I was once what you might call a bit of a ‘reluctant flier’. While I didn’t quite have a B.A. Baracus-type of anxiety around it, it wasn’t my favorite means of transportation. I wouldn’t not fly, but I would definitely check to see how long the drive would have been, for places where I wanted to go. And while I typically ended up boarding a plane to get to those places, it was rare that I actually enjoyed myself on it. You see, I hated turbulence. The plane would start shaking, and maybe do that little drop-thing that it does, and my head would instantly go to that scene from Castaway, when the FedEx plane plunged into the Pacific - THIS
I actually remember seeing that scene for the first time in the movie theater, when Castaway had first come out. Naturally, I had gotten there a bit late, and so was left to sit in one of the first few rows, where the screen was just…on top of me, like the first few moments of Billy Joel’s video for the song Pressure - THIS one. Tom Hanks was minding his own business in the plane’s bathroom, tending to a wounded thumb, when he was all of a sudden sucked through the bathroom’s door and flung into a cargo net. The plane is rattling and shaking, making all of these crazy clunking sounds, there is talk of an explosion, one of the co-pilots runs out into the cargo area, strapping Tom Hanks into his seat, handing him an oxygen mask and a deflated lifeboat. Moments later they crashed into the ocean. At the time, while watching this, pinned to the back of my seat, my heart rate was approaching threshold, and I damned near cacked myself.
And so it was with this mindset that I would board airplanes, for my own travels. And when the turbulence would inevitably hit, and cause the plane to make those subtle rattling and shaking sounds, my mind would immediately go to that scene from Castaway. I’d look to the plane’s ceiling, waiting for the oxygen masks to drop down. “Is the wing still connected?” “This seat cushion can be used as a flotation device, right?” My body would tense, and the turbulence would do nothing but seemingly further underscore my corpse-like rigidity, tossing it against its will back-and-forth, to-and-fro. What was going on in my head a mere, but significant, amplification of what was actually happening to my body.
It would be a number of years before I would come to see the error of my ways. I don’t remember when, how, or why it happened, but I eventually cured of the terror that I would bring onto myself, when a flight that I was on encountered some turbulence. For whatever reason, as we were flying…wherever…we hit some turbulence, the shaking began a rattle here a rattle there, which kicked my mind - its anxiety - into high-gear, believing that I was just moments away from life in a loin cloth, wishing that I had actually paid attention to the fire starting Pack Meeting during Cub Scouts, and naming a volleyball as my new best friend. Except that this time, for whatever reason - I don’t know why - that didn’t happen. As the shaking began, I simply placed my computer in the pocket on the rear of the seat in front of me, closed my eyes, rested my head back, and completely relaxed the muscles in my neck letting the turbulence softly rock my head back-and-forth, to-and-fro. I didn’t fight the turbulence, at all. I simply allowed it to do to me, what it was going to do. And when I did that, I realized, for the first time, that the turbulence was actually quite muted. That I wasn’t going to be sucked through the bathroom door and thrown into a cargo net. That I wasn’t going to need my seat cushion as a flotation device. And that I had gained a little more time to learn how to make fire from sticks and stones. Primarily, I learned that turbulence was just turbulence, and that in the past it had been amplifying through me. Because I had allowed it to.
I still don’t love turbulence. I can’t imagine that I ever will. But it doesn’t bother me like it once did. Like I wrote above, when it hits, I simply do that neck relaxing ritual-thing, and wait for it to pass. It always does. Because I allow it to.
At the outset of this crazy COVID-19 stretch of our lives, and what will prove to be a defining historical period, our great QT2 Systems’ Coach, Vinny Johnson, gave the sage advice to, ‘use this time, and not get used by it’. I like the line, it works. It is pertinent to the present, as well as widely applicable to any number of different contexts. Just through the lens of my own struggle with turbulence, alone, during that time I had been getting used by the turbulence. It used me, to magnify itself. Because I was unable to control the turbulence, I allowed it to control me. It wasn’t until I learned how to use it, that I would be able to muffle it. It is still there. Present on just about every flight that I take. It is always going to be there. But it no longer has the voice that it once did.
And so here we are, in a time when a great deal of control has been robbed of us. And, if there is one thing that is just very, very true of endurance athletes, it is that we tend to be control freaks, through and through. Even the hippy-est among us have a great deal of struggle with relinquishing our reign over different contexts, or coming to terms with the realization that we are not in command. This recent corona-mess has really done a tremendous job in forcing us to face this reality head-on. And while we all typically fight our own battles of control against our own very different enemies, this is one of those rare occasions when we are all being subjected to the same underlying contextual current.
Each and every day our race schedules are being pushed further and further down the calendar. Events that, still, seem so far off into the distance cancelled or postponed. For people like us, so typically in command of our schedules, our agendas, our lives - it can become disheartening, to feel as though this isn’t going to end. Like, that it is never going to end. That this thing, and our absence of control over it, is beginning to gain control over us. Except that just because we cannot control it, doesn’t mean that it has to control us. It will end.
And until such time that it does, while it may not be touching all of us in the same kind(s) of way(s), we do all share in this same common enemy. Therefore, I call upon my fellow control freaks to unite, and revolt against, not the virus, but the notion that we are going to be controlled by it! Unite in the idea that while it can be very easy to internalize the incessant negativity that is presently surrounding us, and get used by this time, that that doesn’t have to be the case. None of this is our fault. But how we respond to it is our responsibility. And whatever response we make, is a choice. Our choice.
This thing will go away. Not in an instant, or with the flick of a switch. But, one day at a time. Let’s position ourselves to see it differently, to shift our mindsets away from perceiving it as ‘still here’, and towards ‘not gone, yet’. We all have that family member, perhaps a crazy uncle, who inevitably overstays Thanksgiving dinner. And when they say to their wife, your equally crazy aunt, “we should probably get going”, we all know it to really mean “but, only after another cup of coffee and piece of pie”. And we can get annoyed because we were planning on them leaving an hour ago, and why are they still here, and that that cup of coffee and piece of pie likely just added another 30 minutes to their already overextended visit. Or, we can choose to see it differently. We can, instead, choose to see them, not as ‘still here’, but as ‘leaving soon’. Those are two very different things, two very different approaches. And the difference is in the difference. Which we employ is our choice.
So, what’s with the Shawshank Redemption quote at the top?
Right now we are in the midst of crawling through a river of shit. And while I don’t think that we are, necessarily, going to come out wholly clean on the other side, we are going to come out on the other side. And if you remember from the movie, Andy Dufresne threw one of Red’s own lines right back at him, just the day before he crawled through that river of shit, saying that he had to “get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’”. We are currently being inundated with all of the things that we cannot do. And for good reason. To keep us safe. But there is an insidiousness to the constant “can’t”, which seems to be doing one hell of a job of pulling us down.
The thing is that marathons, half-marathons, IRONMANs, 70.3s, etc., all of our various endurance achievements, are not born of a focus on what we cannot do. And those endurance achievements are not so much achievements, as they are simply things that we have done, because we were focused on what we could do.
Right now, there are a lot of things that are up in the air. Tom Petty nailed it when he said that the waiting was the hardest part. We’re not good at not knowing things. But, we do have a solid list of all of the things that we cannot do. And the things that we cannot do, help to inform us of the things that we can. So, amongst all of the cannots, there exist a whole bunch of cans. They look differently than how we are accustomed to seeing them, but they are there just the same. We just have to choose to allow our mindsets to notice them. To choose to see them. Because that's where the control lives - where it is decided whether we will use or get used by this time - in the choice. Things like the IRONMAN Virtual Racing series, or the same from REV3, The Run Formula’s Virtual Weekend Marathon Challenge, any number of a million different offerings from ZWIFT…They are focused, not on our disasters, but on our blessings, on making the best of a bad situation, on what we can do.
These are turbulent times. The world is doing that rattling and shaking thing that it does. We can tense up, and get rocked around by it - allow it to amplify itself through us. Or, we can put our agendas into the seat pocket in front of us, lean back, close our eyes, relax, and roll with it. Me? I’m putting my focus into the Can Do List, and am going to use this time to get busy living. There’s already more than enough dying going on…
This post was written by QT2 Level 3 Coach and Operations Director, Tim Snow.