Thursday, July 05, 2007

Boat Ramp

I'm standing on the towpath trail, in my wetsuit and gripping a half eaten Espresso GU, and I can't, for the life of me, remember why I signed up for this.

What was I doing here?

In a panic, I tried to find a single statement -- any statement -- that would reassure me that there was a thought process behind this. That I was supposed to be here. And I came up empty. Nothing. My legs shook and I focused on that nothing with wide eyes.

What was I doing here?

Mighty M and I had arrived in West Virginia the night before, after carefully planning what to bring and making sure not a single contingency was left unattended. Wetsuit and nutrition were duly packed, as were emergency arm warmers and extra pairs of socks. Careful lists had been made days before, and even more carefully checked over and over since Friday night. I had thought of everything. There were no surprises.

We had laughed a lot on the way down, as we tend to do when cooped up in a car together. He had suffered my detailed race plan. It was still far enough away to talk easily about transition plans and what to eat when. We were relaxed and eager, on a unique mission.

And yet... .

We rolled into Morgantown after an uneventful trip. It was a beautiful drive. We checked into a perfectly acceptable hotel, with a wonderfully unexpected fridge to house my bottles and Uncrustables safely until this morning. I had signed in for my registration packet, picked my tee-shirt size, and made the obligatory impulse buy at the expo.

And yet, I was still confused by it all. Standing there with a stomach full of nerves, in an awkward wetsuit, and focusing on the ragged edge of the plastic GU sleeve I was trying to stomach.

What exactly was I thinking? Who did I think I was? I don't do things like this. I'm not strong, nor am I exceptionally athletic. All these people around me are chiseled and confident, laughing even. They see friends in the crowd and I desperately trying not to puke my breakfast on my bare toes.

I'm not this person. I'm someone who used to be a mess. Someone who used to give up. Used to bail out. I'm that person who left the long line at the last moment, skipping the roller coaster of experience for the comfort of my own shell. Don't worry, I'll wait for you on the other can tell me all about it then. We'll laugh together like I was there with you.

I spent years upon years learning how to avoid moments like this. How did I find myself literally on this shore? I am no reflection of my peers, of those surrounding me. I'm broader and self-conscious in my tight racing suit. I am shaking all over. I'm uncertain and afraid. I am, yet again, that 29 year-old, woven together with dashed hope and abject disappointment.

How did I get here?

I was flooded with doubt. My long ride the weekend before became an opaque wall directly before my eyes -- the tiring miles and the painful end, that was so unexpected and unwelcome after months of solid training. If I can't finish 50 without crying, how can I do this?

I looked down at the Monongahela River, where the pro's had already begun their swim and my peers were slowly lining up for their chance and all I could think about was my open water swim in New Jersey the week before. How heavy the wetsuit arms felt. How awkward and unbalanced my stroke was. How I felt like I had just learned how to swim. My stomach turned again.

All I wanted to do was to leave. Walk away. Find some reason or none at all, just get the heck out of there. Away from the challenge and the unknown. Back to somewhere soft and accepting. Somewhere safe.

And, for the umpteenth time, Mighty M reached around my neck and forced me to look him straight in his blue eyes and said, "Honey, you're going to do just fine. Don't worry."

And I didn't believe him. I couldn't even respond. And I didn't feel better. But at least I knew that there was no reason to run away. I knew that my soft place to land was standing right there with me. There was no way out of this. And somewhere deep inside of me I realized that I trusted him. If he said so.

It was time to get into the water.

So I handed M the half eaten, sticky GU packet that smelled sharply of synthetic coffee and smiled weakly. "You're going to do fine." I distractedly zipped up my back and tucked the wetsuit tail the way I had been taught. "I'll be over on the shore, by the first buoy." I stifled my surging stomach with a strong swallow and looked for others wearing yellow caps and their own distracted smiles. "You've trained for this. You'll be fine." I could barely feel his lips when he kissed me goodbye, and then I was on the ramp to the dock.

"I love you."

I can't remember who said it.

It was time.


Siren said...

You're right, you're not a reflection of your peers - you're a towering beacon standing head and shoulders above them, leading the way to great things.

Laurie said...

This gave me chills. Thanks for sharing your internal battle. I am sure some of those along side you were fighting it too.

LBTEPA said...

I had tears in my eyes reading this. You are so brave :)

Mallie said...

OK...I admit it, this was a really inspiring and touching post. But my first thought was, "you tease...tell me about the freaking swim!!!"

Can't wait to hear the rest.

TriTurtL said...

Every prerace butterfly I've ever had just came back to me... I'm sitting on the edge of my seat to hear the rest!

AGA said...

My stomach is churning, I'm nervous and tears are welling up in my eyes...and I want more! What a tease:)

TxTriSkatemom said...

That M guy, he's a keeper. But I think you know that already!

oh, and you can get out of my head already any time you please!