Sunday, September 25, 2011

Countdown to Ironman, Weeks 39 & 40: Why Race?

Why Race? Why not just go and run or bike or swim and not bother going to these events called races?

I asked myself that a lot this year, especially since, unlike most summers, I was not racing. My family would probably sigh a big sigh of relief if I didn't spend the time and the money to race. And very few people really understand it. I mean sheesh Robin, you've done triathlons for 25 years now, do you really have to go and do these races? What are you out to prove?

Why Race?

To me, every race is an opportunity to discover, to see the world a little more clearly, to exist in that space where everything becomes very very simple. Life is complicated. Every day involves a thousand decisions and distractions. Even on a run or a bike ride, my mind may be reeling through my To Do lists, or thinking through some problem. Racing cuts away everything that is not essential to the task at hand. Speed, time, breathing, cadence, hydration, this is all that's left. Like Occam and his razor, entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, nothing unnecessary need be added.

Why Race?

To learn new things about the world, about myself, about the human body. What did I learn in Lake Tahoe last week? That doing a race in water that clear is an amazing experience, that hills that would've once defeated me mentally on the bike now seem like a strength to me, that altitude has more effects on race performance than I understood. I now know, for instance (sadly only in hindsight as I've done some research this week) that if you're going to race at altitude, you should either show and up race within 24 hours of arriving, or after a week or more. The worst time to race is around 48 hours, which is exactly what I chose to do. Twenty-five years of triathlons, and I'm still learning all the time.

Why Race Ironman?

Now that I'm less than forty weeks away, this is the question that I'm continually asking myself. Only in my brain it's usually phrased more like "So tell me why the hell you're doing this AGAIN?" And the answer is that it will take me to places that I wouldn't visit otherwise. Of course it will take me to Coeur D'Alene and some of the lovely scenery around there that will be new to me. But I could drive there and see that. Instead, it will take me to places inside myself that most of us never go. We don't usually have to dig down for that last tiny reserve of strength and willpower until we have to. But that's precisely where an Ironman will take you. Yes, there's something magical about the distance. The half doesn't take me halfway to that place, but the full distance will almost always drag you through that wringer and back out again. Even when you think you don't ever want to feel that way again, it turns out somehow that you do. And that's why I race.


Marv said...

Wow Robin ! This is beautiful. Thanks for fleshing this out for me like this. Just had those same "why not simply swim, bike, run" without an event. Then I went to an event and I knew. Thanks for framing it so well and so beautifully for me. You inspire me,nd remind me that there are others out there that see the same things I do.

TriHeart said...

I did my first half yesterday. The run was the loneliest, hardest, and most painful run I've ever done. Definitely took me to that place of having to dig deep within myself to find the will to finish. I wept quite hard as I crossed the finish line. Very proud of myself today but also feelling the post race blues. Not sure what's next for me, but I know I have to keep racing for many of the same reasons as you.

Robin said...

Thanks Marv, every time I post something where I really try to dig into my soul a bit, I guess I feel a bit foolish afterwards. Then I read a comment like this and I'm glad it connects with other like-minded people!

Robin said...

TriHeart, that's a good point. And thinking about it, every race is different. The hardest race I ever did was an Olympic distance, and it's still the only race I've cried *during* the race and wanted to sit down and quit. So it's not so much the distance as where it takes you. Congrats on completing your first half, that is an incredible accomplishment!