My mind against my mind

jeff gaura running a raceHow could it be any better for a championship level race?  The weather was nearly perfect, and there was an air of “it is good to be alive,” in the air.  The course in and around the Grandover Resort in Greensboro, NC, was visually as stimulating as a National Geographic photo collage, and the competition showed up en mass.  The Dookies returned, all of them looking young, fit and wearing their race garb.  They were chatty and happy as young college men are.  A couple of current and previous TeamUSA members where there, preparing just like me.  There were the regular faces of the regular guys and gals who have been doing this for years and years and love the multi-sport way of life.  There were a few first timers, on bikes that came right out of their parents’ garage from when they were in high school.  This time, though, they brought their spouses and children with them to the race to watch Mom or Dad run and pedal into oblivion.  Sharon, my coach, was there, decked out in her multi-sport gear, striking up conversations with people north, south, east and west of her position.  I wonder if she has ever met a face she didn’t like….people all seem to be drawn to her.

Ta da!  This is my first anniversary of doing these races.  I am no longer a newbie…I have one whopping year under my belt.  Who hoo!

My wife had her chair set up near the finish line.  She gave me a kiss right before the start.  She could care less about speeds, feeds and winning.  She loved the weather, scenery and a chance to catch up on magazines as her old man plays giddyup for the next two hours or so.

Competing in a multi-sport event like a Duathlon or a Triathlon is like learning a dance routine without the use of words.  It has an order to it and enough change during the middle for it to have these weird effects of creating a “language” in the body.  Do this, stop, change clothes, do that, stop, change clothes, go back to doing this again, and go in loop and lines that make no sense to anyone outside looking in.  We all spend more time training for a multi-sport event than we do practicing by a ratio of something like 100 to 1.  In other sports, there are scrimmages or practices against others.  Not so here.  It is you against you, until race day.

And sometimes during the race, it remains you against you.  Climbing off the bike was like stepping into a hot bathtub.  I couldn’t even limp without silly noises coming from my mouth.  When I got to my designated area, all I could do was stand there, on one foot, pondering the meaning of life.  I watched 3 people enter behind me and leave in front of me.  Two more enter, change clothes and take off running, all the time, I am standing like a flamingo, sans the red feathers.  All I could think about was my right foot.  It couldn’t bear any weight without pain, and my mind was solidly convinced that I couldn’t go.  I was done.  It seemed like an eternity, even though the post-race record shows that I was only in transition for 1 minute 8 seconds.

Three letters that intimidate all long distance athletes:  DNF.  They stand for Did Not Finish.  This label is given to anyone who crosses the starting line but fails to cross the finish line in the allocated time or by the rules.  During that brief 68 seconds, I saw that my mind was prepared to DNF.  I was done.  In the battle of me against me, I had lost, big time.

Today was a fine day to quit.  I had taken the first run very lightly, and I ran at a fraction of my potential, finishing each mile in something like 7 and a half minutes.  I saw the potential that my foot would check out, and I gave up one minute per mile, just to make sure that when I got to this point, I would not be too spent.  After all, I am two months from the Long Duathlon Nationals, and ten weeks from Worlds.  Sure, this is a fun event to practice and important for my preparation, but I didn’t want to do anything to goof up those experiences by breaking something.  Take a seat, drink something and be grateful that you had a great first run and bike ride…that is what I heard.

ImageI have always been a man to take advice and use it only occasionally.  My wife will validate this claim, wholeheartedly.  Today was going to be one of those days.  Watching six people pass me as I stood in transition was enough.  And, enough was enough.  I said a brief prayer, put on my shoes and took off jogging out of transition.  My foot was numb, now, but not in pain.  Whatever it was, I decided to take it and make the most of it.

I passed my wife in her seat, and never looked back.  Within a minute, whatever pain there was had left, and I decided to push to my normal running speeds for an 8 mile run of this sort.  Sure, I lost a few minutes standing in my mental quagmire, but I needed to rejoice at having 70% health and not be all bent out of shape at not having 100% health.

My father lost his wife (and my mom) of 63 years about 4 years ago.  He routinely tells us all that they had 63 great years together.  That she is gone and he is alone are factual, but they do not come up as part of the conversation.  He dwells on that which is good and positive.  Perhaps I could apply that life strategy, in the real world, right now.   Hmm.

Maybe I could compete today?  I allowed that thought in.  I saw the folks in front of me, and some were a long way off.  Many of them were behind me, just 5 minutes earlier.  Heck, if I kicked my pace up, maybe I could catch one of them?

Dropping down to a 7 minute mile, I thought I might have it in me to cut some more time off of that one the last three.  Catching one of them motivated me.  Then, I caught up to a college kid.  My foot wasn’t happy, but I was getting there, with or without my foot’s participation.  The migration to optimism was afoot, no pun intended, and the fires of pessimism were being put out.  Another yahoo!

As we neared the halfway point of the run, where we all turned around and brought it home, I saw her.  There she was!  Ms. Happy, back for another race!   I was now passing nearly everyone in my initial field of vision, and my strength got a big burst when I saw her.

As I turned at the half way point, a young man (Robert) caught up to me and passed me.  As he did, I asked him, “What is our pace?”  He looked at his high tech widget and said, “blah blah,”  I smiled.  I had no idea what he said, but I knew it was fast.

“Can I run with you and your pace the rest of the way?” I asked.

No pause.

“Scratch that.  I AM going to run with you all the way back,” I said.

He said, “all right.  How about we kick it with a quarter mile left?”

“Sounds good.”

It was an effort of will to maintain this speed and have a conversation.  Best I can tell, we were running nearly 6:10 mile splits, yet, the speeds were not in the forefront of my mind.  He and I talked for a solid 10 minutes, extinguishing any negative thoughts.  Turns out he is nearing graduation from grad school, and he is looking for a job.  After a few minutes, I start interviewing this guy.  I really liked his personality and wondered how he could fit into the company.  I ask some of the same sort of questions that I ask anyone who I am interviewing for future employment, and in the middle of one of his answers, we pass the 7 mile line.  That meant 1 mile left, and we were within 100 feet of Ms. Happy.

“What is our pace, now?”  I ask.  He has a fancy watch that shows speeds and feeds.

“About 6:00.”

Dude!

“You see that woman up there?” I state.  “She is our goal.”

I didn’t say “catching her” was our goal, nor was “passing her” our goal.  She was our goal.  Regardless of what she does, I had to migrate from a feeling of inferiority to one of self-acceptance.  That was not going to happen until I could compete with her and win.  Childish as it is, I had to beat her. It just became my identity, in the moment.

And pass her, we did, with a minute or two to go.  Robert and I sprinted to the finish line, and the first thing that came to my mind when we crossed wasn’t my foot nor my dehydration.  It was finding my wife and telling her that I beat Ms. Happy on a bad foot day.

The socializing that occurred after the race was lots of fun, as it always is, and I got a massage and some yogurt with granola.  Great job, Trivium Racing, at providing a healthy, post-race meal.  Beats the heck out of the pizza and sweet tea that we got in Kannapolis last year.

I spent that evening sitting on the couch, reading and icing my foot.  My foot is not OK, but nothing feels broken.  That said, although my foot may have gotten worse, my spirit grew by leaps and bounds.  And for that, I am grateful.

To add to it, I have not run at that speed for the last few miles of a race, like, ever.  That was a personal best for a 2nd run.  Too bad it was only good enough for 6th place!  Yet, how grateful I am that NC has such a great group of racers to compete against.

My dad’s lesson is taking hold.

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