Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why do you race?

The last page of the Spring 2011 USA Triathlon magazine has an article by Jeff Matlow called the Tao of Triathlon. After 19 years of racing, he says he's finally becoming "more introspective and slightly less dimwitted." Out of this reflection has come his 14 tips for racing, one of which particularly struck me as I close in on the start of my race season.
  1. Before you get to the starting line, make sure you know the reason you are racing triathlon. Write it down; remember it. when things don't go as planned, this will be your source of hope. As Nietzsche's triathlete second cousin once said, "he who has a why to race a triahlon can bear with almost any how."
Why do you race triathlons (or races or competitions of any sort)?  Why do I?  I had a 4 hour car ride today and lots of time to ponder this.  Here are some of my reasons.

1.  I race because it's hard.
I once read that runners like to push up against walls - be it speed, endurance, hills, mental barriers, or pain. Yes, in a strange way I do like to push against and beyond my own walls.  Each time I race I consider that I have a choice to face these walls with bold courage or timidity. 

2. I race for the focus and structure it brings to my training.
I love to train! But without a goal, without a target, my training would lose meaning and importance.  Any goal will do - it may not even be a race, it may be rehab or base building, but some focus is crucial for me.

3. I race to be around other racers.
The energy from others is contagious and encouraging. Through this shared experience great friendships have blossomed.

4. I race to be reminded that age really is just a number.
Yeah, I admit I do get a kick out of passing the 20- and 30-somethings. Triathlon is a bit of an equalizer as it rewards the grit and toughness that comes with age.

5. I race for my kids.
I want my kids to know that I know what it's like to put yourself out there, to deal with nerves and butterflies, and to handle uncertainty. I want them to witness how consistent effort can get you to a goal. I want them to see how to race your own race and to do so with joy, gratitude, perspective, humility, and reflection.

Notice that I don't have "fun" listed as a reason I race.  It's fun to cross the finish line, and there are some moments of fun and even playfulness along the course, but overall I'm not sure I can honestly say the actual race itself is fun. Yet I'm inexplicably drawn to it.  Is this strange?  Do others feel this way?

Well, even without fun as a reason, I still have five other meaningful reasons. Thanks, Jeff Matlow, for this reminder.  When the body is complaining and the mind is faltering at the next race, I will think back to this list of reasons that I am there.  I have my "why" and will bear the "how." I'll simply scrape up my courage and look for the next 20- or 30-something victim to pass :-)

Please share your comments!