Friday, April 25, 2014

The Fire Within

*Note: This started as a personal journal entry, but I decided to go ahead and share it here because even though I've come to no real conclusions, I don't think I'm alone in my feelings and thoughts (or at least some may go through their own version). Additionally, I have some friends testing for black belts in kickboxing this weekend, and a friend running a marathon, and I wanted them to know that no matter what they may be feeling, they have support around them and that we all go through moments of being unable to believe in ourselves - regardless of what we are attempting in life. The post has little to do with bicycles (though, interestingly enough, bicycles were part of the original conversations), so I just want to give a heads up to those looking specifically for bike-relevant topics.
"I think I'm going to see if I can run up to Estes Park in a couple of weeks." This was the statement that caught me off guard as I was in the middle of a tear-filled, multi-dimensional, crazy meltdown. In the moment, however, it was enough to pique my interest to not only temporarily stop the crying, but also to ask for clarification. "What do you mean, you're going to 'run to Estes Park?'" I volleyed back. "As in, physically - from our front door, to the mountain in Estes Park? You're going to run there? That has to be like..." Sam finished my sentence, "Thirty-two miles. It'll be like an ultra-marathon," he smiled. "I don't know if I can actually do it, but I want to try."
Just for visual purposes... all of that "green part" would be mountains, in case anyone was wondering.
For those unfamiliar with the area, the altitude difference is over 2,500 feet (starting at almost 5,000 feet and climbing to over 7,500 feet), but you can imagine what it would be like to not only cover 32 miles running, but to also include this massive amount of climbing for over half of the run. It's a highway though, with motorized traffic, and no real protection from said motorized traffic. However, people bike it throughout the summer, so I suppose if someone wanted to run it, why not?

I was dazzled by this idea. It's not the first time Sam's presented something that seemed "superman-ish" to me, but even for him, this seemed kind of out there in terms of possibility of completion. I know he is capable of doing just about anything he sets his mind to do, but 32 miles... up hills (or mountains).... running... and soon?
The beautiful Rocky Mountains
"I could drop you in Lyons. Then you'd only have to run up the mountain (only), which is probably still about 20 miles," I offered as a compromise. "I mean, I will be your SAG or whatever you need for whichever you choose; but, wow, that seems like a really incredible thing to do!" Sam responded by stating that it was just something he'd only do once, but it seemed like something he wanted to attempt. He then said something that would send me into a kind of whirling dervish of thoughts. "You know, you're the one who started all of this. People think I'm the one who's crazy, but you started it all."

Sam went on to explain his reasoning. He talked about my initial foray into athletics with wanting to run a marathon several years ago. I drug him into it because I didn't want to do it alone (even though I did it alone because he's much faster than I am). Then, the start with kickboxing and soon bringing him along, and my attempts with attending every class offered for months, just to see if it could be done. I wanted to ride a century, just to see if I could do it and set about completing it on a random day without telling anyone, and then two weeks later, did it again, dragging him through the toughest portion. He talked about my plotting a means of completing a half Ironman at some point (which, as a side note, still seems crazy to me - for many reasons - but I can't help but think it's possible).

I had to stop and think. Am I the crazy one in all of this? The thought seemed preposterous. I am not the athletic one, or the person who wants to try "crazy" new feats of endurance, strength, and so on. I am simply the one who gets drug along (happily) with the true athlete to cheer him on. Sam then said, "Really, you're the inspiration for all of these things." Which just sent me back into my crying state - though for completely different reasons.

Over the last few years, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by people who are so encouraging of each other. They will cheer for you when you think you have nothing left to give, they offer a hand when you don't think you can stand up, and they won't allow you to think that anything is impossible. It's difficult not to be motivated when around these sorts of people. During this time with these folks, the term "inspirational" has been used to describe me. I share this not because I think I'm something special, nor because I agree with them, but rather because I feel the need to explain what that word has actually meant in my warped brain.
*Image here
Often times, I believe this word is over-used. There are many cases in which it is an apt term, but when it is said so frequently, and in so many different situations, and definitely when in reference to me and my endeavors, it starts to have less impact and true meaning in my mind. To make matters worse, when I hear this word associated with me, the thoughts that come are typically one of these...

1) They are using this word because they feel sorry for the fat woman who thinks she can do what everyone else can do.
2) They are using this word because there isn't anything nice to say about what I'm doing.
3) Wow! These people really don't see very impressive things in life, do they? (or other similar thoughts)

For someone who has always struggled to keep up with others athletically, "inspirational" doesn't seem the correct term in my mind. It feels more like a pitying term. "Trying," or "Attempting," seems more appropriate, but "inspirational" just seems like a word invented to make me think I'm not riding on the short bus when it comes to athletics, when in reality, the short bus picks me up very quickly on the athletic road. For the record, I know this is not the intention of anyone in my life; however, I can't help but think these thoughts in regard to myself. Again, I am not an athlete, I am not special (at least not in any good way), and I don't do anything to justify this sort of label.

Before our conversation had mozied down this path, the topic Sam and I'd been discussing revolved around my lack of motivation and feeling depressed in regard to so many aspects of life. I kept saying that I just can't get myself out of this funk and everything I do seems wrong. I had expressed that I realized I am really not good at anything and that I stupidly attempt so many things, hoping that I will be decent at one of them, only to find myself failing either due to lack of effort or because I am genuinely not any good at it. Sam always tries to help by saying that I am good at a lot of things, but deep down, I know that isn't the truth. I go back to my self-hating talk because it's what I know and it feels more comfortable to believe that I am incapable. If I tell myself I'm a failure, that I'm no good at my attempts, when someone else says or thinks it (or implies it with their "inspirational" tag), I can agree - because it's the truth as far as I'm concerned.

But, here we were (Sam and I), in the depths of a conversation that was supposed to be about Sam and his potentially amazing feat, and I was crying because I realized that of all the people in my life, there is no way he chose that specific phrasing because he had no others. He is generally a man of few words and prefers action over chatter, so when voicing his opinion, I know it is intentional and purposeful (or sometimes snarky/humorous - but even that is purposeful). These words were deliberate and meant to sink in and settle, and fester just a bit. To say I was uncomfortable would be an understatement.

Apparently, my tears falling weren't quite enough for Sam, so he added, "I just want to see you back in that state of mind. You know, as the woman who says 'to hell with all of them' and takes off on her own path. The one who motivates me to do what I do. The one who races to beat the guy on the bike who just passed her because he seems impossible to catch. The one who does the Burpees even though they injure her simply because she can do them. The one who makes her own challenges and then surpasses her own expectations."

I was now in full-waterworks mode... and I remained there for several hours. I had a lot to think about and sometimes tears are the most cleansing and therapeutic for me.

I read a book recently about people with similar personalities to mine and one of the ideas shared was that while we (as a group) are completely at ease hearing criticism about things we know to be true of ourselves and will acknowledge and let go of these statements, we are scarred by things said by others regarding us that are false. These statements stick with us for long stretches of time. We think about it and wonder if we've over looked something, searching and pondering why these statements were made. Ultimately, we come out fighting, and present vehement opposition to those making the accusations. We may even argue like someone who is guilty of these acts or qualities, even though the exact opposite is true. Perhaps this is partially why I am uncomfortable, sometimes even to the point of fighting over the notion that anything I do is at all inspirational: I simply cannot accept this as truth about myself.

It's easy to feel adrift in a sea of people who are better, who do more, who have that "special skill" I just never seemed to acquire, who are more "blessed," who are more athletically inclined, who are far more artistically gifted, and I find myself believing that everything I do is not good enough. Instead of allowing myself to seriously ponder the notion that I am an inspiration to someone, I immediately head it off with self-destructive thoughts.  But, why? There are so many who inspire me for various reasons, so why isn't it plausible that inspiration could be found in me?

It's unsettling to come to the realization that this word I've very purposefully avoided is being thrown in my face... and not in a bad way, but in a manner that is intended to cause me to stop and think and maybe even come to the realization that it's okay not to feel "inspirational" myself, but to also understand I may just have to make peace with the reality that perhaps others feel it is an appropriate term to use - and once in awhile in reference to me, even if I don't like it.
*Image here
Despite the fact that I can find many reasons to believe I am about as opposite as inspirational comes, I do know that I don't give up. There is a fire within me and even if it starts to die down during stretches of time, it's always there smoldering, waiting to reignite and burn brightly once again - it may just need some fuel to get restarted. Maybe I don't view myself as an inspiration, but perhaps there is something there of value - something to build on - and perhaps one day I'll be able to hear that "I" word without internally cringing. In the meantime, I'm happy to have others who offer up their own incredible and fascinating feats of athleticism, as I attempt to figure out where the bus is dropping me off. I can only hope it's on the road to figuring all of these quirks of mine out.


  1. What's inspirational about you is that you have a passion for something, and even though you may not think you fit the cardboard cutout image of the kinds of people who normally do that kind of thing you go ahead and di it anyway. That would inspire anyone.

    And along with that point, remember, there are people who look more the part than you do who are far less capable of doing what you do.

    I absolutely failed to lose any weight before going to Leadville the second time and I was a in dark place thinking I might be the fattest guy at lining up at the start. Obviously I wasn't, but far more people were skinnier than me as not.

    The one thing that kept me going was the knowledge that a lot of those skinny people had far less experience and far less fitness than me despite our relative BMIs. I know I finished when a lot of able people didn't. It really doesn't help with my self-image knowing that, but it did help me get through that day, and it does help me deal with people who look at me and dismiss my abilities because of the shape of my body.

    I'm not little, but I can out-climb people who are with far less stress.

    My wife inspires me in that she has asthma and yet she doesn't let the assumption that she shouldn't do a lot of things stop her. She has her limits, but they're much higher than conventional thinking would reveal. She runs, she bikes, and she does them well enough that I often forget she has asthma.

    What we look like doesn't define us. Our ability level doesn't define us. Let your passion and enjoyment of the day define you. If you go out and have a great ride then you had a better ride than the guy who bonked and puked and rode half as far as you and couldn't decide if he wanted to give up cycling for good or not even though his average speed was higher and he doesn't seem self-conscious about his body type.

    1. I would definitely agree that our physical appearance is not what should or does define us as a human being (or as an athlete for that matter). I have slowly come to the understanding that I will just do what I do and if someone doesn't like it, that is there difficulty to deal with and I can't take it on. I think that just being a naturally empathetic person and growing up with people who used phrasing to very purposefully attempt to hurt me, I can be more sensitive to phrasing or comments when it comes to my physical state of being. I think it is just a portion of my lessons to learn in life, and I'm okay with that - I just don't want to live based on others' thoughts about what I am doing, can do, etc.

      You have done some amazing things (and I know you will continue to do so)! I think having passion for something is far more important than any speed, distance, etc. Keep doing what you do. :O)


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