December 3– Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (textures, smells, voices, noises, colors).
My ‘moment’ this year came a mere 1 hour, 36 minutes after I was quite convinced I was closest to death. And perhaps I was, at the time, blowing things a bit out of proportion. However, finding oneself in the middle of a cold lake, not terribly confident in one’s own ability to actually swim long-ish distances, plus the added challenge of attempting to avoid many heel-to-face contacts between oneself and the 50 or so other swimmers, all eyes trained on a piece of the beach that looks like a postage stamp in the distance. Despite feeling that my sinking to the bottom of Pike Lake near Duluth, MN was not a statistical probability but a infallible certainty, my feet finally grazed and took a firm step on the sandy lake bed which turned out to be the first step towards a moment of almost shocking mental clarity.
That clarity came as I crossed the finish line of the 2010 Brewhouse Triathlon, after completing a near death swim, a flat and uneventful bike, and a run that started with a 1 mile uphill slope. But the moment was really about 25 minutes in the making, starting when I hung my bright red Bianchi bicycle back on the chaotic rack in the athlete transition zone and let my feet groove to the pavement, proudly donning the neon blue Nike Pegasus running shoe I had personally designed just for events like this.
I started triathlons in 2009 and I would only describe myself as a triathlete in the very loosest of the terms: one who has completed at least one triathlon of any distance. I have completed three, so I think I can at least entertain the idea of wearing the title on occasion. It’s sort of amazing that I continue to do these events, considering that my interest was borne out of a young passion and commitment to running, and I harbor a general fear/disdain of swimming and overall apathetic view of athletic bicycling. So by the time I finish the swim and bike portions (always the first two events), I am relieved to finally be back on terra firma. It’s a little like that warm feeling you get when you return home after a vacation and say to yourself, “That was fun, but this is where I belong best.”
Running, for me, is the great stress reliever. There have been days in the last year where I have been sitting in a class or in a meeting or stuck at a computer and thought, “I cannot wait to hit the lake trails or hop on the treadmill.” Really. I think best in motion; it forces me to say things to myself I cannot say when I am busy transitioning between obligations, and it allows me to think all the way through the depths of a situation. It is peaceful. Running also allows me to feel life physically. I run fast and hard when I am angry, I flit and bounce along the trail when I am overjoyed, sometimes I run up a large hill triumphantly and other days I say “Oh hell no” and turn around. There are many everyday experiences that are much akin to a runner’s burning lungs or throbbing legs and of course those moments that you have simply gone too far and are receiving a sharp, stabbing reminder of your own limitations in you side.
On the day of the Brewhouse Triathlon, I turned out of the transition zone to face a mild upward slope and those long but gentle hills are deceiving. They tell your brain “Look how small I am. I will simply lead you to a higher elevation.” But they tell your thighs (after swimming and biking and overall constant motion and abuse for an hour already) “This shit isn’t easy, and frankly I don’t think you have the muscle fibers necessary to climb this goddamn hill.” In turn, your brain is saying to you “Look, isn’t this nice and pleasant? The scenery is fabulous” while your legs say “Turn around! Turn around! Stop this! This is madness!!” I may or may not be a triathlete, but I am not a quitter. Sorry, thighs. And that thought kept replaying through my head– after a school year in which I cried myself through more than one term paper, had a complete breakdown in my car after a Saturday morning final exam, had my academic integrity challenged, fought battle after battle towards the completion of my Masters project, and was finding it difficult to secure full-time, permanent employment– I still had not quit. And 2.6 goddamn miles (half of which had now become an excrutiating uphill) were not going to have the satisfaction of breaking my resolve.
And shortly after crossing that finish line, I stuffed approximately 5 doughnut holes covered in the most satisfying powdered sugar I have ever tasted into my mouth at once and swished it around with a big swig of orange juice (because to the victor goes the gastrointestinal spoils!).
And nothing makes me feel alive like a mouthful of doughnut holes.