The Return of the Ritual
It’s an Ironman race year, and while I wake up convincing myself it doesn’t matter; that training three practices during a Wednesday will fit in to my day like honey sneaks into a peanut butter sandwich: or that pouring the second glass of wine on a school night won’t make it hard to get out of bed (see where I started this train of thought—it’s a circular activity and lifestyle), the additions and subtractions during this race year add up. They factor in. They sometimes weigh you down.
When I think about it a little more honestly, I admit to myself, it’s not a race year. It’s a ritual year.
And when picking up the ritual after more than a 4-year hiatus, there are more than my fair share of rusty groans. Moments spent a little too long in bed. Decisions about whether I really trained hard enough during a given workout to deserve a donut (even a fresh, hot one from Federal Donuts). And the ability to self-bargain against the training schedule better than Houdini facing handcuffs in a watering tank. A tired, working girl can convince herself to get out of anything she thinks she wants to.
I had to look up the date since my last race (2013) because if I don’t know the year I did this last time off the top of my head, then I don’t have to face how long I’ve been out of practice. Or how fast I’m out-growing my age group.
I also don’t want to face all the shit that has happened in between to make racing triathlon the most inconsequential activity since shopping for refrigerator magnets. There are excuses, of course.
I’ve had my fair share of mid-life crisis moments, existential reflections and physical moves during the last four years to convince myself racing triathlons are impossible. Like, how does one navigate the back roads of Philadelphia (which are main thoroughfares) when the route requires a turn every 2.7 seconds? How do I fit around training for a race in these kind of maze-like, broken-asphalt, Philly-drivers-are-asshole conditions? (My first ride here required me to stop at every turning point from the GPS to check it against the map. My phone wore out before I did).
I have also ignored how long it’s been since I signed up for a race because embarking on a new year with a new training schedule is hard. It’s hard because you have to follow the plan. And to follow the plan means you have to do the workouts.
When I contacted my coach Debi, the embodiment of Adonis + Diana with a little Arnold Schwarzenegger thrown in for good measure, I thought, “having a plan will be good and easy. It’s like working out with the color by numbers plan.” What I failed to account for was her new ritual status of Cross fit and that her dedication to badassery had set in since the last time I trained with her, and it would become my new dedication, in part, to her brand of badassery. Shit was about to get real, with a little kettlebell/pushup/jumprope/heart-coming-out-of-chest action thrown into the week. (To the tune of 3x a week, and another thing I’d work into the bargaining rotation.)
(*I will spare the details of training regimens and theories—there is an approach to fit in the training, to not overdoing it, but most of all, to having fun while doing it. And no—the last one is not a joke, but a litmus test to see whether you should be doing one in the first place. Ironman without fun= douchebag.)
By week three, I started to sigh heavily when looking at the week and weekend ahead. “I have to do…what?” I counted the hours on workout spreadsheet and then factored it into my workday, my commute, my need to forage for food. I thought, “This is not as easy as I remember.” It couldn’t be because I was older, of course. Or wiser?
Then, like all working triathletes in an urban setting, I had to figure out when the pool was not busy, or disgustingly dirty.
I had to level with myself when the alarm went off at 5:00 am—“Will you really have the chance to change, run, shower…and make the 1:30pm meeting?” If no: “GET YOUR ASS OUT OF BED NOW” command kicked in. Or, “It’s cold out. I’m sure if I go tonight, I’ll be warmer.” I wasn’t, and I missed the workout. See also: times pool is disgustingly dirty.
And the constant watching of the weather app. “Please, Baby Jesus. No snow. No snow. No snow—I’ll give up alcohol for a month if I don’t have to ride the trainer again this weekend.” Jesus knows I live in the frosty Northwest. And I visit my family in Minnesota. I’m still drinking. Even on school nights.
I’ve just started on month three—and as I contemplate skipping the next workout, or switching up my routine—I see the calendar creep closer to my first race. This is why one signs up—you can’t negotiate with time, but rather, must bend your will to the unmovables. All feats need a villain to overcome, and for many, this Passage of Time thing serves as one for us all.
There is lots of compromise during a ritual year, and maybe even a little more sacrifice. Month–not week–three has taught me to stay the course.
The ritual has done what other rituals have gifted followers of its services—as time goes on, and I give into rhythm of routine, I have a growing sense of being simultaneously lucky and blessed. Moments of clarity and reflection bring more understanding: I get to feel challenged. I feel my body growing past the discomfort. I start to feel thanks for doing something that both wakes me up to what is different about me, and yet, how I start to feel a part of my surroundings. I start to sense the glide of movement being one with the exercise, and not only opposed. I feel myself less edgy about the process, and more rounded when something breaks or is missed. I celebrate the small wins, like making all workouts in a day. For me, I find myself fitting into the surroundings, and not just observing them. Shakespeare said it one way, “All the World’s a Stage, and all its players, actors.” An old proverb—or Bruce Lee—said it another way: “Be like the water, and go with the flow.”
Don’t be the obstacle. Don’t fight it. Find a way to bend and get through. All of those excuses stopping me for four years? The past three months? They were not the obstacles. This is the beauty of the ritual–lessons learned don’t belong to just it, yet are lessons for life spent outside the workout sessions.
My current status is this: finding where I am, and being okay with it. It’s taken me three months to get here. Maybe 4 years. Or maybe 42. I’m still not faster with my feet on the run, but my head is starting to get into the game, a little more each time, just like with any good ritual observance.
Of course, this is now. Check in later for the half-time report.