I started racing triathlons out of fear.
Months before I decided to train for my first race, I left a really beautiful engagement ring on a window sill because planning a wedding while crying in the ladies’ room every lunch hour wasn’t working for me. The way out of the tears was dragging my ass off the couch, making myself salmon and doing a little yoga. Time was told in hours, then days, between tears. I never wanted to feel that weak again.
So I found running shoes and a beginning triathlon group. The governing rule of triathlon was that it was there to help me find my joy. Born out of fear, it ended up being the first thing I did that was governed completely by love. The return on my effort has been greater than anything I’ve imagined: I’ve met the most amazing friends. I’ve found a purer, more true version of me. My heart has become bigger as I find that the more time I spend around people I love, doing things I love, the patience, understanding, and fight for the sake of others is greater.
When I signed up for my first Ironman in 2010, I learned more than I thought possible. I learned how to push myself. I learned organization, discipline, and that no one gets to do anything as big as Ironman alone. I also had so many people declare that what I was doing was “impossible,” and then I would simply, smile, nod, and continue on my way. It didn’t feel impossible while I was in the middle of doing it. The ability to trust my internal compass above all noise was tempered forever on race day. Find “north.” Gathering everything you need to get there. That, my readers, is how a goal is accomplished.
Between the time I signed up for my second Ironman, to be raced next Sunday, I changed my life. On the morning of September 12, 2011, I stood in line to sign up for the race, feet tired and voice hoarse from cheering the day before. I had a very safe and not very challenging job with a fair measure of prestige. I already had the badge of Ironman tattooed on my soul. I was content. Was it fair to ask to the universe for more? Could it possibly spare more hours of happiness for me?
Yes, oh, yes it can. If I’ve learned anything thing year it is to believe in making even bigger dreams come true.
If I made a mistake this year, it was thinking too small. I don’t really even need to race next Sunday. By accepting the challenging of signing up, I’ve grown more than I thought possible. Race sign-up in my hand, I started throwing pins on the map of career possibilities. I applied for jobs. I visited grad schools. A good pin stuck. I quit my job and started a joint MBA/Master’s of Design program. It is a better fit than I thought possible. Now, I had this day where I’m happily sketching and studying macro-economics, loving their intersections. I am exactly where I belong and predict a lifelong love affair with this vocation.
The best part, though, is that I have developed a new relationship with my fear. I’ve realized it is a wise emotion. It saved me from marrying the wrong man and likely on countless other occasions great and small. Through GMATs, applications, bad dates, good dates, Ragnar, and even in clearing out the cobwebby corners of my own soul, I’ve learned to patiently listen to fear, take its council, and proceed on my way — usually for the better. Fear isn’t something to muscle over or ignore, as it tends to make itself bigger. Learning to calmly love my own scary, teeth-gnashing hairy beast and ask it what it wants? Makes life a lot easier. It is kind of nice, knowing there’s this part of me that will keep me safe through risk and peril. Fear is working out best when it is patiently steered, rather than letting it drive.
This process of befriending fear? I made tons of mistakes, but have found there are all sorts of interesting and good things in the shadowy bits of life and soul unknown. It is way more rewarding to explore there, than resign to the pleasant fate already assigned.
I don’t know when I’ll cross the finish line next Sunday. I do know I really want to be on that race course, because I love it and everything I’ve found being long-course triathlete. Racing is feeling a little like going to church. I am there to pay my respect to all I’ve been given by doing my best. This under-trained, new graduate student’s best is trusting there is something in the dark bits of her soul that will make the lessons, the lunges, the love of this game all make a good race.
No matter what happens, I get to race knowing my life is a thousand times better and brighter than when I signed up for it a year ago. A good return on a challenge, I’d say. I look forward to a life full of them.