Saturday, January 2, 2021

So, About Ironman...

 In 2020, I swam 58 miles, biked 2374 miles, and ran 859 miles, and so what? I don't care anymore. 

2020 has been a crazy year, not that it looks at least the first part of 2021 is going to be any less crazy. But one benefit of the craziness is that it seems to push people to examine their motives and think about WHY they are doing stuff. I have been doing that with triathlon for months now.

Training was going well. I was in good shape. I had a swim coach for one lesson and improved my swim time to 2:15/100, still a crappy time but hugely better than 2:30/100. Then I flunked a cardiac stress test, and all my training stopped cold until we could figure out why. 

I hadn't really had any symptoms of any problems, but the older I got, the more it seemed like I should have a heart check-up if I was going to continue to do this extreme training and racing. So I talked to my doctor and she scheduled me for routine tests including a stress test. I was positive I would ace the stress test, with my superior level of fitness. Well, I did complete the stress test on the treadmill, even running in a mask. (Was it fun? No. But I completed it.) It felt bad, but no worse than any miserable run anywhere. I was shocked when they told me, essentially, that I flunked it. Well, they didn't say that. What they said was "significant abnormality." And no strenuous exercise until they could do a cardiac catheterization, which is a procedure where they run a tiny tube up your artery to your heart and look for problems. They couldn't schedule it until two weeks after my stress test, so that was two weeks of no exercise. They sent me home with blood pressure meds and nitroglycerin "just in case."

I absolutely did not expect to hear the words "significant abnormality." I've done 59 marathons and I-have-no-idea-how-many shorter races, and surely I would have had some inkling of trouble -- besides the fact that I hated them -- in one of those if something was really wrong? But every time something COULD be wrong, because I am a hypochondriac, the thing DEFINITELY is wrong until I have proof that it isn't. I learned a few things during this waiting period: 

1) If they told me I had to give up Ironman training because of a heart problem, I was not going to miss it even a tiny bit.

2) Yoga, which I was able to do and which I did religiously every day, was not only an okay substitute for, say, swimming. It was exponentially better. I didn't have to leave the house to do it; it made me stronger; it was calming; I could do it while surrounded by dogs; I look way better in yoga poses than I do in the pool. I could go on but you get the point.

3) Not only did I not miss training, in my head I actually did have the thought that I would be grateful for an excuse to not think about doing Ironman anymore. (Of course, I mean I would be grateful as long as the heart problem was something that could be fixed somehow, not something that couldn't be fixed and would just be a time bomb in my chest. I would not have been grateful for that at all.) 

Somewhere along the way, it occurred to me that if I was grateful to have a heart problem as an excuse not to do Ironman... maybe I don't really need to do Ironman, even if I don't turn out to have a heart problem. 

Not that this thought hasn't occurred to me before (it has, on more-or-less a daily basis since the first time I started training for Ironman). I have just been too proud of being stubborn -- or, as I called it, persistent and goal-oriented -- to quit. It took the messed-up year that was 2020 to make me really, sincerely think that maybe spending your limited time on Earth messing around with things you don't love and taking time away from things you do love is, maybe, not something to be proud of. 

But... but...

But I spent all this money already! So what? It's just money. I'm lucky; I have enough money and no debt and, other than Ironman, no expensive hobbies.

But I spent all these years working towards it! And I got an amazing body out of it, and excellent physical health, so it's not like I wasted my time.

But I told people I was going to do it! As Will said, half the people I know probably think I already did one, and the other half don't care. 

But I can't not accomplish a goal! Sure I can. It will allow me to accomplish other more enjoyable goals, like dog obedience titles and writing classes. 

But I won't get the experience of crossing the finish line after all this work! True. But remember how NOT memorable it was when I accomplished my 50 states goal? Literally, my thought as I was finishing my 50th state marathon was, "This sucks and I want to stop running," along with, "Okay, what next?" The prize was the journey, not the accomplishment, which was meaningless almost as soon as I completed it.

But that nice expensive bike that I had to have...! I can sell it. If anyone is looking for a nice red Pinarello road bike with disc brakes, size somewhere between 54 and 56 (Pinarello sizes are weird), hardly used at all, let me know! I'll give you a sweet deal. My favorite bike is and always has been the old steel Bianchi anyway. 

So by the time I had the procedure and got the good news -- no blockages, healthy heart, exercise as much as I wanted -- I had pretty much decided I was not going to do Ironman. But I still wasn't quite sure, because this year has finally, finally taught me how to enjoy exercise. I have been marathon/triathlon training for over 15 years now and hated it for most of that time; I just liked not being fat and being able to eat essentially whatever I wanted. But this year was so stressful that eventually classical conditioning did its thing and the activity of running/biking/swimming became associated in my brain with the endorphins that felt sooooooo good after. So I didn't mind the training, not even the long workouts. What I minded was the thought of the race, and any extra effort I would have to put into getting race-ready, like trying different bike seats, learning how to do strength training, taking swim lessons, et cetera. I thought, maybe I will just keep doing the workouts and then do the race in April if I feel like it. That way I would be trained and physically ready for it, and I could do the training without pressuring myself too much. 

I signed up for a swim lane at the Y for this morning. I woke up this morning and thought, "I do not want to drive to the Y." It was the first time I felt like I had to do something I didn't want to do since the stress test. It wasn't the swim I didn't want to do; it was the drive across town and back and the worrying about "how much of the workout will I get done before they kick me out of the pool when I reach the 45-minute time limit?" That little bit of stress was enough. 2021 Me does not want ANY stress, or at least as little as I can reasonably control. Instead of driving to the pool, I cancelled my Y membership. It felt so good. 2021 Me is only going to do things that feel good.

Then I bought two new pairs of running shoes. (New running shoes = good, because I FINALLY like running!) Then I came home and did 45 minutes of yoga, which felt amazing. Then I did an hour on the trainer, which I am NOT going to sell because it feels good. 2021 Me is, so far, an improvement. 

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