We triathletes at one point or another – whether just starting out or having been in it for years – get that same question…”Why?” My boss doesn’t really understand – she’s more concerned I am going to get sick or badly inured and therefore, cannot come to work. My mom finally has accepted that this is a big part of my life and I get “that’s nice dear” and she’s even shown up for the race but she doesn’t understand why. I read Triathlete magazine and Triathlon Canada and blogs and books on the subject and there are oodles of articles about trying to explain to people why one would choose to do triathlons. Each answer is different – none were mine.
Let’s just put this out there….the majority of us can’t answer the question because we haven’t figured out why ourselves! We just do it. We’re not sure why but it gives us a rush and it’s addictive. I had this discussion with Marc last week over a pint and nachos – the racing anyway – is like a drug. The more used to the distance, the more (longer distance) you want. I’ve gone from running a 10k race to saying “pfft – half ironman – piece of cake”. But really, what is it that keeps me going? Why do I sacrifice friends and family for a 5 hour bike ride followed by a one hour run? Why do I squeeze into a wetsuit and risk going into shock in an ice-cold lake on a cold, wet, rainy morning to do an olympic distance triathlon? Why have I been obsessed with that sub 17 goal? Why AM I actually doing this?
When I created this blog, I listed some demons that I was trying to squash through my pursuit of amateur athletics. It has been quite successful (although they will always be a part of me to keep me in line – life is all about balance after all). But whenever someone asks me “why would you do that?” Or I get a look of astonishment and horror from my boss when she finally realized how long an actual swim, bike and run is for an iron distance race, I’m stumped. I’ve never known what to say except “well, it keeps me healthy.” To which I’m sure people are thinking that there are other ways to stay healthy. So then I say “well, it’s fun.” Is racing for 7 hours in the blazing heat, suffering from dehydration and sunburn or having to wear a wetsuit on your bike to protect you from the snow during a 70.3 distance race fun? How is that fun? That can’t be the answer. “It’s how I deal with stress.” No. When you spend each moment of your spare time training and still trying to fit in housework and socializing and paying bills and buying groceries, and even making healthy meals to eat… if anything – this adds more stress. My best friend would rather meditate or read a book.
At some point, the answer comes to you…sometimes during a long run or bike ride, getting inspired by a personal hero – or even during a quiet, mundane moment where a flash of brilliance bursts through the surface. While everybody has a different reason, I finally figured out mine.
It happened yesterday when my boss asked me to photo copy this 75 page book and give two copies to one of our ergonomic consultants and our industrial designer. Right away, I noticed it was a new concept on marketing – branding products. Well, isn’t that ironic, I thought. I have a diploma in Public Relations. What made me laugh is the book is just a new tactic utilizing age old marketing and advertising methods. I’ve seen the same concepts before in my advertising classes, studied them, practiced them – knew them quite well. To think though – and I just had to laugh – here I am, with all this knowledge in sales and marketing, photocopying a marketing book so that our consultants can learn how to brand our products…or our company. I don’t really know. I used to ask “what for” but that was always met with the feeling that I didn’t need to know because I was just the office assistant. So as I mindlessly copied each page, I started thinking about my life and all the goals I had set out to do as a young twenty year old and never finished – 3 years of post secondary education that never amounted to much in terms of a career. What surprised me is that I felt completely emotionless about the whole thing. I wasn’t angry, sad or resentful. It wasn’t even acceptance. I just felt nothing. It was more of an observation than feeling hurt because my talents were overlooked. That’s when I realized – all of my career goals that gave me a spark and something to work towards have turned to dust and unfolded into this mindless photocopying task. Career wise – I have failed to feel fulfilled. But it doesn’t bother me because I am good at this mindless work and I get paid well for it. But ultimately, I am a drone.
Sure, I have time to change that – but that change would have to come soon given I’m at mid-life. So why am I not worried? Why do I not feel the need to just quit this job and chase my dream job? Why do I continue to be a robot when it comes to work? Why have I accepted that fact when, the first 40 years of my life, I defined myself by what my career would be? Why was this not upsetting me in any way?
Because suddenly, my career goals do not matter anymore (maybe that’s a maturity thing???). Something else has replaced that need to feel accomplished. When I’m at work, I feel mindless and on auto-pilot. I am an efficient machine and excel at getting projects done and out the door on time. I work within a collective hive, all cogs in a wheel that produce work efficiently and in a timely manner. I am not allowed to think and I’m not asked for input – but when I’m asked to complete a task, damn it, I don’t ask questions – I just do it and I do it well without even taking a breath, a break, without having to eat or drink and without having to think.
However, when I’m training, I’m alive. I have to plan, think on my feet, celebrate success and deal with upsets. I get angry when a truck drives too fast, too close to me when I’m biking on the highway. When I notice a swimmer in the lane next to me during a swim practice try to outpace me, I grin and think “ok…bring it.” After which, we both look at each other at the end of the lane and laugh and high five. A few days before race day, I deal with butterflies and a pounding heart and an overwhelming urge to go to the bathroom way too many times – the things that remind us that we are flesh and blood. Nerves tell me not to listen to race morning chatter but during the race, I happily exchange thank yous whenever I hear “on your left” and we both say to each other “good job” and we mean it. I get excited over my fellow athletes triumphs and I can relate to their nutritional woes. When I’m watching Marc or a fellow age group triathlete cross the finish line after enduring hours of pain and suffering, I cry for them. I get teary eyed whenever I watch Sister Madonna, with a bright smile on her face, cross the line at Kona under a dark, starry sky.. I feel that competitive spirit. I laugh along with the other back of the pack bikers who crack jokes about just wanting to finish under 17 hours. When I cross a finish line – no matter what type of race, I feel a jolt of electricity through me that says “You have accomplished something spectacular for yourself! You worked hard to get here and you did it!” I look at the volunteers smiling at me and people I don’t even know clapping and banging on the finisher’s chute boards and I high five little kids I don’t even know and I’m grateful to be alive and living in this wonderful moment with all these wonderful people!!!
At work, I am Borg. When I swim, bike and run…I am human!
So there is my answer. I am a triathlete because it makes me feel alive, human, accomplished, and part of a great group of individuals who are all have their own individual goals and means to get there.
Have you figured out your “why” yet?