Friday, September 20, 2013

On the Road Back Home....

Ahem... is anyone out there?

To say it's been a while since I've posted would be putting it mildly: the last post on this blog was from 2011 when I was cycling a lot more and had gotten the triathlon itch that faded as summer turned to Fall and I realized I didn't have the extra $600 (or so) hanging around for the event fee, to say nothing of what it would take to buy a tri bike and all the fuel (I'm not quite sure I can refer to goo and sport-bars and all of that as "food" exactly) and all the other details you have to worry about (i.e.: purchase) when you undertake an event like an Ironman.

So now here I am two years later and the itch as returned despite the drop in the air temperature each morning and the dwindling hours of sunlight. Despite my job which entails teaching 80-something college freshmen to write coherent essays. Despite, too, coming home after three years away. Or, perhaps, the itch has returned because I'm back in the place which taught me to be an athlete all those years ago.

I admit, I have mixed feelings about being home. Obviously, I appreciate the proximity to my family and the familiarity of my surroundings. Trails here aren't a mystery nor are rides: I've done them all and know them and I can almost feel myself trailing the shadow of my former self as I wake up and train each morning in the hours prior to the dawn.

And yet, it's strange, too, to be back where I started. After all, I'm not the person I was-- who is, after three years? I'm no longer in my twenties. I'm no longer an elite athlete or (really) even a good athlete. In fact, it's like I'm starting off all over again, unfit and an unlikely candidate for speed or grace.

My first practice back with the UNR Tri Club was humbling, to say the least. I nearly threw up in the pool gutter (not a good move since the gutters here aren't deep and dark but instead, shallow and white which would have equated to a big-old-coffee/toast-puke-blob floating in the lane). Running, too, was (and is) humbling. Gone are the days when six-minute miles felt like walking. Running is work. Always work and always pain. Perhaps it was always that way, but that's not how I remember it.

And then there's my body: it's not the same, either. It's older, wider and, in some ways, wiser. I don't feel the need to kill myself in practice in order to prove my sense of self to myself anymore (I know who I am)-- I simply push myself to breathlessness and find a space within the discomfort to settle and remember what it had been like when I was younger, thinner and when I believed I would always get better, as long as I tried hard enough.

There are moments, though-- brief ones-- when the past intrudes into the present and I relive that old-athlete life as though no time has passed. 12 x 400 meter intervals at dawn and I'm behind three of the fastest guys on the team, matching some near-forgotten cadence of the run and even though I'm afraid I can't complete another one (lap), I do and it's faster than the one before it. Again and again-- 12 times-- and by the last effort my legs become my twenty-something running legs and I do a 1:18 on the turf in regular shoes (not racing flats) which isn't so far off what I would have done years ago-- a second or two, perhaps-- and I felt like crying in the morning crisp, but didn't, because that would have been strange to see:  a 31-year old woman drenched in sweat and tears as though these things matter.

But they do, to me. Even after all these years.

I've got the Ironman itch again. But I still don't have $600. Or a Tri Bike. Or all that fuel.

But the desire is back. And maybe that's all it takes.