By Tom Demerly.
It’s Day Three and I’m
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
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
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
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.