What can I say, I like alliteration.
I haven’t written since the DB 5168 race report, and I haven’t had much to say since the completion of Beach to Battleship. I am finally ready to say it out loud. I’ve been in a post-race depression. I’m coming out of it right now, but I was definitely down. It isn’t uncommon for people who set goals like this to go through a similar post-event letdown. I have read a number of accounts of post-ironman funk. I didn’t think it would happen to me, since this was not a full ironman, or my ultimate goal. I suppose that being as slow and heavy as I still am, and taking as long as I did, it was similar enough to a more normal person doing an ironman, but let’s be honest: that’s just a thing I tell myself. I have no clue what 140.6 takes. Not yet. I will, but a half-iron is not half the effort. It’s 20% or so. Which is still awesome compared to where I started.
Usually the post-race depression has been described as having a couple components. The first is a simple “now what?” I don’t think that was my problem, as I have a long term multi-year plan here. But the second common denominator is the stark realization that this moment, crossing the finish line, is not some epic life changing thing. I knew that, and I anticipated that. But I have been proving to myself, slowly and stubbornly, that no achievement is static. You have to work at forward progress, it doesn’t just come because that’s where it should on the mental calendar you’ve set for yourself.
I have one more race for the year, another half-marathon. I scheduled it after a disappointing time in September. I had it in my head that by December I should be able to PR, and do it at a certain weight. Constant forward progress is what I expect. But again, without the investment in the work, that’s not going to come automatically. The truth is, I will have a tough go of this one. I have gained back some weight, more than I care to admit to, and I have not run very much since B2B. The upside is that the event will be enjoyable no matter what. Meghan and I are going to Rehoboth Beach together, without the kids, and getting to spend a night away in one of our favorite places. We get to run a flat course that starts and ends on the boardwalk, and no matter how bad my time, I will still have my fourth half-marathon medal of 2012, to hang with my half-ironman. Not bad for a season marked by serious setbacks, DNFs and struggles.
So to the hopefully-clever title.
I can’t place this conversation exactly, though I am pretty sure it is in Bittersweet Motel. Trey Anastasio of Phish was talking about the evolution of the band’s sound. He noted that they had a trajectory like a lot of bands, starting in the clubs and bars (and even frat houses) of New England. After establishing a loyal regional following, they moved up to small theaters, then eventually larger theaters, and then finally venues like MSG, Red Rocks, and their own multi-day festivals for tens of thousands. He said there is a benefit to taking time to grow. You need to develop a sound that fills a theater before you can fill a stadium. The band spent some time getting comfortable at each stage of crowd size before “bumping up.”
I’ve thought of this growth pattern in terms of losing 180 pounds. I have not set any speed records worthy of an NBC reality show. I am not going to be on any commercials saying “I lost half my weight, and it took me 3 years!” But I have had to be OK with that. I was so used to being 350+, with experiences I outlined early in this blog’s life (see prison chronicles), that I had no concept of what it could even mean or feel like to live in a body that wasn’t a complete disaster.
So I dropped a bunch of weight, and got into the mid 200s. I have been frustrated as stalling out here, but the upside is that I have time to get used to this stage before I go for the home stretch. I think it has been helpful. I feel so much better than I did years ago, but after a while, I am reminded that this is not comfortable either. This is not the destination. All things being relative, it is progress. But it is not where I want to stay.
That gets at the heart of this whole journey. (Did I just use that overly cliched word? Yup, get over it.) I have a history of frustration and anger over weight. Some would call this self-hatred and correctly point out that it is not helpful. This is true, but there’s more to it. I am unhappy being overweight because I have never believed this is who I am. Some people are literally “fat and happy” and ok, great. I have always felt like I was really a fit person trapped in a fat body. Was that delusional? As long as I kept myself that way, maybe so. But I would argue it was more delusional of me to think that the state of being trapped was normal, and that the fit person was the alien concept.
Well, I’m no longer interested in the mid 200s. I’ve actually put so much back on since my pre-Eagleman low weight, that I have a lot of work to do just to get back there. But that jump from the theaters to the stadiums was the one that was most difficult for the band, and the analogy holds for me too. Time to make the next great leap forward.
A Poker Parable
I can tell you exactly why I struggle with the weight, even while completing the goal of a half-ironman.
Now that the poker boom has peaked, you don’t see much of it on television anymore, but even the most casual observer will probably acknowledge that poker is a skill game. To quote Mike in Rounders “if this is gambling, then how come the same five guys are at the final table of the World Series every year?” Of course that was pre-2003, but the point is, there are a number of now-famous poker pros who excel because of their ability to read people, understand odds, and make the right moves at the right time. Big time tournament poker takes concentration for hours and days on end, and one small mistake will cost a player everything. Those guys taking home bracelets on ESPN or trophies on GSN, they aren’t just getting lucky, they are focused and zoned in for a long time.
Yet, over the years, there have been many cases of well known top pros who could take what they earned through hours of focus, and lose it all and more in a few rolls of the dice at the craps table. All that real work, gone, in a game of 100% chance. (As the ranks of poker pros are growing with younger tech-minded analytical players, you’ll see less of this than with the old Vegas guys.)
Well, if you can’t tell what I’m getting at, it doesn’t do the bottom line of the scale any good to put in hours and hours of training, pouring focus and hard work into burning off the fat, if in a few minutes of binging, you wipe out the balance and add three times as many calories back. Like a single roll of the dice undoing hours of grinding, all it takes is 15 minutes of high-octane food binging to undo a half-marathon.
The first half of this year, I lived every day with respect for that tenuous balance. I treated food like fuel, and banked all my progress. Then midway through the year, I lost my abstinence. I was taking my stacks of chips and blowing them all on a spin of the roulette wheel. Except in my game, the odds were worse. There is no 1-in-35 chance of hitting the right number. There is 100% chance of self-destruction.
Plodding Toward Peace
The answer as always, is simple. Not easy, but simple. Back to the well of recovery. I have been hitting meeting sporadically for a couple months now, but not believing I was ready to get my abstinence back. I always felt that “one more day” nonsense which was just the old habit saying “I’m still in control here.” I’ve heard addicts of all stripes, food or otherwise, say that getting clean the first time was easy enough. Getting it back after the first relapse was a nightmare. They’re right.
I can honestly say I feel like I am finally waking up from that nightmare. I had a sensation tonight that I haven’t felt in a long time. I suddenly didn’t WANT to use food as a drug. It came roughly about the time that I stopped weaseling out of my decision to get to a meeting, and set the car in the right direction. Instead of feeling dread over the guilt for the failures, I stopped fretting over what wasn’t right about this year, this month, this week…. and for a moment, lived in the present. And there I found the peace. And it got easier. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, I just know where I am today.