I don’t have the fanciest smartphone in the world, or the smartest (in fact when my students see me pull it out, they tend to chuckle), but it does have one feature that I do quite like. Every week it reminds me of what I was doing around the same time the year before. A couple of weeks ago it showed me pictures I had taken from the Ironman 70.3 World Championships that were held in Nice, France. I was instantly hit by an emotional wave of nostalgia when I realized that I hadn’t raced since then…like at all, not once. This realization got me to thinking about the many things I miss about racing and the sport of triathlon in general (many of which will find their way into future blog posts), with one in particular that sort of colours the way I look at all the races I have ever done. The thing I miss the most about racing (and preparing to race) is the unmistakable irrationality of the sport itself (at least as it relates to my life). Actually, when you really think about it, the more absurd it seems that I do it at all.
- It is incredibly expensive, but I do it anyway. I am a public-school teacher which means I make a little less money per week than some of my students putting in part-time four to midnight shifts at the Tim Horton’s where I buy my morning coffee. The only way I can afford the equipment we are made to believe is absolutely essential, is to purchase it second-hand or to save money by giving up other things, like food. Last year, I spent quite a bit more money on triathlon (travel, gear, shoes, pool memberships, etc.) than my car was worth when it was new (well, new to me…I was only able to afford my shiny, red Kia Rio used).
- It takes up all of my ‘spare’ time, but I do it anyway. I am not even entirely certain what ‘spare’ time is. If I am not at (a) at work, (b) asleep, (c) training, (d) at one of my son’s athletic activities, (e) training), (f) eating, or (g) training, I can be found training for triathlon. There simply aren’t any other hours in the day. And when I say ‘sleeping’, I really mean the five and a half hours I spend rolling over and over in bed worried about the alarm going off, with at least one eye open the entire time. I often hear the people I work with talking about binge-watching things like ‘The Tiger King’ and ‘Cobra Kai’ on Netflix, and I have to pretend I have the foggiest idea what they are talking about. The first time a colleague asked me what I thought of the Tiger King, I answered, “Hakuna Matata”. He correctly called me an idiot and walked away in disgust. I have never even seen a single episode of ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘Game of Thrones’, not one. As is the case with many triathletes, my understanding of the concept of ‘spare time’ consists of waking up twenty minutes before the alarm is scheduled to go off (at 3:30 AM) due to a distended bladder. Because this is much coveted ‘free’ time, I spend it the only constructive way I can think of: I sit down to pee and check out my triathlon groups on Facebook…LUXURY!
- It means making many sacrifices, but I do it anyway. Every year around Oscars time (and I really don’t know when that is), people I know ask me which film I think will take top honours this year. They find it hard to believe that one of the last movies I saw in an actual cinema, that wasn’t a children’s animated Disney film, was The Karate Kid…like the first one. The only occasion whereby I have the opportunity to eat out in an actual restaurant is when I am travelling somewhere to race, which means that if I were to write a dictionary, next to the entry for the word ‘restaurant’ there would be a photograph of The Olive Garden. Date night with my girlfriend means that my afternoon/evening workout was a swim session which, since they tend to be shorter in duration than my runs and bike workouts, means there is time to watch half an episode of ‘Big Bang Theory’ while eating supper on the couch. Super romantic, you should try it. Going out with my mates now consists of riding a school bus from T2 to the swim start at 4:30 AM on race day with 80 or so strangers who are incessantly waxing poetic about their ‘taper’, which, of course, leaves me feeling inadequate due to the fact that the bus ride itself IS my ‘taper’. And, if somehow, I manage to get more than six hours of sleep at night, my watch will actually deliver test messages to my phone saying, “Dude, WTF”.
- Triathlon is super hard, but I do it anyway. The mass of Western Civilization is geared towards the avoidance of hard work and abhors the physical pain that accompanies it. By contrast, triathletes have chosen this particular quirky little sport specifically because it is hard. I’ve seen triathletes wearing T-Shirts that have phrases like, IF TRIATHLON WAS EASY, THEY’D HAVE CALLED IT FOOTBALL (you can substitute any other typically ‘tough guy’ sport). No, triathletes seek out the most painful moments of our already exhausting sport and celebrate them. When we talk about a race, we always mention the toughest bits first, with almost religious reverence. It is actually the pain that we crave far more than the victory few of us ever achieve.
For all of these reasons, I find that the sport of triathlon is very much like a drug addiction which is also entirely irrational. We know that what we are doing might not be completely healthy (physically, socially, even emotionally), but we do it anyway. As I sit here in an attempt to convey what I mean by triathlon defying common sense, I am reminded of a short vignette that occurred a few years ago. What you are about to read actually happened, though I have altered a couple of minor details merely to permit a more profound understanding.
So we’re at the airport looking to board a flight home from a race and my buddy spots a forty-something dude wearing multi-coloured compression socks, an Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga race visor, a bulky thousand dollar GPS smartwatch on each wrist, Oakley wrap-around sunglasses (inside the airport) with full mirrored lenses, Compressport arm warmers (different colour for each arm – lavender for left and ruby for right) while proudly sporting a tank-top that has the words, ‘Northwestern Oklahoma Super Sprint Tri and Turkey Trot’, or something like that, anyway, and is waxing poetic to his team of coaches over speakerphone about the kale/chia-seed/hemp-heart, watermelon and banana protein shake he had for breakfast, optimal tire pressure for a rear disc wheel, and reciting his power to weight ratios for the previous day’s race, to the fourth decimal place.
“Check out this loser”, my friend scoffs, expecting me to join him in his private little judgement.
“All I say in reply is, “Guy Fieri”.
“What do you mean, Guy Fieri?”, he asks, obviously quite puzzled.
“Guy Fieri, from the Food Network”, I reply, not quite sure how he is missing the significance of my reference.
“Ya, I know who he is. What does Fieri have to do with this dork? Is he attempting some sort of B-List celebrity 1/8th sprint triathlon or something?”, he continues, unable to mask his mounting frustration.
“Not that I know of”, I reply. “In fact, I’m pretty sure he’d have a heart attack and drown before reaching the first buoy”.
Now, nearing exasperation, my friend says, trying desperately to keep his voice below a shout, “Then what are you talking about…Guy Fieri?”.
“He’s like this triathlete dude”, I argue.
“No”, my buddy continues, “Guy Fieri is , like, overweight, wears bowling shirts with acid washed jeans, way too much jewelry, sunglasses on the back of his head, and is busy forever fist-bumping, calling people BROTHER, and saying, ‘SHUT THE FRONT DOOR!’. I beg to differ, but he is very much not like a triathlete.
“He is, though”, I insist.
“How?”, my buddy says, simultaneously exhaling a loud sigh.
“Well, it’s like this”, I continue. “I have pretty much zero in common with this guy”, I said, gesturing towards the overzealous tri dude. “In fact, looking at him and listening to him, I can safely admit that I damn near can’t stand one individual thing about him. But, for some mysterious reason, when packaged all together…it works. This guy has gone all-in and because he has committed his entire being to this collection of abhorrent flaws, he pulls it off…Just like Fieri. I have absolutely no reason to like anything about either one of them, but because of their commitment to a harmless ideal, they’re both really friggin’ cool to me”.
Begrudgingly, my friend concedes the point to me, without actually agreeing with my analysis, and we leave tri-guy alone and make our way towards the departure lounge. As we arrive, I notice three televisions hanging from three pillars around the area and they are all playing the same show: No shit, it’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. I look over at my friend and I’m about to exclaim how freaky this is, when he cuts me off before I can utter a word and says, “SHUT THE FRONT DOOR!”. All I had in return was, “You got that right, BROTHER!”.
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