Ultimately, I think the answer depends on the day. Most days it is pretty clear, if enough proper planning has taken place.The answer is that there is a goal to be met, for the day, for the week, for the macro-cycle, for the season, for our lives.
Some days however (or some hours, or minutes) the answer to this and other questions that stem from it can be as challenging to formulate as completing the workout that is about to take place or that is currently taking place. ‘Why? Why am I doing this? Why am I sacrificing time away from my family? Why am I freezing my ass off (no, I am not talking about my donkey)? Why am I risking being run over by people (mostly in overcompensating trucks) that don’t even understand these questions that are in my mind right now, much less the answers that I am trying to find to keep myself going. Is this a selfish thing to do? Am I trying to prove something to someone?’
The immediate answers are pretty trivial and obvious: Because it keeps me fit. Because it is a healthy way to meet other like-minded people. Because it is the journey and not the destination that counts. All these answers and many more have been given before, and they are all valid and good.
But there has to be something else. Some other reason that sits deep down in the bottom of our bowels. Sure, I can be and stay fit without having to spend 5-hours on a bike during the weekends for most of three quarters of the year.Or having to explain that doing a Fartlek run doesn’t involve your ability to control flatulence on command while you are running.
I can also meet like-minded people by choosing what my habits are (walk into a sports bar, it will be filled with like-minded people, none of them sweating or having to ‘find their legs’ after getting of whatever mode of transportation brought them there – however, they usually have to find their legs on the way out).
If you watched the Rio Olympics in 2016, you may remember that there was a poem written by Canadian poet Shane Koyczan about competitive sports, whose five verses were aired during commercials by the Canadian network. “What It Takes” has five verses:Opening, 1, 2, 3 and Closing. I listen to or read it every now and then for inspiration. There is nothing extraordinarily amazing about the poem itself, except that it amazes me how well the author was able to understand, capture and conceptualize the essence of this underlying question that creeps into our minds every now and then:‘why am I doing this?’
He embodies this question so gracefully in this poem. Here is a small exert:
“You have to ask yourself, is your prime ahead of you or behind you?
Will your worse days remind you that your best are yet to come?
Are you committed to the grace it takes to turn your falls into dives, to cut through the surface of the water?
When your mind asks for more, will your body match you?”
“The best way that I describe it to people is this: you take anybody, whether they are racing an Ironman, a marathon, anything.Speak to someone after the race, and what is the first thing they talk to you about? They don’t tell you how wonderful they felt at four miles, they go ‘oh man, at ten miles, I didn’t think I was going to finish.’
So, they always grasp on to that moment, that painful moment.
That is the reason why we do it, that’s the drug, it’s that pain.
So, whether you believe it or not, that is the purity of endurance racing, that is why we are all here. We are all asking ourselves the question of how do we react, how do we deal with ourselves at that moment?”
Now anyone who is reading this knows what ‘that moment’ feels like, that painful moment. But I would be willing to augment to Macca’s answer in that pain in the context of his answer isn’t just physiological pain, it is the emotional and psychological hurdles that we have to face.It is the moment, as Shane Koyczan describes it, ‘when your mind asks for more, will your body match you?’
Don’t get me wrong, I am not implying that we are all a bunch of masochists going around in circles in the water, on our bikes and in our overpriced running shoes looking for the most painful experience we can find to see how we will handle it.
An answer that keeps us moving forward so that we can experience all those other moments that are part of the journey: the unwavering support of wives, husbands, parents, siblings and friends. The authentic smile we see in our kids as we make the final turn toward the finish line. The satisfaction of having ‘tried’ to make our tiniest dream come true, because, and I quote Mr. Koyczan again from How to be a Person,“The tiniest dream that you try to make happen is worth more than the biggest dream that you never attempt.”
Finally, I just want to take this humble opportunity to thank everyone reading this. Anyone who has ever stopped to ask someone on the side of the road with a flat tire if they had everything they needed to get going again. Anyone who has volunteered on the many races I have been on that has said ‘good job, keep going, keep up the pace.’ Or that has handed out a much needed and welcomed half-empty (OK, OK, it was half-full) cup of water or electrolyte drink during the race. But most importantly, to my beautiful wife for being the rock that I can lean on when my spirit is feeling tired and the star that I can navigate with when the journey looks like nothing but an endless ocean of water and dark sky coming together. To my brother for being patient, supportive, a listener, and a training partner willing to try anything crazy that I can come up with. And to my wonderful kids, whose smiles, cheers of support and endless happiness will always fill my heart to the point of making it feel like it is going to burst (and hopefully increase my VO2-max in the process). Love you.