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Slaying the dragon

October 9, 2012

I seem to have a knack for finding people who seem to have a knack….. for digging me out of myself. Sometimes… as I have learned it needn’t even be in the forum of triathlon. Sometimes, it’s in the forum of life, and sometimes it’s just not where you expected it to be.

I have been working with Steve Lopes for the past several weeks. He’s a personal trainer at Midtown athletic Club and in my opinion… the expert when it comes to functional strength. Strength training and triathletes is always a touchy subject. You have to find someone who really knows what they are doing, understands you and your sport and what you do when you are not under their watchful eye.

Michelle knows about this work, and she’s supportive of it. The issue was that I had been through some health issues not too long ago that really affected me systemically. I had a lot of weak links, and we know that as athletes we are only as strong as our weakest link. I am getting to that age where this stuff matters more. I went to Steve because he’s the best at what he does, and he has the kind of personality I need and respond to.

What I appreciate about Steve is that he can identify and work with anything. I don’t really lift weights. I have crawled across the floor like I am spiderman. I have stepped over bars. I have crawled under bars. I have squatted on bosu balls. Lunged on foam balance beams. I have used medicine balls, the VIPR and learned I am not the queen of TRX that I thought I was. I have sat on a spinning bike and caught weighted balls. He understands planes of movement and he challenges me on them.

I have fallen on my ass many times.

Last week he informed me that Monday before I left for Kona he’d be taking me through a challenge circuit. Based off a contest  held last month, to see where I lined up. I had seen the promotional signs at the gym, but I had a race that weekend… plus, things like that don’t typically make it onto my radar.

He has asked me why I hadn’t entered and my initial responds was…. “I am  a triathlete.” and his was, “Yeah….. and?”

Let me be clear: this is not something I would normally do with an  Ironman on the horizon. I am in my offseason, prepping for a marathon….. and strengthening my weakest links. But he said the word challenge.

If you know anything about me, you know I have some issues with the word challenge.

The circuit consists of ten exercises. You get a minute to see how many repetitions you can do. I learned that there was certain criteria…. yet it also became clear that you could fudge it a bit if you wanted to. Full body push ups didn’t have to have extended arms for example, but at the bottom of it hands had to come off the floor. Clearly this type of event was suited for someone 9 inches shorter than me with short limbs.

I couldn’t tell if I was thinking in terms of making excuses…… backing down from a challenge, or being realistic. Steve assured me I was pretty realistic. I made a deal with myself…. I would complete each exercise with proper form and full range of motion. No matter what I wouldn’t back down. No matter how far I was off or how tired I became. What if this wasn’t about winning but about seeing how deep I could dig, seeing if I could ignite, reach, and go for it?

My challenges involve a starting gun and a finish line. Not timed minutes of reps  with a rest in between. Doing something so far out of the norm for me it wasn’t even funny. Ropes? Box jumps? These are SO things I don’t even know if I know how to do.

But every now and then you find that person who… for whatever reason…… knows you need a little push. Or a big push. Who knows you need to step outside of your swim bike run comfort zone. Maybe they don’t know how much you need that, or maybe they do.

At 5am we began. Hardly anyone was at the gym. There was no fanfare, no cheering, no nothing. Just me, 10 X 1 minute sets and Steve. Doesn’t get more glamorous than that. No prizes. No accolades. And that’s exactly how I needed it to be. It was pretty simple. Steve showed me the exercise, and then said go.

It hurt. It really hurt. I am not going to lie. I had no clue how to “pace” something like this or if pacing was even possible. While it hurt it never felt impossible. I thought about skimping on the range of motion of the push ups but I couldn’t. My dad would kill me if I did. And then in turn I would kick myself. It wasn’t about winning, it was about rising to a challenge I had never done before.

Some minutes were long, some were short. When I started each set I found something to look at and I didn’t take my eyes off of it. Wandering eyes…. wandering mind … I told myself. FOCUS. He said go and I went. I promised myself that when it got harder if I pushed a little more it was just another level of hurt. The hurt I am used to is ten hour hurt… I can do one minute.

Think of everything you have been through in your life Eggers. You can do one minute.

Ain’t that the truth. You can’t even freaking imagine.

Twenty minutes later I was done. Ahhhhhhh. That feeling of pain yet accomplishment. I love that. I guess I learned it comes in many forms. Sometimes there is a big crowd awaiting your arrival and a tall podium for you to stand on. Sometimes it’s just now 6am and you have that quiet satisfaction of knowing you didn’t back down. Knowing that someone knew enough that you needed to be pushed in this direction and not the same direction you always go.

At the end of the day….. that’s why I am here. That’s why I came to Steve. I travel the same direction, time and time again. I know how I react in an Ironman. I know when it starts to get old. I know at what mile my hair begins to hurt. After a certain point you just know your teeth sting. You lose your sharpness when you know what’s coming.

He knows how to push you outside of your comfort zone, and he knows his shit. He might not be a triathlete but he knows the bio-mechanics of swim bike and run, he knows how they relate and how my weak links inhibit me,and  he knows…. that sometimes it’s the space between your ears that can inhibit you the most. Find someone like that….. find someone who can take you seriously as an athlete and takes the fact that you need to be your absolute best by August of 2013……. and know you’ve found gold.

I didn’t win the challenge. I wouldn’t have won if I had been there that day, I am not the strongest or the most nimble. And in truth I don’t need to be. Not for Ironman, but at the same time the weaknesses I do have are getting strengthened spider-crawl by spider-crawl, yard by yard, mile by mile and watt by watt. It all works together. Including the mental piece.

Raise my bar, challenge me the right way and I will reach for it. I don’t respond to the bullying, the name calling approach some coaches have. I am an adult. I resonate too much with sport….. but then again that’s who I am and who I have always been. It’s how I roll through life. Go through some of the life experiences I have … and understand why I am this way. We all have our reasons.

Help me reach not by telling me that I can’t….. but by challenging my conventional self and my conventional thoughts. Present it to me in a different perspective. That’s what works.

It’s funny. Michelle (my coach) and Steve (my trainer) don’t know each other at all. But what they are helping me do and achieve is the perfect blend of awesome.

They are helping me slay that dragon. If we keep moving forward just like this I will stand at that finish line in Quebec next August with the sword above my head. I will have slain that dragon with one clean swipe. And I will have done it because they know how to dig me right out of myself. I don’t think either of them knows exactly…… intimately what this finish line means to me. They don’t need to. They just know it means something important enough that I need them on the team to help me get there.

I am the luckiest athlete in the world. And the most grateful.

All right. let’s go to Hawaii, shall we!!!!!

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