The mind is an amazing thing. It has powers that surprise me all the time. In my daily living, I’m often delighted to witness some of it’s magical abilities. One of the basic everyday tricks it can perform is making your body wake up minutes and sometimes seconds before the alarm is set to go off. I have friends that say they never set a clock because their inner alarm is so reliable.
This was true for me yesterday when at 2:45am my eyes popped open 15 minutes before I was supposed to get up. I lay there for a few moments thinking to myself, “Seriously, who the eff’ is up at this ungodly hour?” The answer came to mind quickly. Strippers, Triathletes and Bread Guys.
You see, my stepfather was a Wonder Bread man for about 20 years. He was up at 3am, on the truck by 4am – and making bread deliveries into the early afternoon. My stepfather was a no bullshit kind of guy. He had a low tolerance for weakness.
Years ago, I worked as a bartender. Every day, late afternoon, the same batch of guys would come rolling in and belly up. I thought their schedule was kind of weird until it dawned on me – they must be Bread Guys. So one day I asked them, “Do you guys work for Hostess?”
They said, “Yeah, how could you tell?
I said, “My dad works for Wonder Bread.”
They asked me my father’s name and when I told them, they replied, “Bobby is your father?” and they bust out laughing like I had just told them the greatest joke ever.
From here I was inflicted with crazy tales that revolved around my father. I could tell that these stories were passed down from guy to guy like mythological folklore. My stepfather was a Wonder Bread Legend.
They told me about the time an unfortunate Market Basket manager made the mistake of critiquing my father’s technique as he was putting bread on the super market shelf. Without warning, my father turned and cold cocked the guy right in the face.
Another “good” one they told me, was the time my father supposedly killed a threatening Rottweiler with a screwdriver. I stared at them with horror on my animal loving face. They said, “Well, it was a big, vicious dog…“ and they all slapped each other on the back and laughed some more. Hardy har har. Ah yes, “good” times.
But I digress. My point is, as I lay there thinking about how tired I was, it was my stepfather’s voice that I heard in my head. Taunting me to get up. “Stop your whining and your sniveling and get your ass out of bed. Yeah, you’re tired, so what. You’re not swimming or biking or running – you’re cheering. Stop being lazy and get your ass up.”
The voice can be relentless and I know that if I shut my eyes it will give me no peace. So I take a nice, big, fat sip of suck-it-up, put my feet on the floor, throw on some clothes and head out the door.
Rte. 106 is a ghost town. As I get closer to Ellacoya, I start to see other cars. Plates from Maine, MA, and Rhode Island. On Route 3/11 – I see distant headlights in my rear view mirror and within seconds, I’m passed by what looks like two little chubby bumble bees. The yellow cars are driven by guys that seem to be hopped up on Red Bull and Mountain Dew shooters. Now, I’m not a slow driver by any means but these cars were zipping past me like they we were on the Audubon. Turns out it was the Mavic bike reps. Nice driving fellas!
I pull into the parking lot and smile at my good fortune. My designated spot is close to both the S2 Tent set up by the bike/run In & Out – and not too far from the Porta-Potties. I had a dynamite cheering spot, a place to keep to my vegan snacks and easy access to the bathrooms. It was one stop shopping all the way around!
I set out on foot and within seconds I see a cluster of Red/White/Aqua Blue S2 Jackets. I spot S2, LR, JR, Dolls, Reggie, Steve, Gina, Chad, Cindy, Robin and Brad all huddled together. Team S2 is standing around in a cluster like wild animals at a watering hole. Some are long and lean like gazelles. Others are tall and strong like water buffalo. A few look like the tiny birds that ride on water buffalo’s backs.
I approach them like a zoologist studying creatures in their natural habitat. I curiously observe their pre-race behaviors. Some are wearing thin fleece hats to protect precious body heat, a few are lugging backpacks stuffed with dry socks, Gu and iPods, others have protein drinks in hand that they randomly sip and shake, shake and sip like a compulsive tic.
The Dunkin Donuts truck rolled up behind our group and you would have thought it was Moses himself driving – the way the athletes parted like the Red Sea. They practically bowed their heads in reverence as the makers of one of their favorite drugs of choice passed by. So, the chatter turned to the glory of caffeine, cutting tongues off of footwear and of course, poop.
Eventually, on race morning, the talk always comes around to poop. People compare notes about: if they’ve actually pooped yet that day. If they have pooped, it’s noted how many times they’ve pooped and how it ultimately compared to their last race morning poops. If they haven’t pooped, the hopes are that they won’t have to poop, after their wetsuit is already on. As far as I could tell from conversations – everyone had successfully taken care of business.
The pack is radiating a mixture of vibes. I feel amped up anticipation, nervousness, giddiness and fear. In yoga, we believe that anxiety is simply excitement without the breath. One of my jobs as a yoga teacher is to create and hold sacred space that allows people to grow, transform and heal. So I listen to a few worries – place a reassuring hand on an arm there, rub a back there and send out as much calm, positive energy as I can. My only job today is to blast people with love.
I traveled to Egypt in 1996. We paid off the armed guards at the Great Pyramid of Giza to allow us to climb to the top so we could watch the sun rise above the Sahara desert. As I sat at the top of the pyramid, gazing up to the heavens, I could feel the warm sun fall across my face. I breathed in deep and listened to the morning prayers of Cairo, (which are broadcast out over large speakers) echo across the land.
It felt kind of like the same thing at the Timberman. Except that, instead of sitting 487 feet in the air, listening to ancient devotional chants – I was standing in line at a Porta-potty, surrounded by people in spandex – as we heard over and over again that the water temperature was 71 degrees, that 2,741 athletes had signed up for the race and that we were blessed this day with the presence of Andy Potts, Chrissie Wellington and TJ Tollakson. The sport of triathlon has its own Gods.
People are getting fidgety and chomping at the bit to get body marked. I can understand why for two reasons. #1) It’s part of the triathlete ritual. Like primal warriors that tattoo their clansmen and women, it’s a mark that identifies you to others as part of the tribe. It’s a source of pride for some and for others it’s just one step closer to – We’ve Got Ourselves a Game.
#2) Watching elite athletes peel back clothing, to reveal sculpted deltoids, hamstrings, quads and calves is like triathlon burlesque. It’s innocently naughty and athletic voyeurism at it’s best. It doesn’t even matter that it’s 5am – you’re still standing there with a shit-eating grin on your face watching super duper fit, half naked people get written on in black permanent marker. (Important Note – Body marking in Kona is seriously not to be missed!)
With so many athletes this year there are 18 waves of swimmers. The pros headed out at 7am with age groupers to follow. Some folks had to wait an hour after the pro start before they would get their own chance to don neoprene rubber suits, Day-Glo silicone swim caps and then freely kick and punch people in the water.
The S2 Crew all seemed to have great swims. I stood outside of T1 with Amber, Jody and Ned Woody. We watched each athlete as they clipped in and headed out on their bikes. We clapped and cheered and yelled out to athletes that were losing water bottles. Some athletes shared happy smiles and high-fives with Scott who was volunteering at the bike In/Out. Others looked dead serious, all business, as if they were being chased down by the devil himself.
The body is an amazing thing. It has strengths that surprise me all the time. Being an Ironfan, I get to witness awesome feats of athletic ability. At each race, I watch as bodies of all shapes, sizes and colors pursue a goal and go after a dream. I love to watch muscular bodies in motion, but I have to be honest, when your body looks like a machine, I kind of expect great things from it.
Earlier by the swim start, I saw a guy with a gut, the size of a baby hippo. I asked Steve Reed if fat makes you more buoyant. He said, it does but you also have more drag so ultimately it’s harder. I pondered this for a while. I thought about how much more difficult it was going to be for this man, hauling that much extra weight around. I realized that it took a huge amount of courage just to show up at that weight never mind the amount of tenacity needed to finish. That’s when I decided that he was my Underdog of the Day!
That’s right – I am a Bad News Bear kind of gal. You can’t grow up in Red Sox nation and not appreciate the Underdog. So all day long, whenever a chick with a few extra fat rolls hanging over her race number belt pedaled by or a guy who looked like he was a Triple Bypass waiting to happen tromped by – I cheered for them like crazy.
I noticed that even the seasoned athletes were struggling on the run, so I knew that the odds for the underdogs were totally stacked against them.
I eventually made my way over to the finish to watch the first wave of S2 Athletes come in. I stood just past the finish line – where the lovely and sweet, Chrissie Wellington was handing out medals to sweaty athletes like Mother Theresa herself. From this spot you get to see the athletes make their final push down the chute and come across the line. This is the place where so much magic happens. If you are going to stand here – it helps to have some tissues.
Triathlon is an extreme sport. Like all things extreme, folks are either running from something or running towards it. This part of triathlon is usually not openly discussed. Ask a triathlete WHAT gear they use to go after it and they’ll talk your ear off about blueseventy wetsuits, aero helmets and Newton shoes. Ask them HOW they do it and they’ll tell you about coach’s programs, training splits and swim clinics until you seriously want to choke them. But ask a Triathlete WHY they do it and they aren’t nearly so chatty.
Some might say, “Well, I want to challenge myself” or “I want to see what I’m really made of” or “I want to see just how much my body can do”. All valid answers but I suspect it’s just barely scratching the surface. Truth is, I think the reason why is probably deeply personal and only the athlete really knows why they do what they do. I suspect some athletes might not even know what drives them to sweat, suffer and strive. But when they cross that finish line, if you look closely enough, sometimes you can get a peak.
I saw athletes unable to stand, fall to their knees with exhaustion and still somehow look grateful. One man put his hand over his heart, closed his eyes and said, “This was for you Mom.” I saw fist pumps, ecstatic joy and personal vendettas won. I saw athletes in their 60’s and 70’s with tired, run down bodies light up like children on Christmas morning when their names were announced. I saw one heavy set guy, cross over and immediately stop dead in his tracks. He couldn’t believe that he finished. He kept saying, over and over, “Oh my God, I did it. I really did it.” He was talking to himself like he was beating back old demons.
One of the best things I saw all day, happened when I was leaving. I had just turned out of Ellacoya State Park and onto the main road when up ahead on the run, I spotted my Underdog of the Day. He and his super-sized belly were doing the truffle shuffle back towards the finisher’s chute. He was moving with a slow but determined, focused stride. He was getting so close and that’s when I realized, Holy Shit, he is totally going to finish!
I was so happy for him that I burst into tears. I slowed down, lowered my windows and started honking my horn and shouting for him at the top of my lungs. He looked up for a moment, a little confused at all the commotion, until I pointed right at him and yelled, “Great job buddy! Keep going! You can do this!”
I will never forget the look on his face when he figured out that I was actually cheering for him. He gave me a big thumbs-up, a genuine smile and got back to the task at hand. One foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other – like a mantra. There was just no stopping this guy. Not today.
I realized then that what I was witnessing was a miracle. Yes, there’s no denying that the mind is powerful and the body is strong, but if I had to place a bet – I’d go with the heart every time. It’s the heart that moves us and encourages us. It’s the heart that connects us and unites us. It’s the divine spirit of the heart that inspires us to rise up like a Phoenix above the limitations of both the human body and mind. In the end, it’s the heart that makes us truly amazing.