People who don’t stay down after they fall or are tripped are often troublemakers. Hard to control. Which is the best kind of dangerous possible. ~ Brene Brown

fall /fôl/
1.  move downward, typically rapidly and freely without control, from a higher to a lower level.
2.  (of a person) lose one’s balance and collapse.
1.  an act of falling or collapsing; a sudden uncontrollable descent.
2.  a thing that falls or has fallen.

fall –
an accident. a trauma. a tragedy. an interruption. a downgrade. a jolt. a humiliation. a low point.
a season.
a reality check. a turning point. an impetus. a call to action. a reckoning. an opportunity.

Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 “Man in the Arena” speech keeps popping up in my life lately. I wrote it in my journal before the Ironman. It appears in the Intro to my current reading, Brene Brown’s Rising Strong.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong [wo]man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the [wo]man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself[/herself] in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if [s]he fails, at least [s]he fails while daring greatly. So that his[/her] place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
Not only a depiction of the struggle in an epic undertaking like the Ironman, but also the undertaking of life. Not content with the life I had, I decided to get back in the arena and wrestle with the tough questions and choose a new path. Brene used the speech as the epigraph in her Daring Greatly book, which I was reading when I decided to upend my life in this search for something better. I thought I was daring greatly, and I think a lot of people watching thought I was too. But for the last 6 months I’ve mostly just been having fun and putting off the truly daring part. Sure there were some moments of “holy $hit what am I doing? this is crazy!” that might have seemed daring, but the excitement always outweighed the fear and uncertainty. I’m certainly not the first woman to travel overseas “alone” for a couple months. Liz Gilbert defined that space years ago, much more alone than I did. I’m definitely not the first woman to go after a big hairy endurance competition goal. Kathrine Switzer dared much more greatly than I. I’m absolutely not the first woman to head out cross-country in search of adventure and soul searching. Cheryl Strayed taught us about despair and transcendence. These women have brought tears to my eyes and inspired me with their vulnerability and courage.
So as I sit here 6 months after leaving everything behind with no solid response to the constant questions of where I’m headed or what I’m doing, I am understandably a little emotional and struggling daily to choose forward movement instead of mud puddle splashing. The anxiety was building all last week because I couldn’t even figure out what to pack to fly back west and I hadn’t made any living arrangements. One day I’d have a road trip mapped out and the next day all the people I planned to visit informed me the timing doesn’t work. All the emails I sent regarding renting rooms or house sitting go unanswered or are declined. I toy with the idea of quitting and driving to Memphis to hang with my parents until…
well that’s the hard part. Until what? How will retreating to that safe place drive me to figure it out? I have to stay in the arena and wrestle with it until I eventually overcome. I love these lines from Brene,
“Once we fall in the service of being brave, we can never go back. We can rise up from our failures, screwups, and falls, but we can never go back to where we stood before we were brave or before we fell. Courage transforms the emotional structure of our being. This change often brings a deep sense of loss. During the process of rising, we sometimes find ourselves homesick for a place that no longer exists. We want to go back to that moment before we walked into the arena, but there’s nowhere to go back to… Straddling the tension that lies between wanting to go back to the moment before we risked and fell and being pulled forward to even greater courage is an inescapable part of rising strong.”
What do you do when you come to this realization? Well, I cried a little. Freaked out a little. And I prayed myself to sleep. (Okay the melatonin helped too.) And the next day I got up and settled into the unknown. Day Two. [You really should just read Rising Strong with me to understand the process I’m going through.] This is the part of the story where the protagonist wrestles with how to solve their problem. My problem: the specifics and mechanics of walking out a richer, more meaningful life. There was no way I was going to come by the answers while flitting around Europe soaking in the culture and the adventure. There was no way I was going to have some divine revelation about where I was headed while focusing all my energy on training for the Ironman. Did I learn a lot about myself during both of those mini-seasons? Absolutely! Is now the time to figure out how those character qualities fit into what I’m meant to do? Absolutely! I am not in this alone. I have access to women who have gone before me. They provide guideposts for the waypoints on my journey. Some are strangers, celebrities, experts. Some are old friends that have wiped my tears or held my hair back. At this point, I need to be very choosy about who I let in, what I read, who I hear. It matters. Feedback will only be accepted from those who also know the face down in the mud experience.
Day Two. Act Two. The Wilderness. Whatever you want to call it, that’s where I am. And that’s where the Lord meets me.

Deuteronomy 2:7 For the LORD your God has blessed you in all that you have done; He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing.
Let us not be

Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. ~ Abraham Lincoln

And Poof It’s Gone

I so want to love Masters swim. I mean, I don’t think you can love it like you love little kittens or fresh from the oven pumpkin spice donuts, but you can love the benefits in spite of the suffering. The coaching, the camaraderie, the hard workouts that take 10s of seconds off your race pace. And South Charlotte has one of the best programs around. I don’t know enough about swimming to quote any interesting stats that prove it, but I know enough to know it’s true. The coach is a legend and her high school kids win important titles every year. Triathletes from her group are constantly getting on the podium and despite all their bitching about the insane workouts, the proof is in the pudding.

I was super blessed to work with Coach Patty after my ankle surgery. We had a unique bond because of our shared ankle surgery experiences (same amazing surgeon even). And everyone said once I started to swim that I would be a triathlete. 10 months later when I crossed my first triathlon finish line, I felt a little silly using the title. I had practically doggie paddled my way through the 400m OWS in wind and rain and mud, taking almost 13 minutes to exit. I had learned to swim but I hadn’t learned to swim in terrible conditions with people climbing over top of me while I choked on nasty lake water. So I decided to go to Patty’s Masters class to get some more pointers and see if maybe it was something I could add to my training schedule on a regular basis.

I made the mistake of showing up on a “fast friday” and it was someone’s birthday so there was some crazy workout for whatever age she was turning and Patty told everyone to get in a lane with people they didn’t know or at least that they didn’t normally swim with. Well, somehow I got stuck with my friend Jeremy who has swam his whole life whose average pace for a 400m swim is likely faster than my all out 50. So I put on some fins to try and get through the workout but all that accomplished was rubbing some nasty blisters and I still managed to be the last one to the wall, every – single – time. I honestly don’t really care that I’m slow, but it isn’t fair to anyone to have me circle swim workouts with anyone faster than me (which is essentially everyone). And workouts aren’t supposed to make you feel that bad about yourself, right? I’m not one of those people who are driven by sucking at something. I need to enjoy it, at least like 80% of the time. [I am entirely too old and too fat to ever be anything more than a mediocre swimmer and I rather enjoy training alone, indulging in the naive notion that I’m really not all that bad. Sometimes we need that bubble to protect our self-esteem and prevent us from quitting.]

Needless to say I didn’t go back. And the fact that my coach was fine with my decision affirmed that I just wasn’t ready for that kind of swim training.

So now here I am, 18 months later, an official Ironman. Apparently I swam enough, decently enough, consistently enough in the past few months to get through a 2.4 mile OWS and tack on 142.2 miles afterwards (and I didn’t wear a wetsuit, core shorts, or even a swimskin!) But I have to be realistic in setting goals for 2016 because there’s only so much one can focus on at a time. Where can I see the biggest short term gains? The bike. Do I want to be a better swimmer? Absolutely! I want to flip turn, learn other strokes, be able to drop in at a Masters practice and not completely humiliate myself, and maybe even one day get that liposuction to even out my dimensions so I can wear a one piece swimsuit. I must still be riding the wave of post-Ironman I-can-take-on-the-world euphoria because I was fairly easily talked into attending a practice this morning, which is pretty silly, since my schedule only called for 1500m and just some light drills – a recovery workout, if you can even call it a workout. But I wanted to see some of my friends so I gave it a whirl, warning Patty when I walked in, that I would be cutting it short, whatever “it” was. She kindly assigned me a lane with EB, a fellow IMCHOO finisher, and another guy who also did the race. EB generously shared some of her toys with me since mine are back in Seattle. [It’s nice when your friends support your attempts at not drowning.]

I don’t know what it is about that pool or that practice, but damn if I don’t get totally overwhelmed every time I go. (Okay I’ve gone 3 times ever, but still). I can share lanes at the Y with a dozen people doing workouts and be mildly annoyed but not anxious or overwhelmed. But this morning, circle swimming with my friend and the perfectly nice gentleman, I was practically panicking. The many stares from other swimmers made me uneasy from the get go. [Who is that girl? Why is she in a two piece? Where is her mesh bag of floaty toys? Will I be stuck in a lane with shamu?] The hieroglyphics that explain the workout are also fairly intimidating. I’m a numbers gal – but whatever that crazy code language is on the little plastic sheet at the end of the lane makes me want to cry, truly. Getting lapped over and over isn’t exactly a confidence booster. It’s like I walked into a job interview for the wrong position and am trying to pretend I know what I’m doing when I should really just excuse myself to the ladies room and flee the building. But even though I have the wrong background, the wrong body, speak the wrong language, wear the wrong clothes, and have obviously shown up completely ill-prepared, for some reason I still want the job so I fumble my way through it with a brave face and pray they don’t all talk crap about me the second I leave.

And in one hour, I went from cloud 9 back to what-the-hell-am-I-doing?