Life... Is The Ultimate Endurance Event
If life is the ultimate endurance event, then training for triathlon must be training for life.
I'm going to confess something. I want to win. USA Triathlon (USAT), the multisport sanctioning body in the US, is giving away a life time of annual memberships to their esteemed organization in celebration of National Triathlon Week.
Being the savvy reader that you are, your first question must be something along the lines of, "Why does triathlon get a full week and National Donut Day gets only one day?"
I have no idea. Talk about injustice.
However, there remains another question. Just what must you do to have such a coveted prize conferred upon you?
And the answer is simple.
Tell your story.
I may have sounded sarcastic earlier, but I really do value my membership with USAT. In fact, I don't care much about winning the latest bike technology or a pair of FORM swim goggles. Never having to worry about renewing my USAT membership is a big deal to me. So here goes my best shot.
Some people live and die by the NFL schedule. Others think only about the next fishing tournament. You name it and there are people passionate about it. For me, it was horses and cattle. I used to dream about rodeo and being a cowboy and riding off into the sunset. As far as dreams go, it was a good one. Then I woke up.
That dream never really worked out. The sun went down and I was still in the barn trying to saddle the horse. It took some time to hit me, but losing out on a dream is bound to take a toll sooner or later. The signs of depression were clear and slowly morphed into a mid-life crisis complete with a bad-ass motorcycle. There were no cute blondes half my age or red sports cars in this crisis. I didn't need those things. But there was an internal struggle. The struggle to find myself.
I read somewhere that a mid-life crisis is nothing more than a person's search for God. Maybe that's true. But maybe it's God's way of handing us more crap to deal with as if to say, "You may be older and wiser than 20 years ago, but don't get too cocky. You've got plenty more to learn."
Perhaps it has nothing to do with God. Television and movies and pop culture have worked very hard to successfully infiltrate our minds. Who could possibly live up to the icons that have been flashed before our eyes and marketed to us around the clock? No one. Not even the personalities behind the icons can do it. Yet so many of us try. And when we come up against that wall of failure, some of us hit hard.
Regardless of the reason, something was missing from my life and I wanted it replaced. Whatever it was.
What's a Triathlon?
My introduction to triathlon began in the summer of 2006. Keep in mind that I may have heard of a triathlon a few years earlier, but I could not have told you what sports were involved. IRONMAN? What's that? They do WHAT in Hawaii? In a single day?
I was working as assistant manager at a feed store in Gainesville, Texas. My best friend of 35 years was the manager. That was a lot of fun, but neither of us took the job too seriously. He was retired from military service and I was between careers.
You know how there are always brochures and donation buckets and charity tchotchkes for sale at the checkout counters of local shops? (Buy a 10 cent piece of candy for a dollar and a cute kid in Africa can go to school for a year). There was a stack of Team In Training brochures near the register that caught my interest. Actually, anything will catch my interest on a slow day when the boss is out, but these were quite interesting. These folks said they would train me to do a triathlon or a marathon if I would help them raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Two things crossed my mind:
I knew quite a few people suffering from blood cancers including my mother, an uncle, a neighbor, and others.
Even though that kid in Africa deserves a chance, I didn't care for the candy.
Why I decided to attend the organizational meeting for the local Team In Training chapter is beyond me. And why I paid the initial fee to join is also beyond me. But once I started training with the others, I knew exactly why I was there. I belonged. I mattered. The others mattered. We were in this together. It was kind of like army boot camp without the yelling, the pushups and the communal bathrooms.
The races were exciting. They were small, local events, but the energy was terrific and I was always a bundle of nerves going into them. The nervousness fed my appetite for adventure and risk. I never knew what to expect. Can I make it without cramping? Should I drink Gatorade or plain water? What if it snows or rains while I'm on the bike? Will I cross the finish line before the cut off? Every decision had visible consequences. And every time I crossed the finish line, I experienced pure joy.
To this day, I never know what to expect going into a race. There is still always an element of risk and excitement. And crossing the finish line is still an amazing experience that can only be described through metaphor. It's too deep for words.
About eight months after starting the campaign to find myself through triathlon, my family and I moved from Texas to North Carolina. I still didn't know much about triathlon, but I knew that San Diego, California was the traditional hub of all things triathlon in the U.S. What would be waiting for me in North Carolina?
My tribe was waiting for me in North Carolina.
The Wilmington Family YMCA Triathlon Club welcomed me and helped me grow in the sport. The club became my social group. And in this group I found my clan: my training partners. Mike, Marty and I traveled all over the state to compete in races from Surf City to King's Mountain to White Lake. There were even trips to Tempe, Arizona, Lake Placid, New York, Madison Wisconsin and other exotic destinations. We were hungry for adventure and we found it in triathlon. We found it on a bicycle at 40 mph down the Henry Hudson Parkway. We found it in the frigid waters of Lake Michigan. And it was there under the colorful lights of the Wisconsin state capitol at mile 13.1. We found adventure where ever we went.
We had a good run. It lasted until 2016. By then the club hardly existed. Most members went in different directions. My people were still my people, but the common bond of triathlon is not what held us together at that point. Instead, I had to decide if I truly loved the sport or if I was just chasing membership in a tribe.
The Inspiration To Keep Going
Some people are blessed with the right genetics and a nurturing environment. A fraction of those, take what they have and develop themselves into top performers. An ever smaller fraction of those have the mindsets necessary to overcome their inner demons and they are able to push their finely tuned machines through a grueling endurance event faster than the others around them.
I'm not one of them.
Many age group athletes are inspired by the professionals, and , as alluded to earlier, we are bombarded with marketing messages that promote a certain image. Are companies creating these heroes so they can sell us more crap? Or do we just cling to every word and action of the champions in hopes that we can be like them. If you wear the right shoes, will you be able to play basketball like Michael Jordon? No way (unless you happen to be Michael Jordon).
But triathlon is a bit different. When was the last time you played in an official NBA game with LeBron James? Me neither. In triathlon, we have the opportunity to compete on the same course and at the same time as the professionals. I like to joke about the time that I passed Andy Potts on the Lake Placid run course a little while before he won that race. I may have been going in the opposite direction, but I did pass him.
Inspiration comes in many forms. I'm amazed by the professional athletes in our sport, but their performances alone do not inspire me. I don't emulate them with hope of winning my age group.
Have you ever read something and immediately felt a connection with the author? The first time it happened to me was about 10 pages into "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." It happens every now and then, but the connection usually tarnishes within weeks of finishing the books.
Sometime in 2007, I was reading a copy of Triathlete magazine. It was filled with the usual articles about how to be a faster triathlete and what this or that pro is doing, but the real gem was waiting for me on the very last page. The author told a story about one of his experiences as a professional triathlete. Life on the road. The excitement. The difficulty. The story itself was interesting, but the real attraction for me was how he told the story. He told it from a well written metaphorical and philosophical perspective. It showed a depth of thought that I had never expected to find in the back of a magazine after the ads for Jim Bob's athletic nutrition supplement (perfectly legal in 23 states). That was my introduction to Scott Tinley, one of the greatest names in the history of our sport.
Shortly after reading Tinley, I discovered Bob Babbitt. Then I found Mike Plant, Then Chrissie Wellington and so many more since. Their stories are not just curl-up-on-the-couch good, they're the kind of books you dog ear and make notes in. Those stories are what keep me focused on training and racing. Not so much because I want to be like the authors. Rather, I want to stand in their shoes and see the world from their perspective. It doesn't matter if the author is a world champ like Chrissie or an age-grouper with a powerful story like Sue Reynolds.
Sharing The Love
TriRiot.com and the TriRiot YouTube channel have been on the internet for almost eight years, yet I'm still not exactly sure what TriRiot is. Sometimes it's a video show. Sometimes it's a blog. But it is always a thoughtful and often humorous perspective on the world with a focus toward triathlon.
In 2009, I got the bright idea to make a documentary about triathlon age-groupers with the goal of inspiring others to get in to the sport. Miles of video footage from races and interviews were recorded that year. Getting access to key locations along race courses helped thanks to race directors like Mary and Nick. Unfortunately, almost all that footage is gone, lost to an artifact of my stupidity. I just wasn't prepared for film in the digital age.
After an education in social media and the world of digital motion pictures, TriRiot was born in late 2014 with the purpose of telling age-grouper stories. At the time, the internet was full of how-to videos and blogs and professional athlete interviews, but I wanted to inspire the uninitiated. I wanted to share my passion for the sport. The tagline for the videos was, "Exploring the mysteries of why ordinary people push themselves to extraordinary limits."
As of today, this triathlon story has no ending. Training and racing are still an important part of my life. They keep me sane. They keep me focused.
There are so many other stories to tell, but you'll have to point your browser to TriRiot.com to read them. Better yet, you can visit the TriRiot YouTube channel to see them. And if you'd rather not hear my stories, go out and make some of your own. Triathlon is a good way to make some good stories.
Some of my favorite TriRiot videos:
Know The Course: https://youtu.be/HqE1ZcJ5oTI
"We Are Triathletes" movie promotion: https://youtu.be/fQmvTaHMe-o
Interview with Mike Reilly: https://youtu.be/5SXR6jdTykE
Kona Story: https://youtu.be/3veGo_UL_zg