Tuesday, April 7, 2009

triathalons and donald miller

this morning, as i lay in bed not sleeping, because there just aren't any comfortable positions, i was musing on the differences between sports. and specifically on triathalons, of course. sunday was the inaugeral new orleans ironman 70.3, which most of us know as a half-ironman. i think they changed it because half sounds wimpy. but 70.3 miles isn't wimpy. 70.3 miles takes a while in a car.

i still don't even have real clear thoughts on it. it strikes me though how social most of us are, how much of a difference crowd support makes, how strikingly individual the competition is, and yet, the people in it who are agressive are not competing against a clock, but against each other.

it's interesting. i signed up almost entirely for social reasons. a couple guys at work signed up, and i decided to join them, then somebodies wife joined, and a couple more from work. one dropped back out, and i can count on one hand the number of times i actually trained with any of them, but it made for a lot of good conversations, and was a shared experience in an odd way, a sort of adult parallel play. i spent countless hours alone on my bike or in a pool for social reasons.

And out on the course it was the same way. i went in not sure i could do it, and that plauged me the entire way. i was pushing to finish, not to beat a specific person. i wasn't competing against anyone but myself, and that really hurt me, actually, even though it sounds nice. the wind was awful during the bike, and you've already been going for an hour before you ever get there, and for me it was just the numbers on my bike computer, pain, and the internal dialogue of "you just have to keep this up for ... three more hours, and then you can change to runnning...." not very encouraging. as i listen post race to the people who enjoyed it the most, i hear things like, "yeah, when i came out of transition, soandso yelled from the tent that my friend was only 2 minutes ahead, and then on the turn around on the run i could see him coming back, so i knew i was less than a minute behind, and he saw me coming. then when i was a hundred yards back he was shaking his head, because he knew i was going to take him..." these guys are friends, they train together all the time, and this sort of interaction is what makes a 6 to 8 hour individual event social like a tennis match. somebody wins, but even the loser enjoys the match, and both get pushed to their max by the competition. who really gets the same effort into their serve when they are practicing by themselves.

i'm not sure why don miller comes to mind except that i feel almost like i can hear him narrating as this intensely physical event gets turned into a people watching excercise. i sit here with my skin peeling off my shoulders (i reapplied 'sweatproof' spf 50 at least 3 times, and still got fried... you can only ask so much of a sunscreen, it was like putting it on in a shower i was sweating so much), the wetsuit rubbed the skin off the back of my neck, and of course i'm really pretty sore, but all in all i feel good from it. i don't feel like i damaged myself by this, like i wondered after running the great wall marathon. that was hard, this was difficult. this was a psychological battle as much as anything, that was simply strenuous. With the constant stream of obstacles, though, it kept the mind focussed on the task at hand.

in the bike segment, you have an interesting view of your competitors, and if you are as slow as me, a good 4 hours to contemplate them. you know everyones age and gender because it's written on their calf in permanent marker, and you get a nice view of the back of their legs. i learned definitively that there are a lot of 40+ year old women out there with significant cellulite, who can bring it on a bike! my hat is off you, wherever you are.