Another week of training is rounding out to be another dark mark on my past. I kid. Mostly. Ironman training overall has been a good experience. The same way everything crappy I've ever gone through that has made me "stronger" is a "good experience." Like that time Cathie threatened to send me away for a summer in 1996 to work on a farm because "it builds character." I, on the other hand, without knowing exactly what it was, was quite sure I had plenty of character. It's probably ironic that I then faked a broken toe in hopes that all farm talk would cease. I also faked the broken toe because I was jealous of Aaron Ludwig's crutches and attention. I got a lot of mileage out of that toe. Literally.

We are now a mere 5 weeks and 1 day away from the race. As I typed that, my hands started shaking so much I had to hit the backspace key 15 times during the course of that sentence. I'm also doing that thing where I start contacting an old friend in a distant state more often when I know I'm going to be seeing him or her again soon so that it's less awkward when I do see that person. Except it's with God this time (we've already planned out our first 24 hours together (May 6th)--tandem biking, a visit to the ice-cream shop, and then some snuggling while we talk about who's going to get kicked off of The Biggest Loser next).

I had my first ever night terror over the Ironman just two nights ago. I woke up actually screaming because I had a dream that I was in the middle of the swim portion of the race and I realized that instead of water, they filled the entire lake up with snakes. And it wasn't one of those quick yell screams. It was a long, drawn-out, slowly shaking my head, gripping blankets and pillows, eyes wide open in horror, scream. Thank heavens for Larry.

I've been joking a lot lately about my Ironman experience. Joking is how I cope with stress. And fear. And frustration. And pain. And anxiety. I've had a share of each of those things in my life. Not that they were all sprung upon me without my consent. I'm aware that nobody held a gun to my head to register for the Ironman or go to law school or really do anything else (I guess nobody has ever held a gun to my head at all. But you understand what I'm trying to say.). And I am so thankful that I have the opportunities that I do have. That I'm able to participate in some of the things that cause me stress. And that I have found a coping mechanism that isn't destructive, even if the jury is still out on whether the cause of the need for coping is destructive.

But truthfully, the Ironman experience itself is not a joke to me. The flopping in the pool, yes. The way my body looks in a wetsuit, yes. The guilt I feel after eating all 7 boxes of my first order of Girl Scout cookies in 2 days, yes (15 boxes this season so far--new record for me!). But the Ironman, no. It's something I want to accomplish, and not just because I think I'll look super cool when I tell people that I'm an Ironman. And I WILL tell people I'm an Ironman. Examples of how I might bring it up in conversation are below:

Friend: I need to start running again.
Eli: Oh, I know what you mean. Ever since I finished my Ironman . . .

Friend: What would you like for dinner?
Eli: How about something with lots of Iron? Speaking of Iron . . .

Friend: Guess what?! I just bought my first Snuggie!
Eli: That's great! Did you know I'm an Ironman?!

But more than bragging rights, the Ironman is something I want to accomplish because I want to prove to myself that I can still deal with the stress and the fear and the frustration and the pain and the anxiety. And I want to get better at that. Falling into retarded progression terrifies me. I can't let satisfaction with the status quo become my consistent reality. Where I'm content with life simply because my 401k is growing (something I've heard grownups discussing in casual voices, in case you're wondering where I got such a vocabulary).

So I get up early and flop around in that pool. I climb aboard a bike and scream as it heads down a hill. Every. Time. Maybe I'm a little crazy. Maybe such a lofty goal was a little too ambitious. But it's done. And now I'll face it. With Larry on my back, Paul Cyclemon at my feet, and the kind support from all of you out there who help me so much by joking about it with me, I'll face it.

We've all got lofty goals that start somewhere buried deep inside of us. For some of us, the goal is to help our kids make it through whatever crap they're dealing with without becoming jaded. For others of us, the goal is to get to the point where we get to think about helping our kids make it through whatever crap they're dealing with without becoming jaded. For some it's about overcoming a physical problem. For some it's about making it through school against adversity. For all, it's about doing something we'll later be proud of when we recognize how much we've changed for the better compared to how we were before doing that something.

Whatever it is, I hope that the lofty goal doesn't stay buried too deep inside. Because half the battle is recognizing the challenge and admitting to ourselves and others that we want to accomplish it. It's being brave enough to let the world know that we expect something of ourselves, even if that something seems too lofty to someone. It's being courageous enough to admit that we want to become something, and that we understand that the journey to get there has to be rough if "there" is worth reaching. My friend used to tell me that you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. And I guess you can't break the eggs without finding them first--without desiring something specific, admitting to yourself that you want it, and heading toward it.

Carpe Diem, dear strangers.

~It Just Gets Stranger