(PROBABLY SOMEWHERE NEAR FIRST YELLOW MARKER BUOY, UPPER CENTER)
I received an e-mail (one of many from friends and family, wondering what the hell happened and whether I was all right) the day after IM Florida from a friend of mine, Mark Sortino. Mark's an experienced triathlete; he's finished multiple IM events & qualified for his first trip to Kona at IM Louisville last August. He's one of the smarter tri-geeks I've met in the past few years. He has never hesitated to provide advice, counsel, a pat on the back or a dusting off of the bike shorts to less-experienced wanna-be tri-geeks like me. He's a F.I.S.T.-certified fitter who does bike fitting on the weekends at the local running emporium; our initial 90-minute fit session turned into a two-plus-hour discussion on nutrition, technique & the mental side of triathlon.
Mark's blog is always insightful & a lot of fun to read, because he's not talking about the nuts & bolts of training & racing all the time. He likes to look at the lifestyle part of being a tri-geek, too. When I say lifestyle I mean the balance of work, family, training & competition. He's got it fairly down pat from what I can tell, & has no problem putting things into proper perspective. The video clips taken by his wife Andi after he finished Kona said much more than thousands of words of written commentary; the mix of joy in achieving something that very few people do (complete IM Hawaii) & disappointment in not being able to give the performance he really wanted to on the day (because you never know if you'll make it there again) was palpable.
So when Mark's e-mail came into my inbox I took the time to really read through it. Not only did he knock the dust off my bike shorts but provided a little nudge (in the direction of my swim gear, mind you!) to get back on the horse that threw me.
It's hard to think about the existential 'now what?' when you're five or six hours out from sitting on the tailgate of an EMS truck on the beach with a tech worrying over you with a heart rate monitor, pulse oximeter & stethoscope. The perspective doesn't exist there...add a few more hours of hearing Mike Reilly welcome someone else into the IM family as you're going to pick up your crap in transition. That's something which hurts like a punch in the ribs. Even then the perspective is still far down the road.
I stood out on the run course outside the Mellow Mushroom, after my beer & salad, watching the athletes come through on the first - some on their second - loop. I had the privilege to see my friend & (part-time) business/training partner come through the first loop:
Steve - 'What are you doing here? What happened?'
MB - 'Bad day, dude. Now, go finish this thing!'The perspective usually comes as a result of the same cycle a'la Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' death/dying/grief cycle: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. Kubler-Ross' stages don't progress in any particular sequence, which is a good thing...'cause I think I shot right past Bargaining. IM doesn't allow you to bargain after you are on the shore, the side of the road, or in a medical tent/emergency room.
No. There is Bargaining: 'Get me out of this alive & I'll do it right next time.'
Denial: 'I cannot believe I busted my chops for all these months & still got my butt kicked.'
Anger: 'I hate myself for not putting in more open water time. I still can't swim!'
Depression: 'I don't want to be near anyone; I'm ashamed of my failure.'
Acceptance: 'IM is not easy. If it were everyone would do it. This year wasn't your time.'
The beginning of the closure from my bad day came as Steven finished. His family, my wife & I were standing at the beginning of the finish chute & cheered like crazy people. Hey, the company had a fifty-percent success rate on the day.
I had a brief thirty-minute temper tantrum the next morning as I saw all the finisher shirts/hats/acoutrement & thought to myself: 'dude, that should have been you.' But it was balanced with the ER physician's comment: 'you probably made the right decision today.'
Today. It all boils down to today. And today. And today. And today.
So, I feel much better today. I've got a few hundred more of those on the way to the next stop on the journey.
And maybe I'll have a better today in the Gulf of Mexico on a November morning two years from today.
Thanks, Mark. Thanks also to my long-suffering wife, Suzanne...you didn't panic or freak out through the whole ordeal. We'll do it right this next time.