Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I had my big transformative triathlon-related insight

Never Done: I had my big transformative triathlon-related insight

We're in the middle of a heat wave. It's going to be 98 degrees by the end of the week. Just walking outside (or lying on my bed) makes me sweat. And as you all know, I am training for a triathlon. The thing that was most daunting to me about this triathlon was not the swimming, and not the biking, and not the running -- but New York City in August. Why is there even a triathlon in New York City in August? (Why is there even a triathlon in New York City? Wouldn't we all rather go to Maine, or Hawaii, or Westchester?) Yes, we would. We would all rather go there. (OK, there are people who would rather stay in NYC.) But we also have a job, and we can't just take off for a destination endurance sporting event. So we convince ourselves that it will be really cool to swim in the Hudson, and to ride up the West Side Highway with no cars, and to run into the arms of our adoring friends and families in Central Park.

And we go out in the 90+ degree weather to train for this, with the humidity, with the smog, with the smells that we don't like to think about. Except when we don't. I've been wanting to quit for about 2 months now, but I haven't. Instead, I've seen four different doctors and a couple acupuncturists to help figure out what's going on in my lungs, and I've consulted with my coaches, and I've modified my running style, and gone to bed at 8:30 to get up at 4:30, I've borrowed a bike, and I've bought shoes, and I've (almost) made peace with my wetsuit, and told my friends that I have to leave Coney Island before the fireworks. I hope I don't sound like I'm complaining, because I'm actually quite proud. I'm trying to describe what it takes to do this.

So when an email comes at 3 PM on a 90+ degree running training day that if "we are sensitive to the heat, we might want to do the running indoors" you better bet that I thought about it for about 3 seconds and then rearranged my plans to go running on the treadmill in the gym at work. All air-conditioned all the time. And I'd never gone into the gym before -- so it in itself was a Never Done activity for me. I was surprised that in the middle of Manhattan, at 6 PM, there were plenty of open treadmills, and the woman who works at the desk said that although they have a 30-minute limit, it would be fine for me to run for 60 minutes because "they never have a line." Maybe it's because they have such a huge facility that there's plenty of other stuff for people to be doing. I'm not sure, but it felt great to run with no pressure. And surprisingly, it felt great to run. I've gotten so used to it being hard that I had forgotten what it's like when it's not. 25 minutes went by before I realized that I wasn't even breathing hard. And with that little bit of distance, I started thinking about how much I've been wanting to give up.

I think I've stuck with it out of determination and stubbornness and some faith that it will be meaningful to me to complete this venture. It certainly hasn't been enjoyment or a sense of strength and accomplishment. But when I noticed that I'm in much better shape than I thought I was, I got to think about how good it will be after the triathlon -- when I'm in great shape, and can use all these muscles to do anything I want to do. And then I realized that the sense of accomplishment doesn't have to come on August 7. It can come today, or in September, or in a year when who knows what I'll be doing. This is the transformative insight I have been waiting for -- the one I knew I needed to have in order to make these 6 months of training -- and August 7 -- meaningful. It's really not about the day of the triathlon. It's really not. It's not about the day of the triathlon. (Repetition is helpful when I'm trying to internalize something new.) It's not about what happens on the day of the triathlon. It's about everything I've learned, and everything I've become from persisting and pushing and learning when to rest and asking for help and figuring it out on my own and trusting my coaches and trusting myself and practicing all thirteen mides (middahs) in order to get to this point.

Humility: seek wisdom from everybody
Patience: Do not aggravate a situation with wasted grief
Equanimity: Rise above events that are inconsequential
Truth: Say nothing unless you are 100% sure it is true
Decisiveness: When you have made a decision, act without hesitation
Cleanliness: Let no stain or ugliness on our self/space
Order: All actions and possessions should have a set place and time
Righteousness: What is hateful to you do not do to others
Frugality: Be careful with your money
Diligence: Always find something to do
Silence: Reflect before speaking
Calmness: Words of the wise are stated gently
Separation: Respect in sexual and intimate relationships

So that's what taking on something huge is about. It challenges every area of our lives, and allows us to work not just every physical muscle we have, but every ethical muscle. It also teaches us that these endeavors truly are about the process and not about the product -- and that the process continues after the competition is over. Because on August 8, when I am bone weary and want to stay in bed all day, I will still get up and go to work. And even if I don't feel like lifting a muscle ever again, it would be ridiculous to let the ones I have just developed atrophy. I certainly wouldn't want to let my Patience and Humility muscles atrophy, so why would I want to let my Quadriceps or my Gluteus Maximus muscles wither?

I have been going on faith that doing the triathlon is an important part of my Never Done year, but until now haven't understood what is so important about it -- especially since it has felt in competition with doing more adventurous, more creative, more titillating Never Done activities. But I've known in my gut that the year has to be balanced out with some Big Things (adoption, triathlon, new job), some whimsical things (put art up on the streets, hand out flowers to strangers, buy underpants on Etsy), some emotionally weighty things (start therapy, attend funerals, go to Germany), and some big adventures (ride a roller coaster, go up in a hot air balloon.)

Now that I had my big transformative triathlon-related insight, I understand my own path.

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