At the start of one of my classes, my teacher often asks us to visualize an intention for class then rub our hands together hard, make heat and place our palms over our eyes to seal the visual.
I did this three times before the start of the Raleigh Half Ironman on Sunday. Once, to imagine myself walking safely from the water, then again climbing the hill outside the bike transition and finally smiling as I crossed the finish line. The exercise calmed me. Some. But I did more: plank to chaturanga on repeat in the beach parking lot, down dogs, lateral stretches. Handstands too because they are perhaps the most calming of poses for me. I found a quiet spot next to the lake to do them and I held one for an especially lovely and long time and gazed all the while, softly but with great intensity, into the dark opening of an ant hill. I took long, deep, steady breaths and counted ever so slowly. “Think of this if you start to panic in the water,” I told myself.
But I didn't.
I mean, I did panic, within 10 seconds of the start, actually. And for much of the first five minutes, I seriously considered throwing in the towel. I couldn't find a path through the water clear of swimmers who weren't hitting or kicking me. I couldn't find my breath. Couldn't calm the anxiety and I thought, “It's not worth it.”
But instead of the ant hill, I thought of Josephine the day before. She fell hard at the start of her IronKids race and got trampled by the runners behind her before she rose from the street, looked back at me, tears streaming down her face, and ran off to finish what she started. It was only on her way back to the finish line that I realized the severity of her fall. She had a giant goose egg on her forehead but still she was running hard, despite the pain and tears. When she finished, we saw both her hands were bruised and bloody too.
I swam in the water and saw her - in great detail - lift herself up, look at me and run on. And I thought, “No way can I stop.”
I turned the first buoy and finally relaxed. I smiled at the beauty of the green pines rising above the water reaching toward the wide Carolina blue sky.