In the past, I remember having some level of high-end fitness that would allow me to run full-bore up a steep hill. Now the best I can do is a brisk walk before I become so winded that I begin hyperventilating, and everything goes downhill from there. But if I maintain a moderate pace, I rarely have issues — I can keep it up for ten hours, probably longer. I suppose I take comfort in this. My aim is to be strong and consistent, not fast. But I sure do miss that "fire." Where it went is still a mystery.
I cling to hope that one day I'll walk outside on a snowy afternoon, inhale a deep gulp of cold, sharp air, and feel it flow into the depths of my lungs. Then I will take off like a banshee, unhindered by any tightness in my chest or anxiety in my head. Someday, once again, I'll run so fast that my vision blurs and my quads burn and I can feel my pulse pumping in my feet. I'll run without fear of losing my breath, gasping and coughing and then feeling flattened for the rest of the day. Someday, even if only for few moments, I will sprint. I never thought I'd say this, but I miss that.
For now I'll continue to tread carefully, and work on becoming stronger. I don't need a lot of wind to lift heavy weights, go for long snowshoe slogs, or push a bike, so I'm going to work on that kind of stuff. I finally joined a small local gym today, after seven months without weight training. I only had a few minutes to try the machines, but I couldn't even do one rep of weights I was pumping at high volume back in February. Sad. I also can only do three or four full-body pushups before my right arm more or less fails. Sadder. Carpal tunnel syndrome definitely put me below even my usual base strength, but it's my intention to get that back.
I'm going to start tracking training weeks on my blog again, which in its own way helps keep me both motivated and honest. Breathing difficulties make outdoor play a lot less fun than it used to be. It's gotten to the point where I find myself making lame excuses to avoid working out. This is not what I want. So I'm fighting to get that back, too — that zeal. It goes along with fire and strength. All things I want. So I'll keep fighting.
It's true that the main thing I'm fighting for right now is the 2017 Iditarod adventure. Sometimes I wonder why I want to go back, yet again, to that cold, lonely, often brutal place. But then all of my memories rush in, with the squeak of wheels on cold snow, the soft chiming of subzero air, unbroken darkness, flares of Northern Lights, vast open space, and absolute solitude. I have to go back. Perhaps soon I'll feel differently, but for now, well — Mike Curiak said it best himself once, before he ultimately stopped returning to Alaska year after year. "If I wasn't here with a bike and a big bag of junk food at the end of February, the sun might not rise for me tomorrow. It's just that simple."
I suppose it can be that simple. Time to start training.