At some point, you have to ask yourself if you're doing this for you or for everyone else -- and honestly, there's no shame in either response. The key is to not allow your goals to consume you into such a dark hole that you cannot see beyond the moment. There's life before, during and after these events. If your sole reason for participating in a race is to send out the biggest middle finger to the fucker in aisle three for taunting you about your weight, then that's cool; but after it's done, what's next? Even my Petty LaBelle ass cannot run strictly on arrogance and egotistical moments.
A month has flown by and my training is pretty intense. My schedule is loaded with three to four gym days, back to back long runs over the weekend, cycling when the weather is cooperative and of course, shitty swimming practices. Quite recently, I announced on The Long Run podcast that I'd be doing my first triathlon -- Ironman 70.3 Arizona; the feedback was a mixed bag of M&Ms. And since my really fun interview with SELF Magazine - The Weight Issue, the hecklers, concerned trolls and all people in between gave me a congenital heart failure load of unsolicited advice, horrible feedback and projected fears. For the average person, this might make you want to lose your shit. Extreme personalities like mine view moments like this as a make or break to their day; I had my share of both.
Why I Embraced Becoming an Athlete
When I think back to why I started my fitness journey in 2013, most of my original reasons evolved and stayed the same. I hate giving people my sob story because it feels as if "all my life I had to fight" but a large part of the sarcasm masks the hurt that comes with reflecting on who I used to be. Hindsight taught me that I was ridiculously insecure about my body image and the power of my voice because I allowed others to define who I was and where I was going.
Sure -- most people who knew me for at least a quarter of my life would question what I am drinking at this very moment to make such a statement; a fraction who are exceptionally close know this to be true. Tell me if you know a person like this or if it happens to be you:
I was the funny fat friend who was overprotective of my family, squad and could make fun of herself at rapid speed, which either left others out of jokes or gave them a weak entrance of trying to clown me. People constantly told me that they were scared of how I'd react because they thought I was 'sensitive,' 'ferocious' and my favorite: 'Didn't think about the way things came out.' Essentially I was painted as a funny hot head who couldn't hold her liquor while sober. Short answer: I was a convenient target of both amusement and a punching bag who wasn't allowed to stick up for herself without being dragged to the ends of the earth.
When I came up with suggestions on how to improve myself, it was oftentimes frowned on, laughed at or completely dismissed with 'better' suggestions. If I knew that a few diagnoses would change the course of my life, at that time, I would've said bring it on -- and please know this is complete sarcasm. After my 'friends' and 'family' disappeared when I needed them most, I hit rock bottom; the seafloor is a cold one.
If you want to warm up, you have to push past the chilling moments to acquire proper insulation and a great coat; this is exactly what I did. I did a lot of research on how to lose weight, picked people's brains that were outside of my circle and before I knew it, 100 pounds gone. None of this research taught me how to get my self esteem on track nor how to find my happy. I was left with a body that I barely recognized, accused of looking like a crackhead and wishing I was heavier. And that's when the real magic of this journey began.
I am an athlete because I don't just put in the physical work and research but I embrace the entire lifestyle. For years I fought against referring to myself an athlete. I didn't have companies banging down my door to pay for races and my finisher times are probably Laugh Factory quality to a few snobbish elites. I was the other box in my head: "The one who tried, completed but need to be __________," says someone who I could give two bits of a shit about their opinion.
When I train during marathon season, I am programmed to waking up 4:45AM - sometimes earlier - and I take my routine bathroom run. Even when I'm sluggish, my mind desperately wants to go out of the door to go run far, cycle hard or be around my gym bros -- most of which I don't even know their name. My gym clothing wreaks something from a horror film and my Freddy Krueger impersonation comes in the form of not eating within 30 minutes of finishing up a fitness session. My loved ones know that I am sometimes lost in deep thoughts of wondering what's next, learned to respect that I'm not physically available most hours of the weekend and at any given moment, I may pass out in the middle of eating dinner from the pure exhaustion.
Some people may never understand my zany routine; it's not for them to get or for me to have to explain -- but sometimes I wish I could put it into words. I chase after waves of feelings. Telling a person outside of most areas of the fitness community that you're searching for an indescribable hurt that comes from 30 plus miles of running is bizarre -- I'm looking for a 100K worth and pushing to contribute three marathons, an ultra obstacle course race and a singular trail race to throw in the mix. The uncertainties heightens my experience just a bit more. As a planner, doing events like this knocks me on my ass and it's torturous. Either I'm hyped to face the unfathomable but harassing everyone about what to expect, even when they don't have answers.
I forced myself to correlate myself with such a term -- Athlete. Who the fuck am I to think that I'm capable or worthy of such? To answer that question, just read above; this is when I stopped correcting people when they addressed me as such. If you are putting in the hours, hold the grit to face the unthinkable and learning how to master your passion with physical, mental and emotional work, why would you NOT call yourself one?
And Then the Commentary Followed
Almost two weeks ago, I was bogged down with a lot of hate mail. I assure you that being in the public eye doesn't make it easier at times. For those who felt hesitant about saying something before now feel entitled to pass judgment because clearly, a few articles or features means you revoked your human card. For the average person who chooses to be vulnerable, this means prepare for the Internet bullying and the face to face shit advice of:
Here's my advice: To hell with all of that and do what works for you. This can range from crying it out to venting about idiots for about fifteen minutes. Either way, you are a human with a pulse -- and if you're an alien, tell your buddies I said hey.
These comments will suck and even a pun loaded jerk like myself can get overwhelmed by either the quantity, timing or baffled on why do they even care. Naysayers sometimes hold your hand and only have advice when you feel like shit and use phrases like "I'm only looking out for you but ____" and "ugh, can't we just talk about MY issues because you don't have issues like me." Before you know it, those are the worst culprits because they might even turn you into them as you seek out a victim yourself; and in strangely common situations, you become codependent on the succubus' abuse.
The Golden Road of Becoming Fucktose Intolerant
Alas, you're sick and tired of being sick and tired, right?
After having a slight meltdown after one of the shittiest weeks of my life, I realized I survived. Mentally, I don't know how I did it but I survived until I learned how to live again. This time last year, one of my beloved friends told me to pick one or two things to do from a huge list and only focus on those specific things. Nothing else. This is what survival looks like. And guess what, it'll become so routine that you'll get this strange urge to add in more because the tasks are mundane. That's the road to living.
When being verbally harassed and even threatened from a nobody in Michigan - I sorta kinda tracked her IP address - I forced myself to get my head back into my training. I'm a month away from my first Ragnar race in Adirondack, NY and shortly after, I'm bogged down with an insane race calendar taking me to several states. Realistically, I have no time for the distractions of others who tell me that I cannot do what I've already been doing.
Instead of going into day long keyboard wars and jumping in everyone's face who dislike me, I manifested a few new mantras:
But after I unleashed all of that rage, a dose of reality has to kick back in. Why did I start doing all of this in the first place? Your ego cannot be your sole source of drive; eventually it'll burn you worse than the chafing I experienced during the Finger Lakes 50K.
Remember those cheesy metaphorical words of wisdom that you can find in the self help books that are collecting dust? They DO have a valid point (and about a fourth of it is bullshit).
After a person bruised your ego, really remember that these are truly words; easier said than done. Trust your training or practice in whatever you do; when necessary, take a mental health day or swap it for something else. If you are following an insane regimen of running 4 - 5 days a week and it eventually leads you to 40 - 60 miles weekly and you managed to do most of it, be damn proud of yourself. Perhaps there's a week that you fall off; you're human. Even the best of the best have moments where they fall short.
Running for the last four years taught me to schedule in an extra week or two for my marathon and ultra marathon training simply for my mental health's sake. As a distance runner, I'm often alone. There's not enough music or zoning out in the world that helps some days. It's hard feeling as if you're abandoning everyone once in a blue just for a personal goal but you better keep going for it.
Mastering the art of not giving a damn requires you to actually give a damn about something else. Shifting your energy into a long term goal is a healthier way of not giving a fuck about the things that matter. This way, the next time some pickleshit comes your direction with fake news - because there's always a next time - you know how to stand your ground while dissecting what you feel. It gets easier and harder depending on the day of the week. Regardless of what side of the coin that it falls on, you and your personal goals are worth every ounce of energy that you put into it.