26 July 2014

A Thousand Tiny Walls

Distance athletes talk about “Hitting the Wall,” getting to that place where you either give up, and go no further, or you fight through, and completion of the race or event is that much sweeter because of it. For me, however, at my current age, weight, and level of physical fitness, I find it to not be so simple. Those of us who are “retired” distance athletes may find it much more difficult. I hope I’m not totally retired, there are still races I would like to complete, events I want to conquer, but the liberty of being in college, with a dedicated coach and hours a day to train, that part of my life is undoubtedly over. In your late twenties, workouts aren’t as simple as PT in the morning with your unit, as it was at school, or practice in the pool with the team, these days, those workouts have to fit between work and commuting and making dinner, paying bills, the minutiae of a daily life that becomes clogged quickly, if you don’t organize it properly. This writing, however, isn’t about those workouts of days gone by, or of the hustle and bustle of a modern adult, no, no, it is about those walls.

                Yes, I said walls. Having been in good to great shape throughout high school and college, through participation in sports in both and the Corps of Cadets in the latter, my current state of fitness is a culture shock. I didn’t gain weight overnight, and it won’t be lost overnight, but the important takeaway is the knowledge that I control the outcome. In control of the outcome is exactly opposite how you feel when you hit The Wall. When you are pushing along, and that Wall just comes and smacks you in the face. Hitting it once is bittersweet. Of course it isn’t the best feeling, but hitting it reminds you that you are pushing yourself, and not just semi-participating in the proceedings. What’s worse, however, at least from where I’m sitting, is hitting that Wall over and over again. You see, I am in nowhere near the physical shape I was in seven years ago, but I still remember what it felt like. My body, my muscles still have that memory of excellence. I was never a world class athlete, but my biggest asset was “Heart.” I simply would (and still won’t) stop. I will never forget the words my high school cross-country coach, Ken Halla, said about me, “Will does more, with less talent, than anyone else on this team!” Knowing Coach Halla, that can’t be taken as anything but the highest of compliments. When I go for a distance workout now, whether it be a run, swim, or bike ride, my body still remembers what it was to be fast. In short stints, I’m not terribly far off those paces. What has changed is the distance of the stints, the staying power. I am building my endurance right now, but it is a difficult challenge. Finding that happy medium between the pace I want to be at, and being able to stay there is the hard part.
That is why I hit The Wall, a thousand times every time. A thousand may well be an exaggeration, but trust me, it is way more than once. Getting going, getting up to speed, cruising for a bit, and coming to the harsh, abrupt realization that I can’t stay there, can’t maintain it. Its soul crushing.

But it is also vindicating. Like I said, hitting the wall means you have some skin in the game. I could ride my bike ten miles, and it could take three hours, and I wouldn’t hit a single Wall, but what is the point? Every time I hit one of those Walls, I knock it further back, so next time, it takes a little longer to get there. Every Wall I overcome, becomes a personal victory, no matter how small, and I like victories.

Even the little ones.