The Hero’s Journey: Fear

My bare feet carefully walk over the rough, rocky shore of the lake. A thick rolling cloud of fog and mist is floating off the water like a scene out of a movie. My body is shivering.  My feet and hands are numb. The breath flows out of me like a dragon breathing fire.  It’s six in the morning and 38 degrees outside. Just your average September summer morning. How the fuck did I get myself into this situation? This is the moment I feared for the last three months would happen. The moment I was trying to avoid. Yet I’m here and ready to jump into this lake and take a nearly 2-mile open water swim. By the way, this is only two of the next 68 miles I must conquer over the next 6 hours!

Two months earlier I crashed my bike and separated my shoulder while training for a triathlon. I was in a sling for nearly two weeks and had to have my fingernail stitched onto my finger so that it wouldn’t fall off!  I was devastated. I started training for the Lake Placid half Ironman in January. I had little training since the crash and wanted to pull out of the race. Of course, I would have to forfeit my nearly $400 entry fee, my 6 months of training and diet, my sacrifice, my discipline, my personal goal I set for myself to start the year. I couldn’t run, I was afraid to ride and I definitely could not swim. Failure and depression tried to set in. How could it not when you feel useless…helpless? I couldn’t even get dressed without excruciating pain! Sleep was non-existent and training was done for.  

For a second I felt relief. I allowed something to creep into my head and say “now you can relax, you don’t have a challenge ahead of you anymore, you have an excuse now”…”Fuck Off!” I replied…”but maybe you’re right. I am hurt; I can easily just cancel my race. Nobody would judge me.”

The fact was, nobody was judging me to begin with, just myself, my own ego. I still had three months to train for this challenge. One I have never attempted before. It takes almost 12 weeks just to recover from my type of injury. During which time I cannot train fully.

What do you do in times like this? Quit, make excuses, and give up? Sure, you can. I decided to do what I could. Indoor bike, lower body, core and walking. As it got closer to the race date I realized that I never booked a hotel or a rental car. I soon realized that my ego was doing this initially. I was trying to find excuses to back out of the race. My FEAR crept in and I was allowing it to control me. I realized that I was afraid of this race. I was afraid of failing. I was using all these little excuses to justify it. If I don’t book a hotel in advance and they sell out, well it’s not not my fault; there are no more rooms. FEAR is a motherfucker! Something that does not exist, nor may it ever, can control your life and you will allow it to. After I realized it another emotion crept in, regret. I new that if I allowed FEAR to control my life I would regret it. Regret can be worse than fear because regret is real, fear is not.

I started training again. 10 miles, then, 15, then 20 and up to 30 miles on the bike. I got back in the pool and was able to swim for an hour without any major issues. Did I forget to mention my knee was hurting too? Yeah, it was sore, so my running was limited as well. I got messages once a week to help with the soreness. I was able to get in a good four weeks of training before I took the four hour drive from NYC to Lake Placid, NY. Home of the famous “miracle on ice” where the major underdogs, men’s USA Hockey team won Gold by defeating the heavily favored Russians.

The place was amazing! A beautiful mountain community populated by people from all over the globe. Many stayed here after the Olympics so it’s not uncommon to have a waiter or bartender that is from Eastern Europe. All I see are trees, streams and nature all around me. The air is clean, the streets are uncrowned and a strangeness that I haven’t experienced in some time now…quietness.  Signs of the former Olympic village are present everywhere.  You can feel the energy from those athletes who came before me. Some of those who trained their entire life for one moment of glory, to win GOLD.  I’m sure they all felt fear at one point.  

I’m looking up at this large and intimidating structure that formed the Olympic Ski Jump. I can only imagine being at the top of that and having to barrel straight down at over 60mph on a pair of skis, to fly through the air for over 800ft, and to land on ice! That’s looking real fear in the face and saying, bring it! How could I have been afraid of taking a swim, bike ride and casual stroll through this beautiful country landscape? Well, when you barely train for half of what you need to accomplish, fear can set it, regardless of how beautiful your surroundings are. I was only able to get up to an hour of swimming for a two hour swim course, 30 miles of biking for a 56-mile race and an 8 mile run for a 13.1-mile trek! I decided I would rather attempt this and fail than never attempt it all. At least I gave it my best effort and did not allow fear to overcome me.

Now, here I am, freezing my ass off. I cant feel my toes or my fingers and I’m running into this lake!  I’m off and not looking back. Over 2hrs later I surface from the lake smiling. I see my wife cheering and I even make time to pose for a picture. I transition to my bike and systematically pedal through the majestic hills of this beautiful town. My fingers are so numb I can’t even open up my fuel packet to eat. I eventually dry off and the sun starts to creep out. Ahhh, I look up and start to soak in its energy. A fellow cyclist says to me “don’t look up” but I had to soak in this moment.

It was amazing! Why did I fear this? A few miles later I see a large heard of deer run across the road in front of me. This is an amazing experience. Half way through I experience the root of the fear, in the form of “The Baby”, “The Mama”and “The Papa Bear” hills. Nearly 26 miles of straight, brutal, non-stop uphill riding. I cannot quit! I make it through and transition to the run, only a half marathon to go. The first 5 miles I’m doing well, then the pain sets in. All the injuries start to manifest. I try to block out the pain but I’m not in a good place.

I try to focus on the fly fisherman off in the stream to my left. “Sure wish I was fishing,” I thought. My shoulder is killing me. Even my old injuries seem to return. My body is so fatigued that I’m running on pure will, pure mental energy. I make it to mile 10 marker; only 3 more to go except that mile 10 is the longest steepest hill I have ever ran! WTF is going on? Just when you think you’re doing well and are near the finish line this place says “Nope! Try harder my friend.” Just like life. When you think things are going good and you got it all figured out, life slaps you in the face and says…try harder, while laughing it seems sometimes. This time I pushed back and finished the last 3 miles faster than the previous 10! I crossed the finished line full of energy and without fear. I conquered this challenge and immediately set my sites on the next. When faced with fear I decided to go towards it rather than running from it. Someone once said, “if it scares you and excites you at the same time then go do that” That’s what I did. Fear is my motivator and now my compass.