There are approximately 139 days until I suit up for my first Half Ironman (70.3) in Galveston, Texas. As of this writing, I’m dreading each and every one of them.
2014 has been an unbelievable year, and not necessarily in a good year. This was the year that, after scrapping one dissertation, I decided I’d finish my Ph.D. without the emotional baggage of being a year “behind.” I started tweeting with the hashtag #PhD14, with a mind to walk across the stage with my dissertation defended, paperwork signed and filed, and my parents waving on proudly from the stands.
And then my dad died.
The grief has emerged in small, slow, creeping ways — the way lifelong, psychosomatic injuries surface years after some physical trauma. At first, my mind shielded itself behind Southern gentility and grace. Aside from a few minutes spent on the floor in my apartment, there was no time in those first few days to grieve. There were relatives to call. Funerals to plan (my grandparents were too ill to travel, and my father’s entire family — except for the four of us — still lived in his hometown). There was a new job that I’d take two weeks leave from in order to help my Gemini mother make final arrangements and stick with them.
Then, for months, I couldn’t feel. Save for a few days, I still can’t tell you what I was doing between March and July of this year. I know I went to work. That’s about it.
Somehow, after smiling through one service for his co-workers and local friends, and sobbing through another one for our family, I finished my dissertation. Sort of. Ultimately, it’d take another seven months to get the paperwork complete, but it’s done.
I accepted a job I hadn’t asked God for. I moved 1,037 miles away from the man I love and the community I’d learned to call home. I sent my boys, two grey tabbies named Gabe and Spencer, to live with my mom so that my man and I could visit without him needing a nebulizer.
And then I started signing up for races. True to my over-promising, under-delivering form, I signed up for the half Ironman first. I’ve been entertaining the idea of completing an Ironman since 2010, when, at 200 pounds, I completed my first tri and promptly told my coach I wanted to do one by the time I turned 35. She laughed.
I’ll be 35 this year, and a full Ironman isn’t on my calendar, as earning my Ph.D. has granted me the wisdom to understand that overextension is not a virtue.
Jeremy, a lifelong friend from middle school, has signed up with me, and though I’ve thought of myself as a bit of a loner in my athletic pursuits, I’m glad to have someone along with me for this experience.
Four months ago, when I’d first signed up for this race, April 2015 seemed far enough off that I could “get myself together” during the fall semester, doing the grunt work to prepare my mind and create the eating and exercise habits that I feel compelled to automate if I’m going to be successful come race day. Yet here I am at the end of another semester, behind on grading and heavier than I began, confronting the same patterns of behavior.
Everyone loves a “before and after.” Especially an “after.” But it’s rare that we get to see the “before” — it’s painful enough to confront on our own. It’s humiliating to share with others. What if we fail?
I’ve been here before. At the end of 2007, after losing about 30 pounds by cutting out sugar and working out every day, I used my weekly column in a newspaper to declare my intentions to lose another 30 pounds before 2008 came to a close. The onslaught of support was overwhelming. I received sponsorship offers from local affiliates of national weight-loss programs and emails from as far away as New Zealand.
I also received a Facebook message from a local magazine editor who said she’d done the same thing in the pages of her publication a few years prior — and failed to lose a pound. She cautioned me that the personal burden of such a high-profile failure was difficult to manage.
I promised myself I’d be different.
I wasn’t. Instead, I was filled with shame and abandoned the idea before the 2008 holiday season began.
Make a mistake once and it’s just that, a mistake. Do it again, the adage goes, and it’s a choice. I’m choosing to put myself out there again, this time in a no-profile situation. It’s self-serving, really. I need to write, I need to build in my own accountability, and I want to be transparent, even if no one is watching.
Because ultimately, no one is watching when I choose a fast-food calorie bomb over a homemade, Paleo-friendly dish on that day’s carefully planned meal plan. No one is watching when I lie in bed and think about what I want to be instead of training to actually become it. But God willing, whether I’ve made the decisions that support my goal of completing my first Half Ironman or not, those 139 days will pass.
I’d prefer not to dread them.