I wake up and fuzzily orient myself. It is Tuesday. Yes, this is my day off. But, I immediately feel a heaviness in my stomach which will build throughout the day into a full fledged dread. A sense of dislike so intense as to more rightly be labeled “hatred.” It takes a few introspective moments to pinpoint the cause: my scheduled participation in the Group Track workout at 4:30p.m. Going to this dreaded workout is a New Year’s Resolution “pact” I made with my older son. I will go to this Interval Track Workout once a week. In exchange, he will remove his "automatic deflection shield" once a week so that he can consider, with an open and non defiant mind, one piece of my maternal advice.
This agreement has been years in the making. Although both he and I love the sport of triathlon, we have very different approaches to it. He trains for speed and aspires to noteworthy race placement; I train simply so I can eat whatever the heck I want to eat and aspire to finishing upright before the sponsors take the finish line down. My apathy disgusts him as much as his reflexive and contrived dismissal of my maternal “suggestions” disappoints me. He articulates his point thusly: “Mom, since you don’t completely suck on the swim and the bike, if you would just try to suck less on the run, you could actually be halfway decent.” I, on the other hand, articulate my point thusly: “you DO realize, don’t you, that there are sane people in the world who go out of their way to seek out my advice and who actually appreciate it when I give that advice to them?”
The validity of my claim notwithstanding, even I must admit that my son DOES have a point. If one looks at my most recent Ironman results, one can clearly see that my run split is grossly incongruous in relation to my swim and bike splits. At Ironman Arizona 2015, there were more than 100 people in my age division and more than 2000 people racing. At 1:20 into the event, after swimming 2.4 miles, I came out of the water in 20th place in my age division and in 236th place overall. By the time I got off my bike six and a half hours and 112 miles later, I was in 18th place in my age division and in 224th place overall. However, when I waddled across the finish line 26.2 miles and well over six hours later, I was in 38th place in my age division and 377th place overall. Given that I HAVE completed eight Ironman triathlons, these times and placements should be all fine and dandy except for one little problem: I really, really want to participate in the pinnacle of my chosen sport – the World Ironman Championship in Kona, Hawaii. However, one only gets the privilege of doing so in one of four ways: 1) one could win a lottery - but I am not known for my “luck” in life; 2) one could be the highest fundraiser of the year - but good grief, those people are Uber Type A and raise over hundreds of thousands of dollars while I barely manage to complete the requisite training; 3) one could be famous like Hines Ward or Apollo Ono – alas, I am not; 4) one could win one’s age division. I used to think that if I was patient, I would eventually be the only one in my age division and would win by default. Unfortunately, since the sport is increasing in popularity, the times are getting more and more competitive. My times, at the age of 51, don’t even qualify me for a spot in the 70 year old age division! So, in the words of my son, I am left with only one choice: “to suck less.”
What both he and I agree upon is that if I want to improve my run times, I will have to do a lot more “interval training.” Aye, here is the Shakespearean “rub” - I hate Interval Training! Despite my gargantuan quadriceps, I am not naturally good at sprinting. And, the sensation of pushing my heart rate into the anaerobic zone terrifies me because said sensation is highly reminiscent of the aura I get before I have an epileptic seizure. But, the bigger problem is that Interval Training is most effectively done in a group. Not only does the scheduled group training force one to summon the will power to do that which one is loathe to do, but the group atmosphere pushes one to sprint more vigorously and productively. Unfortunately, the only thing I hate more than Interval Training is group interactions. Despite multiple people in my life “knowing” this, few of them “believe” this, and none of them truly “understand” it. After all, I am teacher. I enjoy public speaking. I am considered outgoing and seem gregarious. I love participating in triathlons with over 2000 people. And, last but not least, I am the leader and coach of the Kitsap Tri Babes – a group of over 200 women triathletes whom I expect to work out in a group twice weekly! Despite these bullet points on my resume, I actually prefer small, one on one, interactions OR events that involve an extremely large group – like football games or rock concerts or Ironman triathlons. I absolutely detest groups with an “intermediate” amount of people. Whenever possible, I participate in them only if I have a well defined role (of help or authority).
These group Interval Training sessions at the track provide me with neither role. I am not there to help. I am not the one “in charge.” I am simply a participant. This situation MIGHT be tolerable if I were good at the activity but, alas, the fact that I am not is the very reason I am subjecting myself to this downright distasteful experience. A typical track session day goes like this: I get snarkier and snarkier as the time approaches; I exhaust every excuse available before deciding to “be the better person and just go”; I drive to the track in full blown “Pissed Off” mode; I alleviate some of my negativity by sending my son a message with an excessive amount of “unsolicited maternal advice”; I get to the track and announce to everyone who greets me that “Eyeore has arrived”; I slowly and resentfully run my warm-ups laps; I remind myself that “if you build it, they will come” and paste a smile on my face when I have to re-group with the others to receive the day’s work out. By the time I have run 200 yards, I am already 100 yards behind the last person in front of me. I suffer the humiliation of this indignity for about 400 more yards. During this time, my reflexive response is to resent all the other participants. I begrudge them. I dislike them because their superior talent reveals that my abilities pale in comparison. The reality it that this "dislike" hurts them not at all. How could it? They are too far ahead to "hear" my thoughts. Yet, this dislike wounds me each moment I cultivate it. It casts a pall of negative energy over my activity and it exposes a mean spirited and indefensible aspect of my character.
At around 600 yards, the fastest runner usually laps me. Ironically, this is also the point at which my “misery bubble” breaks. Once the first person laps me, there are no longer any “winners” or “losers.” We are all just runners out on a track doing our own work out trying to become better athletes than we were before we arrived. After I have done the best I can do for the day, I leave. (Surprisingly, I always drive away very glad that I came.)
After several weeks of this self imposed torture, it dawns on me that my pre interval track work out feelings of dread and detestation are actually a form of the yogic klesa known as “dvesa” or “dislike.” According to the Yoga Sutras, “dislike” is one of the five “klesas” or “root causes of unhappiness.” Given how intensely “unhappy” these Interval Trainings make me, I decide to “bring this problem to the mat.” After several sessions of yogic meditation, some helpful thoughts revealed themselves.
Firstly, I realized that my reasons for preferring small, one on one, and large group situations were not quite as “noble” as I might like to think they are. Yes, I may enjoy the “one on one” for the admirable reason that it allows more honest, non superficial interaction. But I also gravitate toward these interactions for a much less noble reason - they are a “controlled” environment. Within them, I can construct the self I wish to present to others. I can be confident that my intention equals their assessment. In the anarchy of an intermediate group situation, not only is it more difficult for me to control who I present myself to be, but I am unable to micro manage other people’s perceptions of me. I must let them think of me what they may. This is terrifying. I can’t explain to each of them that I really am worthy of their respect and admiration despite the situational evidence to the contrary. Of course, I wear some Ironman “Finisher’s” merchandise but who knows if they even notice?
And yes, I am very nobly drawn to large group events, especially Ironman triathlons, because of their collective energy. This energy is purported to reside at the 7th Energy Chakra (the crown of the head) and this same energy is the goal of the 8th Yogic Limb known as “Samadhi” or “union with the collective.” But, within this collective, I am anonymous. Unseen. Unjudged. Or, as George Thorogood reminds me, “when I [train] alone, I prefer to be by myself.” There is a safety in this anonymity – a safety that is tantamount to selfishness.
The second insight revealed to me when I brought my extreme dislike for Intermediate Group Interval Training back to the mat, was that “dislike” or “dvesa” is (probably) a root cause of unhappiness because it is the opposite of “love.” Given that it is February, the month of Valentine’s Day, my initial reaction was, “how incredibly thematically appropriate!” However, like Dick Stein, I tend toward the sarcastic, usually referring to Valentine’s Day as “National Emotional Extortion Day.” So, I knew that I needed to dig a little deeper. Winston Churchill’s words began ringing around in my mind, “you make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.” I began to realize that the most fundamental reason for my “dislike” of these Interval Trainings is that they force me to truly reveal myself. When out on the track, I am stripped of all my titular accolades. I am not “Professor Ballou” or “the Expansions Yoga Lady.” I am not “The Tri Turtle” who has donated over $50,000 to Kitsap County charities nor am I “The Pink One” who is revered by the Kitsap Tri Babes. The YWCA is not bestowing a “Woman of Achievement” Award upon me. Mike Reilly is not proclaiming, “Lisa J. Ballou – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” I am simply a person who could be, should be better but who, in truth, sucks at running. I am okay with this truth when it is just me. But, when I am out there on the track running in the dreaded “intermediate group situation,” I am forced to reveal this truth about myself. I must “give” this truth to others without the comforting benefit of a mitigating explanation and without the calming assurance that I will be understood and accepted. This type of “giving” is a powerful, selfless form of “love.”
And so, as I decide whether to create an excuse or to attend next week’s Interval track training, I am trusting Martin Luther King Jr. and therefore, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”