Saturday, November 26, 2005

stamford bridge

On September 25, 1066 at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, a lone Viking warrior held the bridge at the River Derwent against the full array of the armies of the English King Harold. Bereft of shield or ally, with nothing more than armor and axe, the Viking repeatedly repulsed the Anglo-Saxon soldiers and refused to surrender the bridge. His own armies defeated, his own king destined to death later that day, his entire civilization in the British Isles crumbling to a close, the Viking stubbornly persisted against his own fate. Historians have always wondered what drove that Viking that day, alone against an army and annihilation.

Our sport is in many ways a solitary endeavor. The quiet struggle to wake up for an early morning workout, the drudgery and cacophony of juggling competing priorities around a working schedule, the personal reflections conjured within laps and miles and stride count and hours and minutes, the lonely torture of race day stretching from water to wheel to rubber sole...And with the only promise of more tomorrow, and the only memory of what happened yesterday.

It's a lot like life. Like the pile of work sitting at your desk. The endless questions and exams. The legion of papers and performance reviews. With no one else to help you, and everything resting on you. The solitary figure making a way in a wide, wide, very wide world.

The daily grind. The Sisyphean curse. So much of it is predicated on faith. Faith that things will work out. Faith that there will be some reward. Faith that you'll become stronger and that the sport becomes easier. Faith that somehow, someway, it all means something.

But what if it doesn't? What happens if that faith is broken? What happens when the performance gains don't happen? What happens if things don't get easier? What if everything you depended on simply fails? What happens then? What's left to drive you?

There is always disillusionment. Cynicism. Anger. Despair. The descent into neurosis and doubt and crisis. The usual panopoly of negative emotions and psychic burdens that haunt the loss of faith. The kinds of things that drive some to darkness and self-destruction.

But the funny thing is, beneath the storm and tide and descent into self-destruction, there's still something left to hold onto.

What happened at the bridge? What happened when all dreams were shattered, when an entire civilization disintegrated? When it was nothing more than a lonely figure against an army and all the gods, and when all faith had been left to annihilation? What drove a solitary person to continue to hold a bridge?

In the end, there's still you. There's still muscles and sinew, heart and lungs, mind and soul. There's still you, waking up every day. Through training, work, and race day. There may be nothing else, but there's still you.

And that's what gets you through the suffering. That's what gets you through the miles. That's what pulls and pushes and kicks and thrashes against the heat and cold and waves and asphalt and cramps and exhaustion and deadlines and exams and workweeks and the living of day after day after day after day after day. You. Because you can do what you do. Every day. Against everything there is against you. You.

And that's what there is to hold onto. That's what there's always left. That's what will always remain to reward faith. That's what will always drive you. You, and anything you choose to do.

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