It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.
I read this today, and it hit home with me. The little voice inside me can be the worst. It’s been quite ugly towards me at times. Sometimes it comes up with original hatred. Sometimes it repeats again and again the hurtful things others have said. I’m not sure which is worse.
This year, the little voice and I have started to become friends. When my cheerleader walked away, I had to be my own cheerleader. At first, I tried to do that without confronting – without even acknowledging – the little voice, but I quickly realized that I had to have a heart-to-heart with the little voice or else it would send me into a spiral mind f*ck every time it reared its ugly head. Our talk went something like this:
I need you to be on my side sometimes. I’m not saying you can’t speak ever. But I need you to be careful about when you assert yourself. Tell me what you’re thinking when I’m strong, when I’m in a position to hear you and make changes to become stronger. When I’m down, stay quiet; a down me doesn’t need any help beating myself up. And if you could, every once in a while, come up with something nice to say. Don’t lie to me, but see if there aren’t things you like about me, and every once in a while, tell me those things, okay?
It hasn’t been easy, but the voice has changed. My self talk has changed. I no longer tell myself that I’m not fast; I tell myself that I can get faster. I no longer tell myself that I might not finish; I tell myself that crossing what appears to be an unlikely finish line will feel great. I no longer tell myself that I can’t handle change; I tell myself that I’m becoming more adaptable in ways that matter. It’s not that I’m not lovable; I just haven’t yet found the person who will love me best.
Ironman was never about Ironman. My races aren’t about the races themselves. Everything I do in this part of my life is an effort to remind myself again and again that I am capable of so much more than I ever imagined. That I’m strong physically and mentally. That I have a deep ability to focus on whatever it is that I want to do and find a way to get it done.
I remember being in Coach Burke’s gym class in the fifth or sixth grade. She was teaching us to do headstands. The idea was that we would start on our hands and knees, put our heads down, and straighten our backs until our bodies were shaped like a “V ” and our legs were extended straight with just the tips of our toes on the ground. Then we would have to bring our legs up together – never separating them – using our core muscles, until we were in a headstand. There were some kids in that class who could do it immediately. I wasn’t one of those kids, but I went home that night and practiced and practiced in my bedroom until I could finally do it. And the next day, when I showed Coach Burke what I could do, she put her hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eyes and said, “You are my hero. I am so proud of you.” It was a little thing, but I remember the look in her eyes, and I remember the feeling of getting it done after I wasn’t sure that I could.
That’s the feeling I want every day. I don’t want to go home feeling beaten. I don’t want to doubt myself, my worth, or my abilities or sit in envy of others. I just want to work hard and figure out a way to get things done for me.
That little voice in my head hurts me sometimes. But sometimes it helps. And lately, as I’ve worked through my feelings of sadness, as I’ve looked for ways to lift my own spirits, as I’ve discovered my own sense of adventure, that little voice has become less of a demon and more of an angel. Not always, but more and more, I hear it say things like you are getting there. You can do this. Don’t think about what she said to you. You are my hero; I am so proud of you.
There are definitely times the voice still tells me that I should quit. But when that happens, I think about all the little victories. The headstands. The timed 5Ks. The 800 meter swims. The marathons. The half-Ironmans. The Ironmans. The days when I wasn’t sure I could take another ounce of heartache. And I say to that little voice, “Oh, so you want to fight today? Tell me what you think I can’t do, and I’ll show you just how wrong you are, b*tch.”
Okay, so I don’t call the little voice a b*tch. I’m too nice for that. But you get what I’m saying. I’m a fighter. I don’t cross the finish line first, but every finish line I reach means that I didn’t let the little voice get the best of me. And more and more, the voice is urging me across the line because, like me, the little voice wants to win, and I think it’s figured out that it can’t beat me. It certainly hasn’t done it yet.