Thursday, March 14, 2013

Of Surgeries and Strategies

About two months ago,  I went under the knife to have my IT band fixed.  Today, it's my dad's turn: he's getting (at least) a triple bypass.  If my problem was predictable, given my penchant for sometimes overdoing things on the endurance front, his seems markedly less so: he's been thin his whole life, eaten very well, was a competitive runner in the 1980s, and ran two marathons beginning at age 65.  To my way of thinking, if he can wind up needing heart surgery, anyone can.  What's most disturbing about it is that he was entirely asymptomatic: he was diagnosed with severe blockage only during a routine screening resulting from his being hospitalized for a week with pneumonia.  If he hadn't been forced into the ICU with that unrelated problem, it is scary to think what might have happened during one of his regular runs.  If ever pneumonia could be described as a blessing in disguise, this may be that time.

This is a lot to contemplate at the same time that I'm finally back on the road to health.  I was cleared to started running again last week -- although the term "running" might be giving me too much credit at the moment -- and I've headed back to the pool for some fun with hypoxia.  My cycling is going reasonably well, at least, and I have a smoking new road bike that I'll profile in the next week or so.  It's an exciting time, what with the Ignite squad swinging into action and my plotting a way to survive the epic 4-day, 750-mile ride around Alaska that I have planned for July.  As I write this, the sun is breaking through the clouds and it seems a travesty to have to spend time behind a desk.

The sudden onset of my dad's health problems has served as a stark reminder that there are no guarantees in life, and nothing lasts forever.  (My posts about my younger brother highlight this even more starkly.)  Part of me instinctively reacts to this reminder of impermanence by trying to do as much as I can while I have the chance, and there's something to that notion.  But, at the same time, my own surgically-imposed time off from training has underscored to me that the notion of doing "as much as I can" is not self-defining, and it is maddeningly difficult to quantify.  I don't want to do the most I can in a particular facet of life if it means doing less than I want to in another.  To be sure, I could probably achieve my best in races if I go to bed at 10:00 every Friday night so I can get up to train all day on Saturday.  But frankly, I'm not willing to say no to a concert with friends I see too infrequently simply in order to improve the quality of my training ride the next day.  Ten years from now, I probably won't remember a thing about the ride, but I'll remember a lot about that evening.

Likewise, I've sometimes skipped training sessions simply because I was buried in a book that I didn't want to put down.  Is this lack of discipline?  I'm not sure -- it depends what I'm trying to be disciplined about.  If one's paramount strategy in life is to capture that bleeding-edge 1% of performance on a couple of days a year, then any distraction from it is corrupting.  But again, I don't think that, looking back ten years after an event, I'll consider my life to have been appreciably richer merely because my race history shows that I was a couple of minutes faster on the day.  For me, the strategy is to do what I'm passionate about, even if it doesn't quite add up to coherence.

I certainly have my goals.  I'd like to crack 3 hours in my marathon this December, and to put on a show at Ironman Lake Tahoe in September.  Riding around Alaska ain't trivial, and the D2R2 is calling my name.  I get excited just thinking about those events, and a few others, and I want to do well.  But I only want to do as well as I can while ensuring that it's fun, not an obligation or a second job.  If I find myself struggling up a hill on my bike because I was out late with friends, or falling off the pace on a long run because I missed a couple of runs in the week before in order to take a vacation, that's something to smile about.  We can't do it all.  Getting the most out of one's self, and being as disciplined as one can be, is something to celebrate.  But for me, it's increasingly important to keep in mind the idea that "getting the most out of myself" is not something determined by sole reference to the clock at the finish line.

1 comment:

  1. Very well said Damon, thank you for this very important reminder.
    Wishing your dad's surgery is uneventful and he recovers quickly.