So now what? Let's talk about triathlon for a minute or two and forget the entire scheduling misunderstanding. First, I don't have any answers. I just have questions. For instance, why do I get up early to run in the dark? Why do I ride in the damp winter-mist? Why do I swim before the rooster crows? It would be so much easier to hit the snooze button and snuggle down a bit in my warm, cozy bed and dream sugar-plum dreams.
I think it is a question that has as many answers as there are triathletes. Each of us has a different answer to the question: Why do you do it? It would be easier to give up. Why keep fighting? For me, I honestly don't know. It would be easier to skip the workouts and sit on the couch and just let my aches and pains and blistered feet heal for the next thirty years. I have everything I need: Netflix, a big TV and I get the frequent shopper discount on the three gallon size cheese puffs from Amazon. They deliver.
Putting that small fantasy aside for just a second, I realized that my answer to that question is that I just don't want to stop. It's that simple. I might stop someday, but not today. Today, I work a bit harder. Today, I run an extra five minutes. Today, I keep trying.
The other day, I was talking to one of my few remaining non-triathlete friends and he asked me who the first triathlete was, so of course I tried to lie and claim that honor for myself but I couldn't keep a straight face while I said it so I was found out. If you don't count the kittens lost on the highway thing, I am not a good liar. But, like everything in my life, I am working at getting better. I am a work in progress in all facets of my life.
After talking to my friend, the question continued to haunt me. Who was the first triathlete? Paul Revere maybe. Think about that for a second. First, I remember reading that Paul could ride a donkey like a madman. That is one event. Check. Second, maybe Paul ran from where he was at to get on his donkey, so running is another event. Check. The problem is that I don't remember any reference to him swimming so I guess he doesn't really qualify as the first tri guy.
Archimedes was pretty famous and he spent some time in a tub splashing around doing medium-hard math, but I think he wasn't a runner, so it wasn't him. I am out of ideas, then last night, it hit me like a thunderbolt. I know who the first triathlete was. Odysseus.
Homer describes Odysseus as the original hero, or maybe the original superhero. Odysseus seemed a reasonable man who just stumbled into these unreasonable situations, fighting the good fight, battling against odds, slaying all manner of monsters just to get home to his family. Odysseus was a guy you could get behind because he was a family man. Everybody loves a family man. Odysseus was a guy you could trust. And best of all, he was the first triathlete.
Odysseus fought Polyphemus the cyclops. He poked the cyclops in the eye just like Curley and Mo in a Three Stooges movie. Then, Odysseus was floating around on a raft, still trying to get home, doing the best he could to survive in the middle of the ocean. Just when he comes within sight of land, Poseidon gets his panties in a bunch and whips the sea into a froth like it is a lemon meringue pie and smashes the raft up into toothpicks. I always thought it was unfair that Odysseus had to fight a guy sporting a magical hayfork that could control the sea, but that is the way it went down, so there you go.
Now, in our modern times, we don't have to wage war with a cyclops like Odysseus did, or even swim in unreasonably rough seas (except for Couer d' Alene) while trying to fight off Poseidon, but we do have to fight. As triathletes, that's what we do. We fight.
We fight our busy schedules and we fight through crummy weather. We fight a never-ending battle against injury; slipping closer to the injury abyss, stumbling ever closer to some foul end. We fight to ignore the complaints of an aging body for just one more year, for just one more day, for just one more second.
We fight against time: Time to train. Time for family. Time for a job. Think about it, we swim laps in the pool, over and over, on that same piece of real estate a thousand times, then a thousand times again. Why? Just to shave one second off a lap time.
We are on a clock when we run mile repeats, trying to beat the stopwatch. We are on a clock on our long ride of the week, trying to get that eighty mile loop down to four hours. The battle with time never ends.
The burden of the training calendar is just as big, but it isn't a physical burden. The calendar is mental cargo. A friend of mine told me that I am 'never more than twelve hours away from another workout.' That sucks. That works for a week or a month, but it gets old at about the four month mark. The calendar has iron-tipped tiger claws that reave your will. The calendar draws blood and leaves a scar.
We have some good days, but in the back of my mind, I know the trainload of bad days is just around the corner. We can't just call in sick. As triathletes, we keep fighting. We take just one more step. Like Odysseus.
Why do I Tri? Or, worded another way, why do I get up at 4:30am 6 days a week, go to bed at 9:00, miss happy hour with friends, keep myself in a state of chronic soreness in some part of my body for weeks on end, apply such things as “Chamois Butter,” worry about nipple chaffing, put up with the perpetual smell of chlorine, and deplete my retirement account for that new gadget for my bike that I just GOTTA have? Or, as my wife, Kim, so eloquently asked, “Are you freakin’ INSANE?”
The answer to Kim’s question is still up for debate and the other questions are not easy to answer. Of course the quick and easy answer is I Tri because it’s fun. But why is it fun? That is a much harder question to answer. I am a VERY competitive person. But that competitive nature only has to do with beating the tar out of two very, VERY, tough competitors. Those competitors are named Fear and Self Doubt and beating them makes me feel good about myself. They show up at every race and a good percentage of workouts. My record against them is pretty good but they have won the day more times than I care to admit. And even on the days they don’t win, they still get in my head and mess with my mind more than any other competitor out there ever has.
When I beat Fear and Self Doubt and finish that first open water swim, race a longer course, or set that PR that they told me I could never make, there is no victory that feels better. When I let them win and pedal a little easier because they convinced me I couldn’t keep that pace even though I know I have more to give, don’t show up for a workout because the convinced me I couldn’t complete it when I know I could at least try, or walked that last hill because they convinced me there was no reason to keep running and I give up on that PR when there is still a chance, there is no loss that gnaws at me more.
Two years ago to the month I found myself very over weight and completely out of shape. I realized that I had let Fear and Self Doubt beat me down. They had convinced me that there was no reason to try and ride my bike that had been in the garage for a decade. There was no reason to get my skis waxed. No reason to get new grip put on my golf clubs. They told me I would just look like a fat fool if I tried to do anything athletic. Then they did it… they said it one too many times. Now it was personal, Fear and Self Doubt were going DOWN! I picked myself up off the couch, blew the dust off my golf clubs and went and walked 9 holes of VERY bad golf. It took me several days to recover from those 9 holes.
I was never athletic. I played relief right field in Little League, couldn’t shoot a basket to save my life, even in high school running a mile without walking was unobtainable, I never learned to swim and avoided the water as much as possible. The only athletic endeavors that I ever pursued voluntarily were bicycling, golf, and skiing. Even at those I was never more than mediocre. But I was very fortunate to grow up in a family that instilled some great personal values. Treat other as you want to be treated. You don’t have to be the best, you just have to be the best you can be. You can accomplish anything you want if you want it bad enough to work hard enough and long enough to make it happen.
So drawing on these values, walking 9 holes of golf progressed to going to the gym to ride the stationary bike, with Fear and Self Doubt telling me I would look out of place or I would hurt myself. The stationary bike progressed to getting my old road bike out of storage and signing up for the STP, with Fear and Self Doubt telling me there was no way I could be ready for the STP by June. Finishing the STP progressed to getting my mountain bike out of storage and hitting the trails for the first time in a decade, with Fear and Self Doubt telling me I would be back to my old ways as soon as the weather turned. Mountain biking in the cool autumn weather progressed to finding RTB and LifeStyle ICS and a group of people who believed in me more than I believed in myself at times, with Fear and Self Doubt telling me I could never hang with a group of athletes of this caliber. Working out with and being surrounded by the RTB team lead to signing up for my first multisport event, Mt Rainier Du, with Fear and Self Doubt telling me I would never finish the race. Finishing Mt. Rainier led to my realizing that the multisport community is just as supportive and accepting of the person who comes in last as they are of the person who wins and to signing up for 5 triathlons, with Fear and Self Doubt telling me that I will never improve my times. Finishing 6 multisport events with steady improvement progressed to signing up for IM 70.3 Victoria and IM Canada in 2015, with Fear and Self Doubt telling me there’s no way I will be ready by July.
Fear and Self Doubt are bigger and stronger competitors now than they ever have been… But so am I. The past two years have reminded me of what my family worked so hard to instill in me when I was young, that you can accomplish anything you want if you want it bad enough to work hard enough and long enough to make it happen.
Will Fear and Self Doubt win the next round? Only time will tell. But I am putting my money on me.
So, back to the original question. Why do I Tri? Because Fear and Self Doubt tell me I can’t.
Raise the Bar
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