Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Bite Me Zone

Many of my fellow runners, adult onset athletes and life time runners like, are familiar with the Bite Me Zone. The phrase was coined by John Bingham, also known as The Penguin. He is a gentleman who started running at 43 and, in a way, kick started the latest running revolution by letting those of us who like to get our money's worth on a race course know we are not alone.

I'll try to describe the Bite Me Zone. In a marathon it typically starts somewhere around mile 18-20 of 26.2 on a good day. On a bad day, it may start at mile 10. In this zone, you are so tired, hurting, hot, frustrated, cold, discouraged, sick of running, sick of everything, that all of the sudden you become a very unfriendly person. Normally this unfriendliness is taken out on your helpful running partner or friend who you've shared blood, sweat and tears with for months to get to where you are. But at that moment, your friend may offer you a drink of water, perhaps some food and some words of encouragement and you rip their head off.

My favorite bite me zone story is from a friend of mine. She ran the Chicago Marathon on a day of record heat. She followed a pair of woman runners for a while and observed the following. One of the runners was deep in the Bite Me Zone. Her friend was trying to help by offering her a pretzel, the salt on the pretzel would be good in the heat. The response, I don't want a fucking pretzel!  Yup, that's the Bite Me Zone.

Wait, you say, Why are you telling us about the Bite Me Zone? You aren't running a marathon. 

In a way I am. I am constantly reminded, this flying journey of mine is not a sprint. And if I worry about what the other people on similar journeys are doing I will always find myself wanting. From my pre-solo days, to preparing for my first check ride, the long stretch between the oral and flight portions of my instrument check ride. This is definitely not a sprint. This is a marathon journey. And this morning I finally realized I must be getting close to the end of this chapter because I am most definitely deep in the Bite Me Zone. 

Yesterday I was up in the air with my CFI for the first time in a couple weeks. Normally I take my CFI's constructive criticism very well. After all, he's on my side. I was mad instead of curious when he asked me questions I didn't know the answers to as he observed me preflight the plane. I had to struggle to not feel insulted when he was telling me I have to learn how to fly the plane. He didn't mean fly the plane like a private pilot.. he meant really fly the plane. He didn't just mean like a commercial pilot either I think. There are plenty of commercial pilots that don't have, I believe, even the level of connection with the plane that I have today. I think I understand what he was getting at but it's hard for me to explain. At the time, I bristled. And he talked again about how commercial pilots really need to have that mastery of the aircraft. I don't want a fucking pretzel! 

I guess I have been flying long enough, practiced hard and learned enough that I have some level of pride in my skill. I am painfully aware of where I lack and I know enough to know I don't know everything by a long shot. However, I would love to have that skill recognized by my CFI a bit more directly. Or if not my skill, at least how incredibly far I've come. I'd love to leave him a bit less to have constructive criticism about.

It's not his fault I didn't give him anything to write home about on that particular flight. The flight wasn't actually "bad" either. I was weak on an area I haven't practiced at all and another I only practiced twice on my own. I struggled with verbalizing, as usual. I did some things well. Really, it wasn't that bad... but that's the crazy thing about the Bite Me Zone. Things can actually be going relatively well but ARGH! you just want to lash out because you aren't there yet.

I have other stresses that make the Bite Me Zone a bit more acute this time. The death of Orion, my family's cat of 11 years last week. My husband's upcoming month long business trip. The way I am convinced the A&P installed the pilot's seat differently after the last 100 hour inspection and I can't move it far enough forward for me to get a full rudder deflection. And work... I found out yesterday I am getting an award at work. While that is gratifying on one hand, on the other it is even more frustrating. I get awards for my work which I don't love, and at the same time I struggle as I try to excel at doing something I do love, flying.  I know its silly to feel upset about that, but that's the Bite Me Zone.

Well, one thing I've learned about the Bite Me Zone is this. Once you know you are in that zone. You can get yourself out of the zone. So that's what I'm doing. Writing this as part of my process to get myself out of the Bite Me Zone. Acknowledging it for what it is and letting it go.

Something else I found from the running world that will help me with flying. I found the following two quotes attributed to the same John Bingham. I leave them for you, and for me, now. I will use these as motivation to fuel me to study more, prepare more, practice more and have more fun as I continue on the last leg of my journey towards my commercial pilots license and beyond.

"Frustration is the first step towards improvement. I have no incentive to improve if I’m content with what I can do and if I’m completely satisfied with my pace, distance and form as a runner. It’s only when I face frustration and use it to fuel my dedication that I feel myself moving forwards."

And ... most important for me to remember when I do finally reach this particular goal. 

"The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is I had the courage to start."

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