Whenever I am in Atlanta, I always make an effort to see my friend of 10-years, Tony Myers. Tony is one of my favorite people on the planet for a series of reasons, but he is also at the top of the TOP among my favorite training partners, and he has been for years.
En route to Rev3 Knoxville, I stopped in Atlanta for a couple days to do some work on my house, see a few friends and, of course, do a ride with Tony. For a man of 50 years, I continue to be awestruck by how strong he is. There are few people, man or woman of any age, who Tony can't dust if he wants. Amazing.
Cartersville is a ride with rollers.... constant rollers. A few steep ones but in general its just consistency. You can't fake your way through rides like this and weaknesses will eventually be revealed, leaving in their wake a shocking display of mediocrity. I've never been a good climber, I've been ok on flats... but rollers... those were my bread n' butter as a cyclist.
This day with Tony was INCREDIBLE for me. I felt like this day was an excellent day in the office - in the best sense of that. Tony and I rode 4 hours; he always stayed about 25 meters in front (he was taking it easy today) ... and as I fought my way through the course's consistency, I felt a lot of Carole in the ride, mostly in mental ways. I lost power muscularly before I ever lost power aerobically, a definite indicator of the strength I have lost... neither of which is good but the great thing about today was the focus I maintained. I didn't get frustrated even once - I got more and more focused, more and more precise. I was Carole again. I was feeling a lot of my technical skills with a course like this coming back. Not technical in the sense of descents and turns, but the technique of riding rollers well. I was good at this once. On this day, even though I lost power, I kept my head in the game. I played my effort perfectly, masterfully; I ate and drank with perfection -- which only helped to serve the later miles when I was fried. As Tony took me through the final 10-miles and chose a HILLY route just to push me ... I didn't cuss him out (ok, I did a little). I dropped my shoulders and pressed on. I focused intently. I got it done. And today, I did it well. A lot of great things happened today.
This was a great day at the office for me. It was 90 degrees in Atlanta for the ride, too. Somehow I didn't mind it. Something about the heat and the sweat pouring out of my helmet the whole time... I don't know... it felt like the result of EFFORT. It made me feel like I was working. It made me feel strong. It was a good day...
... and got me thinking about The Wall.
Triathletes, in particular those who do the longer events like Ironman, know the proverbial wall.
Paula Newby-Fraser once told me the race begins at mile 90. Though I wouldn’t call this the wall, I know what she means. I have encountered the wall typically located someplace between miles 19 and 22 of the marathon off the bike … but it can sprout up anywhere. It can even begin as a simple, unassuming speed bump, but can grow faster than a snowball picking up speed downhill. Suddenly you find something massive, directly in front of you, blocking the path between right here and the finish line.
The wall is constructed of many bricks; those bricks are things like fear, pain, loneliness, hopelessness, burdens, doubt, exhaustion (physical, mental or emotional). It is a black hole in our psyche, a gap in our fence, a riptide in our reservoir with the potential to carry us away in a direction different than we may want to go. The wall becomes physically tangible to a triathlete, but the same wall exists in other areas whether we choose to recognize it or not.
Currently, I am starting to plan another Ironman for myself. Why? I’ve been asking myself that question a lot lately and am starting to give better answers. :) I think my most compelling reason is to get another good, hard look at that sucker. “That sucker” isn’t Ironman, per say.
That sucker is ‘The Wall’.
There is a part of me that likes to know, every once in a while, what I am up against on the inside. If we get up close enough to our wall, we might spot some loose bricks, wedge our fingers in and yank them out, revealing a rectangular shaft of light from the other side. Other times, we get up close enough and spot some handholds, footholds, a way 'up and over'. How much time, energy and mileage do we waste each time we try to go around our wall, instead of facing it head on?
There is even a cliched expression, "hit the wall." People use this all the time in a non-running context, signifying reaching the end of their rope, an empty tank, a point of frustration, no return, giving up, turning back.
What does it mean to you to hit the wall? What kind of bricks are you stacking?
When you reach your limit, your wall, the end of yourself - what happens next for you? What do you find there? Release? Relief? Grace? Do you have a breakdown or do you break it down? Do you make a plan or an excuse? What gives - the terrain, or you?
It’s been three (3) years since my last Ironman… since I last tested myself in this way. I wonder if it's possible to teach ourselves to create a new starting line just when we think we can't muster another step. That's when you really find out what you are up against, and in that same sweet moment, what you are really made of.
I can’t wait to find out.