Monday, April 28, 2014

Why Ask Why?

Recently, someone I know asked me why I do what I do.  The answer that I gave was somewhat thoughtful and somewhat rote.  The thoughtful part is that I personally recognize a synergy from training in multiple disciplines, for me the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts.  The rote part was some BS about “fitness” and wanting to “do it again” so that I could prove to myself that the first time was not a fluke. The thing is, his question and my disappointing answer, got me thinking and questioning and reflecting, which is how I got here: a much more thoughtful answer to the question…

Why do I do what I do?

My view is that life is about actually doing stuff, not just talking or theorizing about it.  This is the difference between saying “I can quit drinking any time I want” and actually quitting drinking.  It’s also the difference between wondering what it would take to finish an Ironman, versus seriously training for one and then really crossing the finish line.  Accomplishing each of those realities is significantly harder than simple speculation and significantly more satisfying.

I've learned that Ironman training is mostly about the journey and not the destination. This is reflective of the fact that I have to get out of bed early and work my ass off for 19 weeks and 6 days (the journey) and then I get 1 day to celebrate all of that hard work (the destination).  No matter how committed I am to the idea of race day, that alone is not enough to balance the work that goes into getting there.  This is probably especially true when one is a middle of the pack (MOP) age group (AG) athlete, like me.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE race day.  It's the celebration of the work that was done and the growth that resulted from that work.  It's the chance to prove to myself that I can push through anything, overcome everything and cross the line. Race day makes me nervous and afraid and if you are never nervous or afraid, then you are not pushing yourself hard enough or far enough.  It’s important to test your boundaries and understand your limits.  Training helps with this, but race day is when you get to put it all out there on the line for everyone to see.

In triathlon there is a fine and ever-changing line between excellence and failure: the delicate balance between the ride and the run. Since I'm a MOP AG triathlete, my real competition is myself.  In the days leading up to a race I think a lot about how hard I can ride without negatively impacting my run. Will I be able to hold a specific heart rate for the entire ride? Could I push that one or two beats higher? What will that do to my run? I find it to be a joyous game of cat and mouse, but one that could make for a very long run if I let myself get carried away.

That game of cat and mouse, that's what I call personal growth. After each race I have a better understanding of what I can do, of how hard I can push and that knowledge filters back into the "ride harder" voice in my head. This was what happened at Cedar Point last year and that day ended with a PR for both ride and run. Of course if I should happen to push too hard that spells disaster: riding the bike split that I could ride instead of the split that I should ride, followed by a nice long walk.

My dad used to talk about this in the context of auto racing. He described driving as something you think of on a scale of 1 - 10 where the race winner is the driver who can successfully maintain 10/10.  Spend most of your day at 9/10 and you're racing for second, but spend even one second at 11/10 and they will be towing your car off the track: DNF aka failure.

And that brings up another motivation for me right now: training and, to a lesser extent, racing, remind me of my dad. My dad was a huge influence in my life and the hole that his death left is both wide and deep. It's not that I need to do something specific to remember him, I don't, he's with me all of the time, it's just that when I'm riding or running my thoughts of him are closer to the surface, richer, more real.

I remember riding mountain bikes together in North Park on Sunday mornings. That then reminds me of the years when we all rode motorcycles together on Sunday morning and went to breakfast or lunch afterwards. I see him taking a test ride on my first ever road bike - a Dave Scott Ironman model - and the smile on his face. Then, of course, I remember him coming to a stop, trying to get his foot out of the toe-clip, failing and falling straight to the pavement. I remember sucking his wheel, me on his road bike and him on a single speed!, in a failing attempt to keep up with him and the rest of our small group, on my first ride back after many years of not biking. Most recently, I remember talking to him about IRONMAN and everything that went into the training and what it felt like to cross the finish line.

In the end, I think that each of these things, together, help me to answer the "why" question.

So why do you...?

Of course it also helps that when I'm training I get to eat almost whatever I want.