Saturday, October 29, 2011

THE RACE: First Installment - An Apology to My Family and Friends

For the past year, I've been a self-absorbed jackass...And I'm sick of it.  So this blog is my attempt to turn that around and get back to the person my mother raised me to be.  Before I can do that, however, I need to apologize to those whom I've been the biggest jackass - my family and friends.  So even if you think blogs are ridiculous (I certainly used to), I ask that you please at least read this one...And then you can be done if you want. 

In November 2010, I made a decision I never thought I would make.  After two years of triathlons and fourteen years of running, I decided to sign up for an Ironman triathlon.  For those of you who are not familiar with the Ironman, it consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run, all of which must be completed in under 17 hours.  I signed up with some trepidation and fear, fully anticipating the world of hurt that I was going to inflict upon my body by training for and attempting this race.  What I never envisioned, however, even in the slightest, was mental and spiritual toll it would take.  After nine months of training, I am physically stronger than I've ever been; but, for every ounce of physical strength I've gained, I've lost twice as much mental and spiritual strength.  So now, with less than one month to go before Ironman Arizona (November 20th), I finally have realized what I learned from this process, why I decided to do an Ironman race and commit to the training, how I would hope to do it differently next time, and - most importantly - how I can try to provide some inspiration to other people through what I've learned. 

People kept asking me for the past year "Why do you want to do an Ironman?"  Until a couple of weeks ago, I didn't have a good answer.  Most people who do an Ironman have a variety of reasons for doing so:  they like the challenge; they want to see how far they can push their bodies; everyone else they know has done one; they've done every other distance so there's nothing else left; they want the Ironman tattoo; they actually think it might be fun; they want to do this distance to honor someone or as a fundraiser; or, they just want to do something that's totally and completely for themselves.  Each person's reason(s) is his/her own and is personal.  But none of those reasons - except for maybe "I've done every other distance," really answered my "Why."

A friend of mine at work recently said to me (after I'd skipped a happy hour to go home and work out) that they were talking about how "triathlon Michele isn't as much fun as regular Michele."  He meant it in jest and it was funny - but the notion that other people had picked up on a change in me really bothered me.  Normally, I'm a very social person.  I'd organize happy hours and lunches at work.  I'd throw parties at my house.  I'd visit friends at their houses to spend time with them and their kids (except if they live in Maryland - y'all know my stance on trekking to Maryland!).  I went to a lot of concerts.  I traveled and took awesome vacations.  And birthdays - birthdays were my THING.  I loved celebrating everyone's birthdays, decorating their offices, buying them gifts, organizing parties or dinners.  The past year though, all of those things I love to do not only fell by the wayside - the fell completely off the map! Plus, to top it off, I bought my first house last year, so trying to make it feel like home has taken up whatever time I'm not working, training, sleeping, running errands, or lying on the couch like a slug.  

I knew my family and friends were all being de-prioritized as I focused on training and my new house.  I didn't do a damn thing to fix it though.  I started feeling very selfish...Here I was training for this stupid race that most people don't know or care about, and neglecting everyone in my life in the process (except my boyfriend who trains with me).  My doing an Ironman certainly wasn't going to benefit anyone else or be a sacrifice on my behalf for anyone.  It's not like I'd joined the military and was being deployed.  I CHOSE to do an athletic event that was turning into a very self-centered, self-absorbed, self-important undertaking.  Instead of spending time with my family or friends, I was spending time by myself - swimming, biking, and running.  "I" became the center of my universe - and it didn't sit well with me.  In fact, it was isolating and depressing.  Unlike other people I know who were training for Ironman races and whose core group of friends are other triathletes, my family and best friends don't do triathlons.  So for other triathletes, training provided them an opportunity to spend time with their friends. For me, training took time away from my friends and family.    

So what the hell was the point?  Why cast my family and friends aside for the past year to do something that, at the end of the day, probably won't even make the Top 5 List of Most Important Things I Accomplish In My Life?  Well, I've finally realized that there are two answers.  

First, I've realized how much I thrive on and enjoy trying to motivate and inspire others.  I'm certainly not even close to the most inspirational person walking around, but I've learned that we often are setting examples for people even when we don't know it. I remember several years ago after I finished a 10k race, a woman came up to me and said that she'd been struggling through the race when she spotted me.  She thought I had a pace that she could keep up with, so she focused on keeping behind me to get through the race.  "So thank you for setting the pace," she said.  I obviously had no idea she was behind me and was just focused on doing my own thing to get through the race myself; but, it made me realize that even when we're just going robotically through our day, people see us and, for better or worse, learn from us.  Haven't you ever seen someone walking down the street and that person just looked happy, so it made you smile a little?  Or someone held the door open for a woman struggling with her baby stroller and it caused you to do the same thing next time?  Or, conversely, you're struggling with a bunch of bags and someone in front of you doesn't even bother to hold the door open for you?  Good or bad, consciously or unconsciously, we're constantly setting examples for those around us.  Since I've been running and doing triathlons, I've had so many people come to me for advice - everyone from the beginning runner to those attempting to do their first marathon. There is no greater compliment someone could give me than to ask for my advice or say that I've inspired them to try something new.  So if my doing a marathon or an Ironman can make someone else say "If Michele can do that, I can do a 'X'," then I'm thrilled!  

Second, I do this because I can.  I'm not saying I'm 100% confident that I will finish the Ironman - I certainly pray that I will.  What I'm saying is that I'm physically capable of trying.  I feel very blessed to be healthy, cancer-free, and have the ability to walk, run, swim, and bike.  I saw a man in a wheelchair on the metro one day and it made me think how difficult every day, simple things - like getting to work - would be if I couldn't use my own two legs, especially in a place like Washington, D.C. I can bolt out my door in the morning (which doesn't have to be specially widened to fit a wheelchair), run to the bus stop, climb up the bus steps (without having the bus driver roll out the wheelchair ramp), dash off the bus and run to the escalator (which I always walk down), jump on the metro (without having to move people out of the way to make room for my wheelchair), then hop off the metro, back to the escalator (which I always walk up), and walk to work.  Those little things I take for granted every day.  How much more inconvenient would your day be if you couldn't just hop in the car and go?  Or just run up your steps to the bathroom?  Or take your dog or child out for a walk?  I'm not trying to sound patronizing or trying to pity anyone with a physical disability because there are certainly people in wheelchairs or with prosthetics whom I've seen who are much more mobile, healthy, and active than other people I know.  What I'm saying is that I personally feel like if I don't try to utilize my physical blessings to the biggest extent that I can, it's like sitting on a winning lottery ticket without cashing it in. You don't have to run a marathon or even run a 5K to give thanks for your physical abilities; but, ask yourself this:  Do you really do all you can with what you've been given?  Do you drive to the store when you could actually walk?  Do you park closest to the door when you could actually park farther away to save that spot for someone else who may need it more?  Do you walk when you could run?  I read a quote from Mother Theresa that I think sums it up (at least it's reported that she said this):  “God doesn't require us to succeed, he only requires that you try.”  So, I do this crazy stuff because I can at least TRY to do it.  I'd rather try and fail than never have tried at all.   

Realizing those two things have finally given me some peace with what I feel has been a very selfish process.  So although these reasons don't excuse my neglect of my family and friends, I hope it at least helps you understand it.  I also hope that you haven't written me off, that you can forgive me, and that you can trust that I'm going to try to do things differently.  Without my family and friends' patience, love, and support, I wouldn't be where I am and I wouldn't have the mental and spiritual courage to try to push the envelope.  Most importantly, I also couldn't try crazy new things if I hadn't been inspired by someone else.  My mother is the strongest, most hard-working, self-motivated person I know. My brother is the most patient person I know when it comes to caring for others and teaches me to be yourself, no matter what.  My father has shown me that love can be expressed in unexpected ways.  My grandpa - Papa Norman - was a Marine in WWII, so say no more.  My Uncle Bud showed me that it's never too late in life to turn over a new leaf and make amends with those whom you've hurt.  My two cousins (Kurt and Goob) have humbled me with their relentless work ethic and devotion to family.  Also, Goob and my cousin Sarah have filled me with pride over their sacrifices for and service to our country more times than I can count.  Finally, my friends have taught me that family isn't limited to blood relatives, and that although life may change, those changes, if given the chance, can be better than you ever expected.  So I want to officially thank all of you just for being in my life, and formally apologize for taking you for granted the past year.  I promise to do better...

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I know many of you probably rolled your eyes when I mentioned the word "blog."  It may not be your cup of tea, and that's fine.  I'm going to give this a try for awhile though, so that maybe I can provide some inspiration and laughs to other people...Future blogs hopefully won't be so "heavy" and will try to plant a few seeds for folks to think about.  If you like this or know someone who may like it, please spread the word.  The ideas have been a-flowin', so I hope to have the first official blog published in the next week or so...

I love you all...


Mo says said...

On behalf of me and my family, we forgive you :P Now please go swim, bike and run that race (so that we can selfishly claim we know a ironwoman!). And we are so proud of you for all the training you'd done!

Life Through Endurance said...

Thanks Mo! Your support means a lot to me!