I Do. A Marriage of Sorts.
Discipline. Perseverance. Breath. Commitment. Sweat. Community. And sometimes, a few tears. These are just a few of the ways that yoga weaves its way into, well, into just about everything. But let’s be more specific. Disclaimer: The definitions below are brief and by no means complete. Yoga. It’s a series of forward bending, half-way lifting, high-to-low planking, bone stacking, core engaging movement. It’s shifting your focus, dropping your limiting beliefs, becoming more conscientious about your actions, and it’s about seeing, really seeing what is right in front of you. It’s about alignment. Physical, spiritual and mental alignment. Yoga. Ironman. It’s a 2.4 mile swim. A 112 mile bike. And then a marathon. Each athlete has 17 hours to complete the race, from 7:00am until midnight and every year, thousands of athletes anticipate the opening to race entry. Quite often, race capacity is filled in just minutes. Training takes place over months and it is considered one of the most difficult one-day races on the planet. This is how I have seen the union of the two strengthen over time, a strong and powerful marriage of sorts. Practice swim.
Sometimes there are 4 laps; sometimes there are 200 laps. Great swim technique requires that you stretch your body long, tuck your tail, and pull the water with force. Now, imagine your shoulders were your feet. Swim practice is the equivalent to dancing the cha-cha for an hour or more straight. Nothing like a good down dog to stretch out the ever-so contracted shoulders and back. Race day swim.
The start horn belts out and 2000 swimmers take to the water heading for the same yellow or orange buoy. You become a stepping stone, a piece of seaweed, drift wood, you are kicked and punched and suddenly, your breath becomes your lifeboat. Staying in my breath during the 2.4 mile swim is a must. The minute I lose rhythm I expose myself to breathlessness, and breathlessness, leads to the P-word. Panic. I know it. I’ve tasted it. And it tastes so rotten I don’t even like the word anymore. So, I breathe. And I focus on my personal lifeboat. My breath. Practice bike.
It’s amazing what kinds of games your mind comes up with when you are alone on a bike for 6+ hours. I am chafing. Is he getting better? Or, am I getting worse? I can’t feel my feet. How many more miles? I am chafing. The wind. Oh the wind.
The greatest lesson I can apply when riding for such a long time is, “what you focus on grows.” And it’s true. The moment I can switch the focus from pain to pleasure, the experience takes on a new face. What is the pay off in focusing on pain? Why do we do it? Race day bike.
Depending on the course, you might get to see your fellow competitors face-to-face, or at least from the back while passing (or getting passed). Attitude is everything on the bike. You have the chance to excite and energize the riders, shout words of encouragement and lend a hand if you see an unfortunate rider who is down on their luck with a flat or mechanical trouble. When it’s all said and done, up dog. Nothing like an up dog to stretch what was crunched into a tight aero position for six or so hours. Practice run.
Step. Step. Step. Step. (repeat 170x/minute). In 2011 I was running down a weathered street in Brazil when I had a great idea. I started to smile and get excited when my better judgement reminded me, Stay in your body …
Without completing the thought, I hopped up a curb, tripped and face planted in front of a car full of teenagers. As they laughed, I cried. A severally twisted ankle had me then worried about the upcoming race in five weeks. The lesson: stay in your body. Focusing on my physical body allows me to run clean. I make sure my shoulders aren’t contracted, I relax my jaw, I breath to control my heart rate, and I watch, carefully, where I am stepping. As I remind my own yoga students often; if it’s a great idea, it will come back. Race day run.
The swim and the bike are done, and you get off your bike with lead-legs. You can almost hear the creak of your hip flexors as you swing your leg to dismount. You are glad to be off the bike but within two minutes, you wish you had it back. There are 26 miles ahead of you. It’s just you. YOU. You against yourself. Life is constantly giving us opportunities to practice mind-over-matter; and this is one that we pay a $650 registration fee for. The chance to BE with every ache, and pain. Why am I doing this? She looks like she’s not in pain. I wonder how old she is? Why am I doing this? I need water. I have to pee. Should I stop. Why am I doing this?
Somewhere in the internal monologue (or dialogue depending on how many of you are up there) you realize. You decided to do this to find your edge. To experience discomfort and pain. But epiphany strikes. You realize that in discomfort there is peace, and in pain there is pleasure. You discover that you can choose not to suffer, and that being with discomfort isn't the same as BEING uncomfortable. And that this race brings you closer to being the BIGGEST, baddest version of you there is. You celebrate with a sun B. Because you are a warrior. Because we all are.