Adjusted Reality

“Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.” – Mark Twain

Page 2 of 188

Cozumel 70.3 – Pre-Race and Swim (Part 1)

I have said and thought and plastered all the words about this race race all over social media.

My name is here!

Subtitle – what you wear on the plane when you’re equally excited to race and also scuba dive on this trip.

Blogging about it feels like the continuous flagellation of a deceased equine.  However, in an effort to record my thoughts here for posterity, and also provide a path for improvement in the future, let me take up the stick one more time and the beatings shall commence!

Race prep in Austin went just about as ideal as ideal could be, minus the normal taper freakouts that I broke my heel (didn’t) and was getting sick (wasn’t) and that level of ease continued with our flight into Cozumel.  I didn’t have any crazy half-days without food, or flight delays that kept us from getting a decent night of sleep, in fact, we were able to hit packet pickup and engage in some retail therapy at the expo before we had dinner Friday night, built the bikes, and got a great night of sleep.  The only hitch was both of us had overlooked our check in date at Hotel Cozumel was actually SATURDAY, but thankfully, they had a room for us anyway and only rolled their eyes a little bit behind our backs at the stupid gringo tourists who couldn’t keep their ish straight.

My husband is the ultimate friend-maker.  Breakfast the next day was hopping at 9am and there was no immediate seat space.  Instead of waiting, he asks the first single person to share a table, and lo and behold, it’s pro triathlete Angela Naeth!  We follow each other on Instagram, and it was a really serendipitous experience.  She was super nice (and fast – she ended up getting third!) and it was fun to talk triathlon over pancakes. 

Super shaky selfie but PROOF!

Even with so many things checked off the long to do list already, Saturday was SO busy.  After fueling up, we rode our bikes up and down the street next to the hotel, changing gears and resetting our sensors until we were satisfied they were in good mechanical order before riding the 5 miles on the main road to drop off our bikes.  I was really hesitant to do this, but I hoisted up my big girl bike shorts and within a mile, I found that riding bikes here was quite comfortable, more so than most places in the US, actually.  Everyone actually paid attention because there was always bikes or scooters on the road all the time, not to mention the roads are in great condition.

After getting the required bodymarking (? – that’s new for the day before) and nestling our bikes snug in their racks for sleepaway camp, we puttered around the docks a bit to get the lay of the land.  Then, we quickly realized we were getting zapped by noonday sun rolling around sans sunscreen.  Not ideal for the day before racing a hot, humid, windy 6+ hour race.

“Get a picture with both my Bicycle Sport Shop shirt and my Wattage Cottage socks!” “Oh crap, I’m wearing socks and sandals… socks only it is!” (sigh)

We boarded the shuttle back to the hotel, ate lunch, put together our run bags, and then hoofed it to transition two, about a mile from the hotel.  I had to pack light because space was at a premium, so once I dropped off my only pair of running shoes, I was left with my massage sandals.  Those walked another two miles through the grocery store and back to the hotel.  I sucked down a powerade in two seconds because I was dehydrated like woah by that point.  My legs and back and heel ached.  I clocked about 1o miles on my feet (not counting the bike and the quickie swim I had later) by dinner.  If I could turn back time, I’d spend less time puttering around swim start, and take the cruiser bikes the hotel so nicely offered for the rest of my errands instead of walking.

My pre-race nutrition wasn’t perfect, but it was as adequate as possible making use of the hotel buffet.  I drank plenty of water that evening and supplemented with nuun, had lots of carb options (though whole grain was few and far between), and got whatever meat looked reasonable and safe for protein (and backed it up with some protein bars), and there were plenty of veggies and salad available.  I didn’t overeat to uncomfortability (plenty of time for that later!) but I felt full and fueled.

The food is almost irrelevant with a view like that…

I went to bed feeling a little worried about being fatigued, but without a time machine, all I could do was sleep all the sleeps possible.

Race morning, I was up with the alarm pretty quickly, and thankfully, all my parts felt like they were in working order.  I spent the morning listening to my Confidence and Courage playlist and going over my race strategy.  Apparently, in Mexico, english muffins don’t exist, so we ended up with pre-toasted bread (!!!) and honey from the grocery store to go with the packets of almond butter we brought.  I drank most of a giant coconut water and also a gatorade.  I can’t eat a ton in the morning but I can suck down sugar water like a champ!

The bus quickly transported us to the swim start, and I finished up all the last minute prep has become rote to me as this is my eleventh race this year.  Getting my tires pumped up.  Setting up my three transition items (shoes, helmet, sunglasses). Resetting my stuff up under the bike clothes bag once the rain dumped on our heads.  Looking to apply sunscreen but finding it was actually Vaseline instead.  Wiping some of that lube on my unsuspecting husband (LOVE YOU), and then finding actual sunscreen and applying it.  The porta potty lines were long but they had a dedicated volunteer giving out toilet paper, so that was handy, and all too quickly I was stuffing all the carbs I had eaten over the last two days in my swim skin and merging with the mass of spandex-clad humanity. 

Another “if I had a time machine” moment – I got in the rolling swim start line after they dropped the pace corrals.  By the time I realized where I stood, Zliten and I were about 200 people (out of 2000) from the end of the line and it would have been incredibly difficult (and rude) to shove my way further up the dock.  Que sera, sera, I thought… and kept thinking, and thinking, as I started the race 27 minutes after the first age grouper.  At least the Dolphins at Chankanaab Park kept us entertained with flips and tricks while we waited!

Dolphins back there!!!

Swim:

I joked to Zliten that he should go first, since I was totally going to pee the minute I hit water.  Once I got going, there were just too many bodies and combat and fists.  I tried to find a line to draft, but since I was with people who planned to swim 10+ minutes slower than I was, I didn’t have much luck.  It was just masses of bodies.  Slow moving ones.  This was totally my fault for taking too long to poop, but it still made for a very frustrating swim.  The solace was when I finally found Wattage Cottage bolts in the water and figured at least I could save some energy and draft off my damn husband, who was going a *little* faster than the crowd.

It took 21 minutes to go out (maybe 900 yards), and then 2 minutes to swim about 10 feet directly against the current.  This was hilarious.  We were swimming at a 45 degree angle and STILL it was almost impossible not to be carried past the buoys.  We were like salmon swimming upstream.  I kind of had to hoist myself on top of the mass of human fish to save from getting swept away or kicked or punched too much.  Once we got around and swam with the current it was fairly easy breezy.  I enjoyed those 12 minutes.  Then we had to fight the current one more time to get to the dock and that’s about where I lost it when someone actually grabbed my arm to try to use me to pull them along.

I screamed all sorts of obscenities into the water and shook their hand off and sprinted quickly for the stairs… which took at least an extra minute because so many people kept cutting in front of me and squeezing through.  By the way – I still hadn’t peed.  I think I was too angry to pee.  That would be a good band name – TOO ANGRY TO PEE.  I defiantly hit my watch lap button at 39:42 while I was hanging onto the ladder waiting because I was frickin’ done swimming, but I knew my actual time would be slower.

Swim time: 41:08.  2:07/100m – 49/85 AG.  Not even my PR (about 40 seconds off) for what’s supposed to be one of the fastest swims on the circuit.  Not my favorite first leg of a race.

Transition 1:

I have never been so angry during a race in my life as when I exited the swim.  There’s a particular race picture (here if you want to dig through, I just can’t quite pull the trigger to spend 60 bucks on the set even though I was actually tempted this time) that made me LAUGH so hard, I’m shooting some mad daggers ahead of me.  I remember the full run through the parking lot (which was actually pretty speedy), I spent saying the F word, out loud even, a whole lot, about the people ahead of me and how I was going to absolutely destroy those stupid mother effers on the bike.

I was worried about taking off the swim skin under pressure since it’s tiiiight but it slid off in mere seconds, and since I’ve simplified my T1 to only include my helmet, sunglasses, and bike shoes, I was in and out and on with my life rather quickly.

Transition 1 time: 3:55 (and it was a rather long run from the water to the bike mount line – almost a third of a mile).  Happy with my efficiency here.

I’ll pick up next time when my feet hit the pedals.

Courage and Confidence

Well, it’s race week.  Hoo boy. 

I keep bumping against the old instincts to feel self doubt.  Who am I to dare to dream?  Who am I to expect something extraordinary? 

Then I go out and do shit like almost PR my standalone 5k run off the bike Sunday feeling like it’s a comfortably hard effort, and the next day notch my fastest time around the buoys twice on the swim… if not ever, at least in years.  I feel like a gorram tiger in a cage right now.  I actually skipped the run off the bike Tuesday because I had a feeling I might go out too hard and PR my mile time with the situation at hand.  The potential energy I feel right now is mystifying me.

I’ve also found a brand new decade on the scale.  Somehow, with very little time and attention during taper to logging and tracking diet quality (oops), I’ve journeyed to 160-town.  Just barely, but it’s enough that most of my clothing staples are now too long, too loose, or just plain look ridiculous on me.  I’m also finding that I often look in the mirror, wink at myself, and think, “hello lover, you’re looking mighty fine today”.  It’s a refreshing change from the constantly negative self-dialogue that’s been the norm the last few decades years.

I’m in the best freaking 70.3 shape of my freaking life, both mentally and physically.  I deserve to strive for an extraordinary day.  Me.  I do.

So, I head into this race with two thoughts: CONFIDENCE and COURAGE.  They might sound similar, but they represent two different aspects of racing to me.

CONFIDENCE is rolling up to the start line, clad as the woman in black, sizing everything up and planning my day of domination.  I’ve been feeding my head a lot of SWAGGER the last few weeks, trying to lose the self-deprecating humor I trend toward, the humility, and err on the side of being kind of an arrogant asshole, if only internally.  Yes, thank you, I *DO* look fucking awesome in my new one piece race kit, my sweet new Roka swim skin, my new aero WC helmet, on my fast Cervelo TT bike… things which I have finally earned the right, in my own head, to race with.  I’m  a motherfucking icon, boots made of python… something kicked in this cycle and I FINALLY FEEL WORTHY.

Of what, I’m not sure.  Of everything.  Of whatever I can take from the tip of a sword from this race day.  And it feels ABSOLUTELY FUCKING PHENOMENAL as a career “imposter syndrome” cadet.  It’s like a weight lifted.  Just like picking up a 20 lb kettlebell and having the realization that this was all on my friggin body in January, having the shitty mentality that I’m not good enough being gone for a few weeks feels like sudden relief.  Feels good man.  I don’t ever want to go back.

I’ve been working on my mental game for about a year now and the effects are finally settling in.  My race persona has some friggin’ swag on her!!!  Damn it feels good to be a gangsta.  However, I need to EARN that swagger if I’m going to keep it.

COURAGE is really my proving ground this race.  If confidence is being capable in the light, courage is being capable in the darkness.  To me, courage is standing at the abyss, the turning point of the race, facing myself, my fears, my inadequacies, and having the cojones to dive into the dark place, the untested place, where I have no proof where I’ll come out on the other side. Courage is not racing afraid of hurting, or trying to avoid discomfort, but standing at the start line with a smirk and sneering, “come at me, bro”.  Courage is sending a formally engraved invitation to my old friend pain.  When, not if, he arrives, I plan to throw open my door, invite him in, and share a glass of whiskey and a few rounds of fisticuffs to see who is weighed, measured, and found wanting.

If I could set ANY GOAL for this race, it’s not placement, nor time, nor process goals.  I know, weird, right?  What race do I show up to without a bullet point list of A/B/C/Z measuring sticks?  My biggest goal for this race is earning the right to look myself in the square in the eyes Sunday night and say, “I didn’t back down“, then and only then will I have succeeded at the highest degree.  I want to have faced whatever challenge the day presented and shouted, “NOT TODAY MOTHERF*$&ER” and persist right on through it, continuing to proclaim to the world that there are FOUR LIGHTS.

Normally here’s the point where I go through and lay out my race plan.  I mean, I have one.  You can’t logistically race a 70.3 winging it.  It’s probably worth immortalizing it in a few bullet points for the high points, so here we go:

  • Morning nutrition – almond butter honey english muffin, coconut water, some fruit
  • Between breakfast and race start – sip gatorade as I can
  • Pre swim – some strong mint (to combat the salt water and keep me from being nauseous)
  • Swim comfortably hard – I think I nailed the effort on Monday – and try to find feet to draft.  I’m guessing 40 minutes, give or take.
  • T1: Going sans socks for the bike, and hopefully sans gloves (if it’s rainy I’m might take the time but I’d like to save the seconds)
  • As soon as I’m on the bike – more strong mint if I need it to settle my stomach
  • As soon as I can tolerate it and every 45 minutes after – gel (caff, non caff, non caff, caff is the plan) and a bottle of gatorade per hour. 
  • 150-160W on the bike average, stay in aero, and make good on my new bike mantra – “find the butts, follow the butts, pass the butts“.  If I have any time goals here, I’d like to break 3 hours on the bike.
  • T2: a crap ton of powder in my socks and shoes to ward off the blisters.  As usual, I’ll have my handheld but I don’t plan to actually use it.  One set of 303s either at the end of the bike, transition, or the first mile of the run.
  • Gel within the first two miles, then again at 6, then again at 9-10. Start coca-cola as soon as I can and ride the brown pony train to seeing-sounds-and-hearing-colors town as my stomach allows.
  • Instead of a pace goal on the run, I know the FEELING I’m looking for.  And the second half, I want it to HURT.
  • Swag my way through the finish line like I won the race.

I’m unexpectedly succinct this week, because I think that’s all she wrote.  It’s hard to put what’s different this time into words, what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking, but I hope to make good on a performance that seems like the culmination of  years of effort and progress.  I’m on the edge of a breakthrough.  I can almost touch it.  I will reach for it on Sunday with conviction.  Get ready, Cozumel, I’m gunning for you.

Bikes Await

One eye opens and closes again

The sonic assault of the alarm permeates my brain

I deflect with the indomitable snooze button

Bikes await

But the fog of sleep is cumbersome

I must fight through the last vestiges of my dreams

Slay one last reverie-beast

Before I can join the waking world

Life is a little more mundane for a moment

The monotony of the morning routine

I almost succumb to looking at others’ journeys

The siren song of Instagram

Instead of setting forth on my own

But bikes await

My patient steed rests by the door

So I break free of the gravity

And escape the evil clutches of mediocrity and voyeurism

Clad in spandex armor

Stars and bolts hold magical powers

My first thought as tires hit street

Wind tendrils finding my hair

Eyes finally alert in the fresh morning air

Is that everyone should feel this alive

Outside

Legs pumping

Breathing a little heavy

Heart a little lighter

Adventure calls

And I have slain the slumber dragons

To embark on its quest

Ready to do battle.

The pieces of my brain haven’t quite gone back together the same way after last week.  And I’m more than okay with that.

I am completely broken when a day in the high 70s meant I was just friggin freezing all day, even after a fast 4 mile poker run.

There’s a crack now that has let some light in, and it’s actually wonderful.  I’m excited for this race.  I’m hopeful for this race.  With everything in me, I cannot wait to stand on that dock and dive off and go toe to toe with whatever the day puts in front of me.  I start difficult sessions feeling excited to try my hand at the challenge ahead of me instead of feeling apprehensive or apathetic.  Instead of a hazy numbness I’ve been rocking for the last few years, things feel different right now.  I can’t really describe it, but I feel changed somehow with the machinations that my brain has run through and I wouldn’t go back even if I could.

Besides the fact that I’ve been needing to drink about it a bit, the mental gymnastics has gone just fine along with my taper performances.  I had some fairly stellar run performances last week, my slowest pace being 9:26/mile, and while I skipped a few other sessions due to residual fatigue from the long brick on Monday to rest instead, what I showed up to went rather well in all aspects.

These new goggles make it easier to see fishies underwater AND the sunset even more pretty, even if they look crazy nerdy.

My swim is improving a little right near the end of this cycle.  I swam almost the race distance yesterday (2056yards vs 2112) in open water practice just under 41 minutes and I was daydreaming the whole time.  I don’t expect to hit a personal best pace at Cozumel since I’ve been in better shape both endurance-wise and speed-wise, but I expect to do OKAY and after yesterday, maybe even WELL.  It just hasn’t been my focus this year.  Oddly enough, when you stay uninjured, you don’t have to sub in swimming for other activities…  I’ll need to learn how to actually and intentionally swim a lot at some point but that’s not a problem for this particular moment. 

For now I know that a) I can swim the distance and feel pretty good after and b) I have a pretty good judge of the level of effort I can swim where I get out of the water feeling warmed up and ready to attack the rest of the race, and that’s what I plan to do.  Swim steady, find some feet, and try not to throw up from the salt water because I am incapable of swimming with my mouth closed.

I may have just died going up this hill but I look great at least in my new kit 🙂

Cycling… I had such amazing things happen earlier this year, I’m not sure how to feel about it right now because my improvement is hard to judge.  I haven’t done a lot of stretching my legs and really riding hard this cycle, it’s been more about increasing the distance without decreasing my pace too much.  For various reasons, it’s been difficult to see where my true potential is right now, so I guess I’ll have race day for that!

My power meter being messed up for weeks means I don’t have a SOLID target to keep in mind yet, though hopefully I can dial it in a bit this weekend.  My guess is approximately 150W, give or take a few.  This should be a fairly choice bike course for me (flat, not technical), and I’m really looking forward to riding around the island and chasing people down and having fun on Death Star, trying to end the bike with a 2-something-hour time if the stars align properly.

Lookie, both feet off the ground like a real runner!

The run is where the magic and the pain and the darkness lies this cycle.  I have made leaps and bound on this leg this year, and this is where the race really starts for me.  I have been steadily finding paces off the bike that are either equal or less than my sprint triathlon runs earlier in the year, which were PRs upon PRs already, and I’ve been able to push mentally into places I haven’t before either.  This is my big test and I’ve studied very well the last few months.

I’m ready to do battle with the abyss, and I’m ready to dig deep.  I know it’s going to hurt and hurt bad, and instead of being scared I plan on welcoming my old friend Pain and we’ll sit down in his cave together and have some mother effing words until one of us gets up and leaves.  I’m stoked to show myself what my newly minted 46 VO2 max (thanks for the random update today, Garmin?), my stronger body, and my more fortified brain can come up with when challenged.   I am ready to do battle.

In the next two weeks, I can’t do much to improve my fitness a whole lot, so it’s all about:

  • Staying sharp.  All the hay is in the barn, ending with an incredible 8 mile run this morning that ended entirely too soon for my tastes.  Every other session from now until the race is short, sweet, and swift compared to what would normally be on the plan.
  • Recovery.  I think I’m past the point of needing to untangle my head so much, so I’m going to do my best to be a SLEEP MONSTER from now until I leave.  Additionally, I generally try to either stretch, roll, or use the recovery boots more days than not.  I kicked this initiative off with a killer massage Sunday, and a great stretch yesterday.  I will either stretch or roll EVERY DAY from now until I leave, it takes 5-10 mins and I have zero excuses not to besides laziness.
  • Packing and preparing.  This trip is unique in that I also need to bring all my diving gear so space is at a SUPER premium.  I need to make sure I bring everything I need and not one ounce or square inch more.  This will be much more effort than packing for Cleveland.

In terms of nutrition (day to day), I’ve sort of let things go for a few weeks, both because I’ve been consumed with other things and also to give myself a little bit of a break while my training was high enough to sustain it.  Now that my hours are reduced, I have returned to tracking (food, diet quality, and weight) so I don’t gain during taper.  That started yesterday.  I need to make sure I’m eating ENOUGH good food and not a bunch of junk and be accountable for the bite of chocolate here and potato chip there before it gets out of hand.

I’m stronger and lighter than I have been in many, many years.  I need to not fuck that up.

Maybe I’ll just wear a helmet the whole time… that’ll help, right?

And, that’s really the biggest goal for the next eleven days.  I’ve got a great race in me, if I can resist succumbing to the self sabotage (eat whatever you want! you have more time since you’re training less so why don’t you go ahead and have a drink or four?  why not squeeze in one more really long bike ride to make sure nothing’s changed since the last time you did that?) and keep my head on straight.  My body is ready, my mind is ready, and if I can deliver myself to the start line no worse for wear, I have a chance to kick some serious ass next weekend.

Instead of being a dummy, it’s time to eat all the good food, do the EXACT sessions that coach set out months ago with a straight head, sleep all the sleeps, and listen to Willy Wonka on repeat because apparently that’s become this season’s power confident swaggy song, so I’ll use the hell out of it while it still has magic.

Just watch me try

Everyone, listen up.  Taper has started. 

Hold onto your butts, people!

I repeat, taper has started.  This is not a drill!  Apparently, this week is where I work through ALL the mental shit, so please bear with me.  I’ve written and rewritten this post a few times all with different tones depending on which end of the massive mood swing I’ve been on, and I’ve chewed up and spit out at least 10k words and I hope I’m leaving you with the best 3500.  I’ve also spent many, many, many hours previous with these thoughts rolling through my head and, like evil demons, they need to be expelled and shown the light of day to dissipate, so welcome to my blog! 

Let’s start with a quote…

before the end of the year im going to write down the things i want next year so when i get them i know i was brave enough to want them

-Alexi Pappas

This quote has been going around the instagrams and it’s fairly timely for me right now.  Last year I was brave enough to write down my big scary goal of busting ass and getting some podiums and qualifying for Nationals.  Eight months later it doesn’t seem so big or so scary simply because it happened.  Four podiums in five races including an overall 3rd place, and I qualified not once, but twice.  My performance at the actual race itself was not exemplary, but in my mind, it was a total victory lap and I enjoyed the experience even if I felt extremely outclassed (little fish – meet REALLY BIG POND).

This year has given me a little bit of confidence back.  I can show up to these sprint races now like Bitch I’m Willy Wonka, and stare down my competition and figure out who I’m going to be racing for the podium (and I’m actually pretty good at picking the horses) and it’s almost not even faking it anymore.

Here’s the conundrum.  Now I feel brave enough to want.  I’m not quite brave enough to vocalize my next big scary (probably multi-year) goal but it’s definitely there in my mind. 

Three years ago to the day, I stood upon my last long brick for Kerrville 70.3, feeling the exact same way, as if something magical could happen at my upcoming race, and then reality smacked me right in the face with insane lady cramps that morning, a low-speed bike crash at mile 50, and a complete and utter meltdown on the run.  I’ve honestly spent most of the last three years mentally recovering from the terrible horrible no good very bad season that this race kicked off (gaining a bunch of weight, missing my goal by over an hour here, then two marathon personal worsts). 

I’ve done a decent job at shedding the insecurities, the faked apathy, and the pounds I put on.  While it’s still a work in progress, I’m also working on breaking the limits on what I think is appropriate for me to accomplish.  I hit a pretty hard plateau for a while where certain paces on the bike and the run seemed to be the ceiling of my capability.  These limits are all shattering this year, one by one, as I go out in search of where my new stronger and lighter body and more confident mind are at. 

Yesterday, I jumped on the treadmill with a prescription for 1 mile warmup, 3 miles faster, 1 mile cooldown.  Instead of just pumping up the speed and staying there, I decided to take myself into a progression run, starting slightly above the previous warmup pace.  The first mile ticks by feeling easy at 9:35.  The second mile ticks by, and it feels like I’m working, but I’m not really challenged yet, running at my current estimate of my all out 5k pace.  The third mile is one of the fastest I’ve run in a long long time and I’m just starting to breathe hard and not yet feeling spent.  The time for those three miles is around 26:45 – or within spitting distance of my 5k PR (26:30) about 9 years ago.  The cooldown was hard because I just wanted to keep running faster.

I got pretty good at sprint triathlons earlier this year, but I had no idea how this was going to translate to races two to four times longer.  I figured I would be at a disadvantage not having a lot of base mileage under my belt, in fact, this has been my lowest mileage year in a LONG TIME.  I feared to get the distance I’d lose the speed.  However, this weekend, I jumped off a 56 mile bike ride that would have been a 5 minute 70.3 PR (that felt like playtime and honestly TOO SLOW and NOT ENOUGH POWER), and ran 10k closing in on a pace that would rival my standalone half marathon PR if I could continue it for a second 10k and maybe speed up a *little* at the end. 

I could give a bunch of other examples but suffice to say I AM MOTHERFUCKING FIT AS A FIDDLE right now and I keep proving it to my doubting self time after time when I show up to training, even on days when I think, “this is the one, this is when I’m going to fall on my ass.”  And then I go knock it out of the park.  I’m not sure how many times I have to do this to actually, fully, and totally believe in myself, but I’m getting there.  The doubting voice shows up, but it’s getting easier to not back down from being challenged, and whisper in it’s ear, “just watch me try”.

If you would have told me I’d be in this situation six months ago, coming off a disastrous half marathon, disappointing indoor tri, and coming in dead fucking last at a 6 hour bike race, I would have told you that you were high.  There was no other possible explanation.

Let me go very, very off topic for a moment to Dungeons&Dragons.  It will take a while to get back to the original point, but it will be relevant eventually, I promise.  I’ve been playing this ridiculous genderfluid bard named Fork for about 2 years in our every-other-week game.  Fork is a semi-famous (but a legend in Fork’s mind) performer who ended up, through choices made in the campaign, on the bad side of the very corrupt law of the land.  The only thing Fork ever cared about was being famous, and with that option being snatched from Fork (obsolesce or death are my current options), Fork hasn’t given a shit about anything in quite a while.

It me!  Funny story, my character was supposed to have dark hair but our artist had it in his head that I looked like Tilda Swinton so blonde I became!!!

Through a plot twist, the only way to progress towards clearing the group’s name is a play with perils similar to a gladiatorial match, which is right up Fork’s alley as both a performer and an adventurer.  Furthermore, Fork, who is masquerading as the sexy leading man, Gaston, is cast in the lead opposite literally the only person Fork cares about in the world – River.  River is an estranged childhood friend that Fork had treated terribly on Fork’s rise to fame and in hindsight, regrets it deeply.  Fork never knew how to repair the damage so Fork just kind of stuffed those shame feelings down and ignored them.

Fork has been trying to hide under the guise of Gaston as to avoid the subject, and had been doing quite a cracking job at it, but last session, River tricked another member of our party into outing me and subsequently confronted Fork.  At first I (person and also character) was a little bit flummoxed because it kind of came out of nowhere, but I (we) decided that true honesty was the best policy with my oldest and dearest friend and pretty much spilled all the beans to try and repair some trust, so we’ll see where it takes me in the next session.

Hopefully my bad luck with dice doesn’t follow me next session…

It’s silly how my actual heart felt less heavy when the conversation happened.  There was a chance to reconcile!  Oh happy day!  My brain has gone absolutely wild with inspiration and possibilities of where the story can go from here.  I’m more prepared for this next session than I have ever been for one in my life.  I’m sure somehow I’ll still be surprised by our very talented storyteller but the massive pile of notes I’ve compiled is pretty impressive, considering I usually just show up to these sessions, eat cheese, make witty comments and misuse song lyrics, give people bonuses when I remember, and attack things when they need to be attacked.  This time, Fork has plans! Fork has bullet points, and lots of them.

After this had been rolling around in the forefront of my brain constantly for the last week, including the entire last half of my 56 mile ride, I had to figure out why.  What nugget of importance did my brain find in this situation that it has latched onto?

1. I have been playing this character for a few years.  It may sound silly, but I do give a small piece of my heart and soul to any character I’ve spent time with via writing, acting, or roleplaying.  Fork has actually has taken the longest to really grab me – Fork has been a challenge to play with my own weaknesses as a human being and FINALLY THIS IS SOMETHING I’M GOOD AT AND I DO ALL THE TIME FOR WORK.  I do table reads of scripts (which the next session is) at least twice a year.  I do a 90 minute live stream show once a month.  I give a presentation to the entire company once a month as well and I do my damndest to make sure it’s amusing (last one, I did voices).  I do scripted videos at least a few times a year.  I’m absolute shite at improv but give me something mildly prepared and THIS IS MY WHEELHOUSE, PEOPLE!

2. There’s a lot of college nostalgia in play – not the kind of longing where you want to go back (no no no no no please), but remembering how EXCITING it was.  While there was no time when anyone was poisoning each other’s makeup or in danger of being dumped into a vat of acid like in this particular situation, present are the familiar on and off stage dramatics, jealousy, and intrigue, things that were so much a part of my late teens and early 20s.  This is my turf, baby.  I know my way around a theater and it’s denizens.

It’s bringing back all the fun and terrible memories – everything from the nervewracking auditions to the long days of rehearsals bonding with the cast, to sneaking in with the stage manager and crew after midnight with beers and trying to summon the theater ghost, to my first (and last) on stage kiss.  For anyone wondering, it was totally not hot AT ALL, to be quite honest.  However, for purposes of letting FORK’s mind wander, as this is part of the next session… what if instead of being kinda of weird and awkward, it was EXACTLY like the hopeless romantics imagine and a moment of magic for the two people involved?  What an interesting and dramatic twist that would be…. the actor and the writer in me has begun to weave that potential tale (if the person running the story lets it go that way) and it’s a lot of fun!

3.  And here’s the thing that I arrived at after a few days – that actually correlates with my real life – allowing myself to delve into these thoughts and memories weirdly has peeled back a layer of my little black robot heart.  It’s weird to FEEL something because I’m pretty much a goddamn automaton lately.  Is this what feelings are?  I kinda remember how, in fact, when I was younger I made a habit of reaching into my heart and pulling out my guts and rearranging them on a table full of (terrible, terrible) poetry, and spending many many late nights and early mornings in coffee shops discussing matters of the heart and soul, like some beatnik wannabe poets.

Maybe that was also a defense mechanism, feeling all the feelings before someone else made me feel them first, but I’ve swung the complete other way now.  I see something emotionally moving where other people are bawling their eyes out and saying “wow, that’s sad I’m sorry” (and look around for cues… sad is the right thing to feel here, right? beep beep boop borp).  I’ve just found for me as of late,  it’s easier for me to just not feel much.  It felt like I haven’t much to gain by doing it.  Ripping your heart out and stomping all over it for no reason seemed like an exercise in idiocy to me.

All fantasy has some roots in reality.  I think I’ve been a little obsessed with this story unfolding because it’s a safe space to explore emotion without it being REAL.  Fork’s avoidance and ennui in this situation was similar to the very same apathy that I experienced with training and racing for a while – see, told you I’d get there – feeling like I didn’t care about a thing because subconsciously I didn’t see a point. I was probably going to fuck it up anyway and it’s better not to admit you want the difficult thing because failing at something you care about sucks.  But then, sometimes a crack lets some light in and you realize a few things.

I DO CARE.  Just as Fork really cares about reconciling with an old friend even if Fork didn’t want to admit it, I actually care a big huge fucking LOT about this next race.  I wrote some flippant words a few months ago about reaching my big goal for the year (qualifying for Nationals) and these were two 70.3s were just for fun and didn’t really matter.  I guess that isn’t working for me anymore.  It’s mad passionate extraordinary love for racing or nothing, I suppose (name the movie I butchered this quote from below and you get a cookie!).  Damn it.  That was not the plan.

Really.  I just wanted to come back here and earn my tacos and beer with a little swim bike run before I indulged…

I AM STANDING ON THE EDGE OF A HUGE POTENTIAL BREAKTHROUGH.  Fork’s story is at a turning point and could be advanced with the head or the heart from here.  I’m choosing to run WILD with the latter with little regard for the former, and have that guide Fork’s choices.  I think the story will be MUCH more interesting because of it, no matter how it actually turns out. 

As for the upcoming race, I’m figuring that with racing my head, I’ll be running to the finish around 6:10-6:15 if all goes like clockwork.  That’s great – about a 20-25 minute PR!  However, I know if I’m willing to rip my heart out and really go for it, push through the nonsense when it gets stupid and hard and I would give anything to back down (where I have backed down in the past), I could find myself somewhere sub-6 hours, which is unicorn territory for me.  Even more, I could start to believe that my next big scary multi-year goal has teeth instead of being a pipe dream.  If I care and I fail, maybe it’s another three years until I believe again.  Or more.  Fool me once, shame on you… fool me twice…

I’m only smiling here because I was finally, mercifully done with the worst race ever.

It’s been a l0ng time since I approached a situation with my heart and not my head.  I talk a big game sometimes, but let’s be honest – in my life, more times that not, when I start to approach realizing my big scary goals, when I have to take the plunge to start the journey into the dark place that leads to the pursuit of greatness, I find something else to do instead.  “A jack of all trades, but a master at none,” a first grade teacher said about me, and it’s stuck all my life.  That’s the mark of someone that dabbles enough to be good but not great.  Walking the path to mastery is a terrifying thing I tend to avoid at all costs even if I crave it with all my being.  Honestly, it’s crazy I’ve stuck with triathlon this long and not taken up ballroom dancing or martial arts, because it’s about time to plunge into the unknown if I want to improve and conquer my next goals and that’s where it gets dicey as hell for me.

I’m reading HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT, which I purchased immediately after reading ENDURE because I wanted more more more immediately because I’m kind of obsessed with Sports Psychology, obviously, HAVE YOU MET ALL 5 MILLION WORDS OF MY BLOG?  These books are really hitting home that this robotic lack of emotions, this wonderful coping mechanism that allows me to have this nice, even, comfortable, mildly pleasant life, with fairly decent triathlon results is keeping me from becoming the fed-up athlete.  To become this is a GOOD THING, that is, finding the point where you are sick and flippin’ tired of coming up short and find something extra, pushing closer to your ACTUAL potential (which our stupid meaniehead brain does it’s best to keep us far, far away from), and there lies the unicorns and rainbows. 

Here’s my taxi cab confession – while I am super thrilled with everything I’ve accomplished earlier this year, I have to admit that the races were well executed days that were indicative of my good, maybe even my best performances in training, but nothing more.  There was no magic.  Alright, something about the run at No Label felt a little outside myself, maybe had a bit of the fed up athlete thing going on, but it was also a race with no expectations, not a race where I stood on the start line desperately wanting.  It’s neat when it’s a fun surprise, but I have yet to actually SUMMON the magic.  Even though I played one in a previous D&D last campaign, I’m not a wizard. 

(…and maybe sometimes at work…)

I certainly found motivation by chasing down other girls on the bike, but on the run, I always found a place that’s comfortably hard and stayed there and let the chips fall where they may.  Twice, I had someone significantly faster breeze by me in the last half mile which lost me an age group win at Texasman and later cost me a podium  at Rookie.  I’ve learned how to race with my head REALLY WELL this year.   I’m super proud of that.  I’m getting great at stringing together three solid efforts regularly.  That’s nothing to sneeze about and an important feather in my cap.  But something is missing.

When I stand on the line in Cozumel, I want to do it with an open heart for the first time in a long time.  I feel like the last block of training was enough to show me the possibility of what could be, but maybe not crack my potential.  I’ll admit, I’m fucking terrified.  This is the first full 70.3 I’ve raced in 3 years, and it’s the first time in so long that I feel ready to just… DO FUCKING BATTLE with the distance.  It’s my nemesis.  This is number seven, and six times before I’ve done varying shades of OKAY to disappointing.  There’s so much that can go wrong in such a long race, and it feels dangerous to have hope for something amazing, to feel brave and want things, and to set my sights on the performance that not only my brain knows is reasonable, but my heart thinks is POSSIBLE.

To find the darkness, I’ve had to train in the darkness.

I know to get to the place I want to go, my heart will need to do battle with the abyss at some point during the run and come out victorious.  I need to take the leap that I am stronger, that I am more capable of more than I imagine.  When doubt comes in at mile seven, or two, or wherever the demons wait to ambush me, when they scream at me that I need to slow down, that I need to walk, that I need to lie down under that nice palm tree over there, I want to be brave enough to have the strength to shout back, or at the very least whisper, “just watch me try” over and over until I reach the finish line.

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