Monday, January 5, 2009

No Pain, No Gain.

2009. Like a new piece of white paper, wide open and ready for anything. Sometimes I get to the end of a year, and feel as though I’ve doodled and sketched through all the spaces on my piece of paper. Eraser marks have worn holes in areas I’ve tried desperately to get rid of. Sometimes you can’t erase your mistakes, so you just draw around them to make them less unsightly – as if a series of tiny spirals and shaded cubes might somehow make you less aware of the hole in the paper. But on the first day of a new year, you get to flip the page over and doodle anew. And the older you are, the more tools you have at your disposal to create something meaningful on your piece of paper (ah, life experience. The gorgeous hues of YOU). Approaching 30, I feel well equipped to evolve from the anxious doodling of my 20s. I’m thinking of larger brush strokes, more colors. More texture. Thirty years have taken me through a spectrum of emotions and physical sensations. Some painful, some remarkable, some unexpected. Together they form a palette of color that that leaves me no shortage for expressing who I am and what I’d like out of life. I like to think of myself as the big box of Crayola Crayons...96 colors with the sharpener built in.

Part of the new year for me always involves getting back into my training routines for triathlon in the spring and summer months. Money that could be going toward car repairs and groceries, is instead spent on no less than five race registrations. Every year I do a long-course triathlon (half to full Ironman distance), a couple of shorter course triathlons, three or four 10K to half-marathon road races, a full marathon, and any other race that might come up on the radar and pique my interest. I like to know that I’m committed to these things well before they pop up on my BlackBerry as “one week away” reminders. I don’t think about how much all of this costs, because to me the experience of training and racing is invaluable.

For the first time since moving in August, I’ve started running from my new apartment on the east side of Syracuse, NY. I live on a steep incline and relish the fact that every run starts with a five minute trudge uphill (and since it’s winter right now, it’s also accompanied by a bitter lung-freezing chill). I like this sensation the same way I imagine Rocky Balboa loving that first punch to his face. Over the crest of that hill are many more miles that will be so deeply satisfying, I’m willing to withstand some frosty lungs and screaming quads to get to them. No pain, no gain.

So far in the new year I’ve run three times, for an hour each time. The pace has been slow, but those familiar soul-searching strides cause the adrenaline to flow through me as if it broke a levee somewhere deep inside and I’m suddenly free from all stress, anxiety and apprehension. Training makes me feel like I’m on top of the world.

Jeans fit better. My thoughts have rhythm. Lip gloss accents a more authentic smile. My ability to “go with the flow” comes back to me like a long lost friend who can pick up the conversation with me no matter how long the hiatus between us has been.

Sometimes, when I haven’t been working out for a long stretch of time, I find myself fixated on material things. I want more stuff. I see a nice car and wonder why I can’t have the same thing? I notice a woman’s jewelry and develop a craving for diamond studs. I go through all the ways life isn’t fair, and especially how it hasn’t been fair to me. I self-loathe. Any notes of jealousy or angst that I attempt to bury beneath my “Mary Sunshine” demeanor immediately surface like a U-Boat coming up on the attack.

But training changes all of that. As my body gets back into shape, I melt into a state of self-actualization that no material thing could ever recreate for me. I slip into a pair of sleek and defined hamstrings the way Sarah Jessica Parker slips into the latest piece of haute couture. Diamond studs? Like I care. A sculpted set of deltoids is a far better accessory.

I suppose it’s good for me to take a break from racing and training as fall approaches, so that I have unlimited time through the holiday season to focus on family and friends. Sadly, however, this time of the year also emphasizes material things. The getting and giving of gifts. The holidays are the black ice of society’s superficial side. Buy, spend, brag. I got, I want, I need. How much, how little, how big, how small. I knew a girl in the city that actually broke down in tears because her parents didn’t spend as much money on her as they did on her sister. Her sister, it turns out, was a soldier in Iraq. I’m not sure how one is able to summon liquid from the tear ducts in an effort to display sadness that they are not getting as many presents as someone that is literally risking their life for this country’s freedom.

And so it comes and goes – another year, another batch of holiday madness, another tattered and worn paper at capacity with its doodles, stains and rips. Some years I find myself rolling the ol’ page back gently, allowing it to quietly fall in line with the past. Other years I tear it from the book in a fury, already impatient to see where the first lines of the new year will fall.

This year, I’ve decided to be very unceremonious about the whole thing and simply move from a completed page to a blank page. 2008 was like a backhanded compliment. On one hand it’s a good thing that I realized I shouldn’t be getting married and I broke my engagement. On the other hand, it’s really hard to morph from bride-to-be to ex-fiance.

On one hand, completing an Ironman is a great accomplishment. On the other hand, doing it under monsoon conditions that rob you of the ability to do things the way you trained to do them sort of diminishes the whole experience and almost makes you feel like it didn’t really happen.

So I look at it like this: I will be in another relationship again and I will know that if it’s right and meant to be forever, I won’t have the kind of doubts I experienced last time. And I will do another Ironman in 2010, and I will know that no matter what the conditions are I will find my way to the finish line because I’ve done it already in what were considered the all-time worst conditions the race has ever seen.

These aren’t the kinds of things I want to forget as I move into a new year, let alone a new decade of my life. The clean slate of 2009. I inhale its fresh, manila scent. I behold its promise of “all things are possible.” I smile at its bland and sturdy surface, but I keep the smudges and rips of 2008 close to my heart. If there’s one thing a spinster triathlete like myself needs to carry into the new year, it’s that she can weather the storm. Punches to the face and all.


Shilo Smith said...

Hey Leese--Reading about your workouts makes me wanna workout too (*almost* hahah)! :) I am so unmotivated! It's inspiring to read about how dedicated you are. I'd much rather be addicted to cardio than carbs. LOL.

Also--yeah, I can only imagine what the transition must be like...Going from bride-to-be to ex-fiance must be a really tough transition. From my point of view, any transition is difficult when you think your life is going one way, and then BAM! It shifts...but it sounds like you are really figuring yourself out, and that's the best thing that can happen.

You're one strong girl! Be proud of yourself.

Jen said...

Just loving your blog, Lisa. You are so inspiring. I put on 10 pounds over the holidays being home with family and friends, but I've chosen to see it as "bonding weight." I can't wait to watch it melt off! Your summer racing schedule is long have you been keeping that schedule for?

I got a new magazine in my stocking this year, it's called "Inside Triathlon" and it's by the same publishers as Triathlete Magazine. It's way prettier, though. The December issue is the Ironman issue and you might enjoy it. They also publish a calendar.

See you soon!