The Point of the Journey is Not to Arrive: Race Report by Jennifer Cultrera

20141012_093605_resizedJennifer was kind enough to write-up a race report for me for her International Distance race last weekend, Rocketman at Cape Canaveral. Hope you all enjoy it!

The Point of the Journey is Not to Arrive

I was listening to my favorite podcast, IM: Year One, and this quote hit very close to home. This blog is meant to be a race report and we will get to that in a bit.

I am always running from one place to the next. Tackling the next goal in my life. Make it through college, get through medical school, finish residency, excel in fellowship and finally go out and be a “real doctor”. It took me some time to figure it out, but I have finally found my niche. Even on my most harried of days, it is a wonderful blessing to be able to wake up in the morning and look forward to knowing that I will be able to help heal and comfort those who are in my care with the help of a skilled and dedicated team. To quote another great movie, “It’s awesome to be part of a team!”

Knowing this, I still look to the next level, the next goal in my life. In my career, build my practice to all it can be and give back to my patients, research, and our team. In my life, find my home and build a family. In my training, go to the next level of endurance training and finish a long course triathlon (140.6 miles of awesomeness).

Yet, although every moment of my day is filled to the brim, I find myself lost, lacking something so vital that my days run into one another.  In the past few months a big transition happened that allowed me to free up some mental space and allow me to look inside. I am still dissecting through what I am learning is to be better at just being. Not living moment to moment, but living for the moment, in the moment.

Taking those precious minutes out of every day to just be. To everyone the way we achieve that freedom is different. Some go tend their gardens, some spend time with their children, some take it a field to play sports, and then there are those of us who get our gear and go swim, bike or run…or if you’re crazy enough all three.

So as my life changes, schedules get busier, old friends get lost, new ones are found (along with some old ones along the way), I think I made a big step to realize that it’s not about getting to the next goal in life, the next level. It is about living in this life. Leaving it all out there in this moment and most of all acknowledging the present moment. I challenge you to find that “thing” that gives you that bliss, that peace, that Truth in finding yourself.

After searching through several paths, I thought I had found a way to that Truth. Sitting or standing in poses, listening to mantras, focusing inward in hours of meditation. It did help quiet my mind, but it did nothing to help me find that stillness. All that time, I had forgotten the one thing that brought my mind, body and spirit together… being outside, feeling the sun against my skin, feeling the wind around me and in me as I breathed, and feeling every fiber of my body responding my will to get it to move. Coming back to training and racing brought me home. I find Truth in who I am and what I do when I am moving, when my heart races to fuel that muscle, to take that extra stroke, extra pedal or step. I can turn inwards and focus on the moving parts of our amazing bodies.

And I found that bliss on a highway riding towards the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) in a bright sunny morning in Titusville Florida last weekend….

THE SWIM (or better, open water running)

The swim is held in the Indian River (otherwise known as the intercostal for any of us who have spent time in South Florida). It is salty but calm and watching the sunrise behind it as we prepared to enter the water through a few hastily put together steps was spectacular. I will not lie. I was nervous. The swim is my weakest sport. I am plagued by weak shoulders, little to no training, and asthma which will send me into bronchospasm depending on how cold the water is or how much I get jostled around. So the butterflies were very active when I thought about the 0.9 mile out and back swim ahead of me. Thankfully, Cindy, John and Jamie were all there to comfort me and show me I could do this.

It was an in water start. I don’t call it a swim start because the water was up to your waist all the wait out to the first buoy. You could walk the entire sprint distance and for the International distance it was still only 8 feet deep at its deepest point. At first I was happy about that, but I sometimes a crutch can be a detriment. The water was warm and smooth as glass. The sun against the water was blindingly beautiful (but did make it hard to see the cones).

And we were off…it was slow for me. My shoulder protested, but soon got into the groove. My breathing and heart rate settled in. When my shoulder hurt too bad, I put my feet down and walked giving it a rest. This turned out to be a good thing, but also a negative as nearing the end of the swim my right calf began to cramp. Turns out water walking is harder on the calves, who knew?! LOL

Getting to the exit, I was worried, there was 4 foot ledge you had to climb on from the water with no steps or ladder. The guys at the edge were busy, so I did my thing and beached myself like a whale…hey it wasn’t pretty, but I made it up without injuries and headed for transition.

T1 – Where is my brush and hair dryer?

As the title implies, I took way too long to get through this, but I know practice will help me do better in the future. It was well-marked and after getting myself settled and changed I was ready to roll. The only negative is the 20-30 feet of running with your bike, cleats on sugar sand and grass/mud before the bike mounting area. Cleats were full of gunk and I had a bit of a time getting clipped in.

THE BIKE

As a child I wanted to be an astrophysicists, yes, a rocket scientist. My father is an electrical engineer and I grew up with circuit boards, math equations, dreams of going into space watching Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” on PBS. So heading out onto the main road and seeing the image of the shuttle (Inspiration) at the Astronaut Hall of Fame entrance, then to the Visitor’s Complex and seeing the solid rocket boosters made my day. The course is flat (just one small drawbridge … take care with the grates!) and fast. There are headwinds and cross winds but we were lucky and Nature kept it to a minimum. Turning into the restricted area of the complex, you get to see the beautiful VAB in the distance as your race towards it. On your left and right area various buildings with rockets behind and to the sides of them. The sheer immensity of some of these machines to help carry the equipment was amazing. At the turn-around you end up right in front of a launch pad. I couldn’t help myself and stopped to take pictures and take it all in.

T2 – Noodle legs

It was a bit longer bike than a traditional International distance, 30 miles out and back so after again little to no training my legs were protesting. I slid on the dismount but a volunteer grabbed my shoulder and helped prevent the fall. T2 went faster and I was off to the run.

THE RUN – All you have to do is follow the cones, or so I thought.

The run takes you through a different direction away from the launch area to the museums and space airport. It is flat and without much shade. The highlights are running through the War Bird museum and seeing the veterans with their plans of the Korean, Vietnam, Desert Storm…what a feat of technology. I am honored to be able to have thanked and sweaty hugged these men and women who defended my life at the sake of their own. These are the true heroes of our country. The true celebrity and stars. Thank YOU to our armed forces.

By the time I got to the Space Airport I was hot. Not just hot, but damn hot, some would say, crotch pot cooking HOT! My knee was hurting. My shoulder was aching. My legs were so heavy I didn’t think I could lift them for the next step. So I concentrated on anything else. I felt the sun on every inch of my skin. Felt the occasional breeze around me. Saw nature for the colors that you can only see miles away from any skyscraper and major highway. The blue bliss of the sky the bright greens of the trees surrounding me.  I marveled at the feel of the breeze when it did pass and how wonderful the water felt in my throat…that’s when I realized this is what I had been looking for. Peace. Stillness. Just the feeling of me and world, out for a run. I didn’t care whether I finished first or last. Just to be.

Soon I came to the International distance turn-around point and had a bit of an argument with the volunteer. The cones continued past our turn around for the Half distance athletes. I was a little bit heat exhausted and a little bit in meditative state so I kept insisting I had to follow the cones. Thanks to a persistent volunteer who brought me some ice and water I realized he was right and headed back.

I was euphoric to have gotten to race this course and seeing the small-scale replica, Inspiration in the distance I picked up the pace. After four hours and 51 minutes I crossed the finish line and was awarded a finisher’s medal by a service woman. Tears came to my eyes after I thanked her for her service and she told me, “Thank YOU for being out here today, you are amazing.” We hugged and I wobbled my way to John to help me recover from the heat exhaustion which all hit at once.

It was an amazing race and amazing day. I realized then that although we are all plagued with work duties and duties that we have to find the time to do what brings us that joy. What makes us live in the moment. For me that is the training. At one point I saw that my training was getting to be a duty in order to make the next level, the next distance. It disheartened me. Yet now I see that even the small distances bring me joy. It is about getting out there and doing it because of the joy, not because of the distance.

So there will be changes in the near future….all to help me along my journey. I hope I never “arrive” because I am just starting to have fun getting there.

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