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Day Three.
By Tom Demerly.

Runner on Day Three

It’s Day Three and I’m hurting.

Every year when I come back I know Day Three will be a reckoning. An audit of my physical condition. The auditors are heat, wind, long distances and rolling seas.

It would appear my account is in arrears. I’m tired. I’m in pain. I feel frail, weak and dumpy. It doesn’t inspire confidence.

This is a stretch of road I run one week out of the year. It runs east to west along the southern coast of the island of Curacao in the Dutch Caribbean. The road follows the coast past buildings, a supermarket, hotels, stray dogs, and the rubble of former buildings along with a special place of particular importance.

Athletes will tell you about special places. Places of mystic significance where they gather power. This is mine, here in Curacao along this road. It is a soccer field next to the road I run. It is my Zone of Power. The global pole of my internal energy.

It may be the dirty simplicity of the place that gives it purity. The soccer field is ungroomed but heavily used. The field is dirt. Stones are tossed along the edges. It is surrounded by a weary, sagging fence. A Pepsi sign hangs, crooked and marred, from one corner on the west fence. There are bleachers with three rows of wooden seats. The top seat is broken.

Nothing much matters here except the game. There is no baloney. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you are wearing. The players kick the ball to each other and try to score goals. They play disorganized games in beastly heat. I don’t understand their language. The sun bakes the dirt. The men and boys who play are dark and thin. It is distilled to a stark purity. When I run by here every year I see and feel that purity. I want that purity in what I do; Simple, tough, concentrated. I have downloadable heart rate monitors, GPS units, computerized trainers and power meters. I have all that stuff. I use it too. But sooner or later it boils down to this gritty reality: Heat, distance, wind. You simply have to get out there and deal with it.

Today I’m running by this place hoping to pull in some of the power, some of the purity. Nothing is happening. I feel slow, sore and overweight. My feet hit the pavement like hammers, my gut jiggles. These clothes fit fine last year. Today they feel miniature. This last year was long and I got very far from myself. Now I’m getting re-acquainted and what I see needs work.

So I keep running even though it hurts. Sooner or later, if you just keep doing this long enough, it gets better.

The heat here makes it harder, and because it’s harder the changes happen faster. That’s why I came, it’s part of the purity. I finish the three miles between my hotel and the pool having crossed through The Zone Of Power. I didn’t feel much today. I was looking for some spiritual thing to happen and it didn’t. It was just hard, hot and I felt fat. Now I start swimming. It is Day Three.

It’s better in the water. I’ve been working on this. In the pool I’ve been doing quiet half hour swims at a moderate pace in some Zen-like quest to find slipperiness in the water. I swam with dolphins to connect with their effortless speed, spent hours in the water trying to find that Zone. Water is more forgiving than concrete. At least it feels better. The stopwatch is another story. I’m still slow, but I don’t feel slow. My shoulders are sore and strong. I pull against the water and I slip through it, more or less straight. Better than before.

I have a plan you see, a distant plan, and a lot of it hinges on how I can swim. The plan stretches out over a distant but approaching time horizon and I run today to meet it- to get to the plan before it gets to me. I want to meet it on my own terms, not have the terms dictated to me. So here I am on Day Three.

All of us have some kind of Day Three. Some day when we realize the amount of work we face, the distance we have to cover to get from where we are now to where we want to be on the day of our first triathlon, our first long bike ride, our first marathon. That’s a sobering day. There is a lot of work to do, and as I sit here and type, that time is passing. The time horizon we’re working toward accelerates toward us. At first it seems distant, like the ground to a skydiver at 10,000 feet. But as the ground gets closer it seems to close in faster. Time has an odd way of accelerating. On Day Three I am trying to stay ahead of that curve.

We all face Day Three in our preparation for the things we do. Day Three is a friend of sorts, a reliable companion and objective critic of our condition. We need Day Three, and in the fraternity of people like you and me- call us athletes I suppose- it is one of the things that separate us from spectators. We faced Day Three and moved on to day four. We didn’t get discouraged (much) and we didn’t give up.
Day Three is a tough one. The physical bills come due for the things you’ve done on days one and two at training camp and they have to be paid. You eat, sleep, rest. One of these days, day four or five or six or ten, your account balances and the strength returns. You get ahead of or even with the clock. Then you can start making progress, start accumulating. Start getting better.

But today is Day Three and now it is just hard and long and awkward, something to be endured until the strength and ease return.


© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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