“Two down…. two to go.” I said it aloud to myself as I crested the hill. It was my first hill repeat session in what feels like ages. It was hot as balls out, evening, and as sticky as cotton candy on your hands long after the cotton candy has been eaten.
But I love that shit, and as I said… I haven’t felt that in ages. I haven’t DONE that in ages.
Those hill repeats were ugly, they were messy, but they made me feel alive again. The time SUP’ing and skiing and wandering has done me a world of good. It has allowed me to appreciate the gift this sport has been to me. To my life.
I got to do this particular hill repeat session with my 15 year old son, who runs a 6:09 1600, and I don’t. He dropped me like a bad habit. I apologized for all of those Ironman finish lines I dragged him through, he said “Revenge is sweet Mom”. I get to do these with HIM. Never in my wildest dreams of parenthood did I dare to dream my teenage son would not only want to run with me…. but be invested in this journey.
There’s this one house on the route of hill repeats, with that one guy who is always tending to his lawn. He wasn’t out there on the first two repeats but he was out there for the final two (I run the same hill, this week it was four times. Next week, 5). He smiled and waved….. it was like reconnecting with an old friend. You know, the ones you haven’t seen in a while, but the moment you do it’s like you’ve never skipped a beat. I have missed him. I have missed his flowers. I don’t even know his name. I didn’t even realize that I missed him.
The third time up the hill was when I began to question if I was going to throw up. It made me smile because I love that feeling of being on the edge of breaking and getting stronger. When you just rip off your shirt and stash it on someone’s lawn (or in someone’s mailbox) because it’s so-freaking-hot- and you just don’t care.
It’s cliche to say but I don’t care. I am lucky. For whatever reason after my surgery last year I fell into a hole…. and it was likely from a long bout of overtraining…. I really questioned my place in this sport as an athlete. I played and wandered and took a break. I skied and SUP’d and rested. It all came to a big head this past winter and I took care of longstanding issues of doing too much and neglecting myself.
And quicker than I have ever expected…… I have rebounded. It took great patience. There were big and deep dark moments behind this big smile of mine. Stepping back was difficult and painful and I was ready to retire from competition if that’s what I needed to do. I was that done.
A friend wrote somewhere that she recommended everyone take a year away from the sport, especially those of us who have been doing it for so long. Of all things through the past year…. that struck a cord with me the most. By the time she had said it I was 6 months into it, and it really all began to make sense.
I am so excited. I am so freaking excited to be back at it again. Hindsight is always 20/20 as they say. In the midst of all of that, people had suggested I take a break, that I step back, and I rationalized all of it. I’ve been training 20+ hours a week my whole life, I am fine. I know how to work through fatigue like this. I just need to do some race to really motivate me. La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-. I would have never admitted it during. But hell I admit it now. I needed to step back, especially for my health. In my 20 years as an athlete (more if you count my youth), 12 years as a coach and 15 years as a NURSE I have never seen anyone train themselves OUT of injury or illness. Not even my own self. You have to allow the body to do what it needs to do. I learned the hard way, but I did it, and it worked. The nurse in me knew that. The athlete in me didn’t want to admit it.
Regaining my health, being able to guide our Valor Triathlon Project athletes, announcing athletes through finish lines, getting back on the roads…. and let’s face it… SUMMER…. have all been what have brought me back to what I love. The chance to go to Nationals …. the nudging from my family and those I love to never give up on myself…. all of it together.
Through all of this there has been one thing that has never wavered. My belief in myself. I have always felt that my best performances…. whatever sport those might be in…. are ahead of me. I believe that with my heart and my soul. I searched for the perfect coach, the perfect training plan, and the perfect goal. I searched and searched and searched.
I realized that I needn’t go further than my front door. I have everything I need right here. Starting with an unrelenting belief in myself.
The fourth time up the hill I felt that cross between exhilaration and exhaustion. That feeling of getting stronger both physically and mentally with every step I take. I was drenched and boiling and as sticky as all get out….. and I loved every second of that feeling. Once I crested that hill the skies opened up and rain began to belt down on me. In a movie-like moment I threw up my arms and just let it soak me to the bone.
It just felt awesome. So painfully awesome. This stuff… it just makes me so happy.
That feeling…. is why I do what I do. That feeling…. is what I have missed. I love turning myself inside out. I love the way it feels. Nationals is going to be ugly, and that’s how it should be. This road back is a long one and it will take more than 12 weeks.
But I am in it for the long haul.