For no reason, and at the same time, for every reason, I just broke down crying.
The swim set was not going to happen and I had resigned myself to that, but yet, the tears, hidden only behind the shade of my goggles, came and came completely. It was evident in my expression but only I could feel them roll from my eyes to create small puddles on the inside of each goggle. There were a million things on my mind and at the same time, nothing so significant that it warranted a real emotional break down. But this was the second time this week that tears fell behind my darkened goggle lenses.
I won't claim to be an unemotional person in real life. I am quite sympathetic, empathetic and generally in tune with what I am feeling. For the most part, I make my moods quite obvious, as I can often be read like a illustrated children's book. But, I am also not one to break down without reason. Generally speaking, the breakdowns happen infrequently and when they do, they are large, because I tend to sort of file away those things that are bothering me until something just triggers a complete release.
But lately, I have no control over when and where these "releases" happen. They come without warning leaving me as stunned as the onlookers. I suppose this is in direct correlation to the fact that I'm running on fumes 99% of the time.
It is incredible the toll that training at this level takes on you as a complete human being.
Obviously, there are the physical demands. Tired and aching muscles. Knots all over and IT bands that won't come unstuck. Each workout just piles on to the already fatigued body. But, this is something you expect and you begin to learn to deal with it. Though, I am still trying to understand and really grasp this concept of being exhausted heading into every training session. In the past, if I got too tired we would adjust workouts so I could feel fresh every now and again. That, is not the case anymore. It has been a learning experience (and still is) trying to understand this and to relearn my body and mind.
My mind, has never been tested as much. Yes, I went to college, studied at a renowned University and yet, I believe, this is the biggest mental challenge I have ever had to face. Unfortunately, there are no books to teach me how to overcome these new obstacles and to ace the final exam. Every morning, the alarm goes off, well before I want it to. I open my eyes, and in a moments time, as soon as I move an arm or a leg, am reminded of my exhaustion. But, I will myself out of bed and on to the next workout. This is done without thought. It is done out of habit, out of necessity and out of deep desire to be the best. But, that is the easy part. The hard part comes in the middle of a swim session, when my body is on fire and shutting down, and I have to will myself to continue on and to continue on harder than my body is willing to admit it can go. I often feel like it is my mind vs. my body. Both fighting in extreme fatigue against one another. The good workouts come when my mind wins and the bad when my body does.
Sometimes, however, there is another dimension, as I find myself fighting myself. I know, that sounds ridiculous, but as I'm running around the track, feeling every muscle in my legs as they strike the ground over and over, I go to war with myself. There is the part of me that is so tired and honestly believes she will collapse with exhaustion if she continues on that butts heads directly with the other part of me that doesn't care about being tired and knows that there are intervals to run no matter how good or bad I am feeling. This type of war often leads to a slow beginning to a set, followed by an amazing few intervals, then a breakdown and finally a rebirth and an ending to the workout that is far superior to the beginning. It all depends on which part of me is winning at the time. But going to war with yourself, day in and day out, workout after workout, is exhausting. You just don't always realize it in the moment.
Then of course, aside from physical and mental strain you also have the immense emotional and spiritual toll that it takes on you. The constant judgment you pass on yourself before, during and after training sessions. The constant desire to push yourself harder and the constant wonder about whether or not when you toe the line you will be ready. Whether you want to admit it or not, there is the questioning of whether you are going to "make it", whatever that may mean. The desire, that deep seeded passion that made you start this journey in the beginning, never fades, but it sometimes gets shadowed behind the comparisons you make, without wanting to, between training partners. The learning curve has been steep and I find myself being reprimanded often. I know it is for my benefit and I am grateful that the time is taken to teach me how to become better, but it is hard to hear when you just don't have any more to give, or at least don't think you do, and what you gave is not considered enough.
I just haven't realized how much it takes out of me... that is until I found myself breaking down and crying behind my goggles... twice in one week. These days I feel like the littlest things set me off, some have nothing to do with triathlon and others have everything to do with it. Some people, on the outside, may refer to these emotional mood swings as PMS... don't be fooled... it isn't. There is no schedule to this madness, no monthly plan for when the tears will come, and sometimes they come multiple times in one day. It comes with fatigue. It comes with a spirit, a mind and a body being broken down until it can't be broken down any more. I suppose then, the hope is, that when it is built back up, it will rebuild itself as the champion that it is capable of being.
For now, while I continue to be broken down, while I continue to run on fumes and to chase a sub 35 minute 10k, the perfect race and that Gold medal... I guess a hug now and again and the acceptance that crying during swim practice may become more common than not will have to keep me moving forward.
I just wonder if it is the same for all of us. I see it in my training group, we joke about how everyone has to have at least one breakdown during the week. But, is it this hard for the men too? I mean, I have heard that women train more and harder... maybe it's because the men can't handle crying behind their goggles.