Wednesday, August 13, 2008

not the triumph but the struggle

This morning my ride took me up the east bench to the mouth of emigration, then around through research park, federal heights, and eleventh avenue on the way to the mouth of city creek. It's an odd day, august 13, so I was allowed to ride my bike up the canyon. as always, I love this canyon. always green, shady, narrow and twisty, it is a challenge for downhill riders: you can't see too far ahead, and although the speed limit for us as well as vehicles and runners (big grin) is 15 mph, I see very few cyclists coming down at that slow of a pace. regardless, it's a joy and a powerful way to start the day.
this morning bill told me about some of the testing his son underwent yesterday. his son is a gifted athlete, who trains consistently and intensely for his sport. one of yesterday's tests was on a position called "the plank." in yoga we do this in a facedown position supported by hands and toes, with body straight and rigid. apparently it's done in athletic training on elbows/forearms instead of hands. either way, it's all about core strength. so bill's son held this position for EIGHT MINUTES and I said to bill, "what did his mind do??"
the mind.
In my "power camp" cycling training I usually sat next to a guy named rob. just a few years older than me, rob came with a totally different background than me, the cycling novice. he was a triathlete who was working to get back in shape, training for a few upcoming triathlons and ironman competitions. he, more than anything or anyone else, helped me with the mental part of the process. because as I have learned, it is the mental part that is most difficult to train.
"I can't do it" is in the mind, not in the muscles. It is in the gray matter, not the red, pumping heart. It is in the fearful part of our psyches, not in the beautifully designed, efficient machine we call our body.
of course we have limits, and I am not suggesting we disregard them, but that we learn to know them by pushing them. just a little further, past that point where we want to turn tail and run. I experience fear, and panic, and I tell my mind to back off, to lighten up, to knock it off. I tell myself, "I am okay in this moment. I am breathing in this moment. I have air, I am fine, I am okay right now." and if I keep telling myself this, I am always okay. there is no room for fear if I am okay in the moment.
I am extremely grateful for my intellect, for my ability to experience emotions, for my psyche which I think of as who I am and what holds me together in a mentally structured being. but it is this same aspect of myself that I must battle in my training as an "athlete." my mind tells me stop! quit now! this hurts! when my muscles are willing to stick it out a little longer.
so I wonder how bill's son managed his mind. what was it telling him during those eight minutes?? where did it go, how did he keep himself from listening to it when ~ as it must have ~ at some point it told him to STOP?
Amy Bass published a book in 2002 called Not the Triumph but the Struggle, about black athletes and the 1968 Olympics. and apparently we have adopted that motto for the Olympics this month.
I love it.
It is a perfect summation of what it's all about for me: it is pushing myself and surviving. it is taking myself somewhere I've never been. it is about working hard and getting stronger. it is about the grit and grime and sweat and tears and thriving, anyway.
I am nowhere near the level of an Olympic athlete. but as with any challenge in life, we grow and learn and strengthen ourselves only when we push past "easy" and enter the realm of "difficult." and often we can only do this when we turn our minds off and tell them "I am okay in this moment."
and then in the next moment we say it again.
and again.

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