Dark days

Long distance anything hurts. Long distance triathlon is no different.

I’m resurrecting my blog. Last week, while trying to write a post, I somehow managed to corrupt some of the settings. Rather than waste time in a pointless attempt to work out what I’d accidentally done, I pressed ‘archive’ and everything I’d written there magically filed itself away. I’m left with a blank canvas.

It’s exhilarating.

Perhaps we are all drawn to the idea of a fresh start. In two weeks, we’ll be deluged by posts about resolutions. The new year seems a good place to build new and better habits. It’s mostly nonsense. It’s not really habits that we are after. What we really seek is an escape from ourselves; we are tempted by the illusive promise of the new along with the tiny rush of dopamine as we announce our intentions to the world at large. Perhaps we all long for resurrection at some point in our lives. Maybe we all seek to reconcile our old, worn-out selves with the new version that we sometimes imagine as we look, misty-eyed, to the future.

I like this time of year. I like the certainty that it brings to those of us in this part of the world: the shortest days, the longest nights. In my mind’s eye time tilts from this point on; and there, glimpsing back at me, is the summer and the promise of heat, warmth, sunlight. Spring can’t be far off. Life will return.

Of course, life never really leaves.

Maybe we all need reminding that our darkest times are always brought into relief when we simply accept the fact that light will return. We don’t need to force it, dwell on it, invite it. It will simply be. Light is. Life is.

I know what it feels like when life isn’t light. I understand a little of what TS Eliot wrote when he claimed that he could ‘connect nothing with nothing’. All those years ago, when my mind just gave up, the only thing that I could do was simply be. Music, reading, running…nothing made sense. I couldn’t do anything. As my bewilderment slowly faded I came to accept the returning of the light. There was no drama. No Damascene moment. I just survived, somehow. There was no way through the confusion I felt; I could only sit in my own pain. As I sat with myself, I slowly came to realise that life does move on, that time will creep by, and that the very best that we can do is to move forward.

When I turned forty, I entered Ironman. It was a personal celebration of survival, and beyond that, of growth. Long distance anything hurts. Long distance triathlon is no different. Somewhere around mile 130 my mind started to wander back to those days when the world seemed so confusing with its heady brew of stress, grief, and unresolved trauma. My bodily pain seemed to want my mind to drift back to those months when I thought I couldn’t go any further. I wanted out then and I really wanted to stop now. But what to do? How could I finish? Is giving up the only rational option? Surely?

They were just thoughts. That much I had learned in the gap between breaking down and the mile I found myself in. As I ran towards the next aid station I knew that I didn’t need to resurrect myself, I just needed to go on. I didn’t need to make a resolution, I just needed to move forward. I didn’t need to think positive thoughts, I just needed to finish. The dark thoughts of failure, of stopping, and of giving up on myself, would soon be over.

My family waited patiently by the finish line. Some fourteen hours after I’d started and despite being under-prepared, I had reached the end. I handed my medal to my son and my daughter asked me if I was an Ironman.

I managed to nod that I was, all the while noticing that the shafts of sunlight illuminating her face and glinting off her hair made her look even more beautiful.

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