before I knew it, I was hopping off my bike and heading back into the transition area to drop my bike, grab an energy gel and pick up my race belt, thinking: This is the part I know. This is the part I have already overcome. This is the best part- just me, running.

Part 2: Swim Lessons

30 Jul

And then suddenly I wasn’t standing on the edge anymore. I was swimming.

And just as suddenly, I inhaled a huge mouthful of lake water and any ease I felt about my strength as a swimmer disappeared. I was choking. And trying to swim. With 30 other people. And they were all around me. And I was still choking. And I was tired. More than a little freaked out. And only 15 seconds into the 1/2 mile swim. Oh God.

I flipped over onto my back to get my face out of the water. I couldn’t stop coughing on the water I had swallowed. Why hadn’t I practiced swimming more? Twice?! In a calm, clear, seaweed-free pool?! Was I kidding myself thinking that was enough? I was suddenly so shaken and could feel exhaustion creep into my body. I looked up, saw that the first buoy I had to swim to was still incredibly far away, and realized that I needed to get. it. together. Or I would never make it. So I calmed myself down and just focused on doing what needed to be done. Which was mainly: a) staying afloat and b) moving closer to the finish.

It was ridiculously tiring. I felt like part of the time I was swimming, but mostly I was surviving. I think I invented some pretty nifty swim strokes in my effort to simply make it through. That was the longest half mile of my life. When I was finally done, I was so happy to be out of the water that despite how tired I was, I ripped off my swim cap and goggles and ran up the beach with renewed energy, waving enthusiastically to my mom when I spotted her on the sidelines. I was just so happy to be alive and on dry land, and to have the hardest part of the tri behind me that I felt like doing cartwheels. After the swim, the bike seemed like it would be an absolute breeze.