Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Sharing the load

As a novice runner I'd watched Spirit of the Marathon too many times. I'd confused Deena Castor's husband for her osteo, such was his dedication to her hamstrings. I admired the way he stood on desolate roads with a drink bottle in his hand as she went charging past at sub 3 pace with more swig and slurp than thank you.

I liked the idea of someone being that close to my training. Or indeed sharing my obsession. I am lucky in that Beardy likes running a long way so there's some commonality in our DNA. When I met him, he had just started off-road running and had yet to run a marathon. I'd like to think I encouraged and inspired him to his first 26.2 but in reality I probably just proved that any old idiot can do it, but at least the idiots on twitter are a supportive bunch.

When I started tri training up north I had romantic notions of hours of running alongside Beardy while he read out my split times and I struggled to keep my kidneys in place. I imagined fluffy towels by the side of the Salford Quays. I did not bank on so much cold and snow! In reality, sharing life with a fellow athlete is a delicate balance. There is not room for the dual obsession, selfishness, ruthlessness and drive in a cohabiting working household with a child. It may look like it on the surface but watch carefully and there is a power dynamic and ebb and flow of obsession that has to move between you. Or on a practical level like my tri racing family role models the Charltons, you have a year each to compete - a sensible idea which I like very much.

So how does my ego cope with the idea that my other half doesn't recognise my dodgy front crawl from the shore line? On one level, you think your sport is so fascinating that you are a bit perplexed how people can't be interested in your swimset, cadence or wattage.  But in reality you know it matters not. Half iron distance as a slow poke tips you into the category of Long Lonely Day racing. No one is going to chalk my name on Spanish tarmac, there won't be Pirate flags and I may be accompanied the persistent Last Female Competitor moped.

This is why I've taken to talking to myself on tough stretches: audibly coaching myself on how to take a tricky descent and congratulating myself when it goes well. You have to believe in your ability to get yourself around especially when you have given the voice in your head a volume control - you must be able to trust it.

I get my geek fix online. I know there's a bloke urging on his swim for Mallorca (and I think you're doing great!). I know there is a girl I've not met who is tackling the toughest 70.3 in the country and like me, has bleak days that no one will understand. There's another whose training is more fierce than her personality and that is saying something, so to watch her sometimes miss her high targets I feel her immense pain. I have the comfort of learning of inspiring women who have had races that didn't go to plan and who rose again so valiantly that I would feel a fraud not to have their bravery. I know a man who tweets his ironman swim sets because like me, he simply can't believe that he can now swim that far.

The vulnerabilty that these people show alongside their strength gives me intimacy and companionship. Never mind that I have only met two of these people in real life. We're united by that shared struggle of balancing life - four disciplines, an impenetrable sub culture of lycra, and a mutual love of suffering.

It's this last point that I think that matters most. There is some suffering in middle and long distance tri that you love to endure but you need some brow stroking for, even though it is self induced. While a runner might have a post race beer, as a triathlete; you're thinking of your 6am swim set the next morning. You walk funny because you're intimately chafed. You feel guilty because you spent your child's education savings on a bike part. You contemplate mortality when you hit the tarmac on a 40mph descent. You don't have energy for your kids and loved ones and yet equally you wish they would leave you alone for three months. You miss your friends: you wish they would take up cycling. You suffer the guilt and torment of trying to juggle it all with your massive competitive urge to be the best you can and the dreams you have of being an age grouper at 70. In short, you physically and mentally suffer. 

All that matters is that someone understands that, and at the finish line or indeed the DNF point, someone can hug you knowing that you are more than just that day: you are every mouthful of bile on a swimset, every brick session cramp, and every saddle sore. It doesn't matter who gives you that hug or that brow stroke. It could be a new friend, your best friend, or a stranger on the finish line. Indeed it could even be Deena Castor's husband himself. And if it's me that finds you on a finish line get ready for a big ol' hearty cry!

1 comment:

  1. I read this AFTER I wrote my most recent blog, if you can believe it. This one really hit home - and was exactly what I needed. Wise words. So glad to have found this blog and so glad we're twitter-mates x