Monday, March 24, 2008
Some people say that life begins on opening day. I kind of feel like that now, but not for the same reasons as I used to.
People who use that expression are usually talking about baseball, and I used to love going to the games. I loved smelling the grass and dust and leather--sitting in the stands and scoring every pitch, every out, every hit, every run--squinting against a backdrop so green it hurt your eyes just to look at it. To borrow some wonderful lines, we'd find we had reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines . . . where we sat when we were children and cheered our heroes . . . and we'd watch the game . . . and it was as if we dipped in magic waters. The memories were so thick we had to brush them away from our faces.
Yeah, I get goosebumps in that portion of Field of Dreams--"People will come, Ray." But some of the shine has gone off the game for me. Maybe it's knowing the home runs I saw Mark McGuire hit during batting practice in the Astrodome weren't real. Maybe it's the vision of Roger Clemens cheating with his pants around his ankles. Maybe I just don't have the patience to sit still for three hours to watch men, even honest men, get paid to play.
Whatever the reason, a different opening day calls me now, one where I am playing instead of sitting.
This weekend is the first triathlon of the season for me here in Texas--the Lone Star Triathlon Festival in which I'll do the quarter iron distance in beginning my build to Ironman Coeur d'Alene.
Opening day means the nervous energy of picking up race packets. Opening day means affixing race numbers on the bike the night before. Opening day means packing and repacking the transition bag. Opening day is rising early from being already awake, taking down breakfast you aren't hungry for and wondering whether it will stay down. Opening day is going to the transition area before any self-respecting J.D. is even awake on a Sunday morning. You rack the bike in the chilly darkness, you set up your gear, you jog to warm up and knock the cobwebs out. Then . . .
You take that first plunge.
You dive into the cold, salty water, alone with crowd of athletes in your wave.
You swim while other people watch, and still others sleep.
That first plunge begins to reveal who you really are. Are you prepared? Did you put in the work? Can you handle your fear? Can you overcome your doubts? Will you suffer to go faster than you thought you could? Even though you won't win?
Of course you're not as alone as you feel in taking that first plunge. There are people who became your friends last year and those with whom you will become connected this year. These kinds of connections surpass by far what is possible around an office water cooler or March Madness pool. Opening day means seeing people who are important to you find out, just like you, who they really are. Being along for their ride is a gift like none other.
But it's not here quite yet. This morning, I was alone in the pool doing some sharp, 300 meter repeats for muscular endurance. My body usually complains when I try to swim 200 meters for any kind of speed. But this morning, at a longer interval, my lungs felt bigger than they were several weeks ago. My limbs were moving water with unaccustomed force, grabbing big armfuls of water and throwing them behind me. I was out of the comfortable little nest of what I thought I could do. But, unlike the rest of today, which I spent in my cushioned and climate-controlled office, I did not want to be anywhere else on the planet other than this pool.
Maybe, with opening day approaching, I was getting just a wee taste of iron for the first time this season.
Opening day is almost here. I can't wait.