I have been racing endurance events for a long time. Last week I was trying to remember the date of my first race, I think it was a duathlon in Columbus, Ohio way back when Pyro pedals were the hot equipment. Late 80’s or early 90’s I think, I really cannot remember which. The only hard clues I have is some finisher plaques from the Muncie Endurathon dating back to 1991. So it has been a while.
Early on it was easy to find the reason to race. It was time with my friends and training partners, Greg, Zen, Barb and Hairy Dave. But it was also a pursuit of fitness and speed. I was in my early 30’s and all of my personal bests were in front of me. I pursued those time related achievements with vigor. Being your typical obsessive-compulsive triathlete, it was easy to spend the better part of a Saturday and Sunday sitting on my bike seat or going for a long 3 hour run. It was nothing back then to put in a 25 hour training week.
Marathons, 5k’s, Sprint Triathlons or bike races it really did not matter. I was in pursuit of seeing how far and fast I could push myself, and I did. The times came down like a rock and I felt joy of achievement. Under 17 for a 5k, under 3hrs for a marathon, won my age group and a few overalls and qualified for Kona. The joy for me was the pursuit of just how fast I could go.
Ten Ironmans later I raced in Kona in 2004. That is the last time I strapped it up in earnest. I have not raced once time since. It’s not that I don’t love racing or the events themselves. I think being at races is a ball and I get a ton of satisfaction out of cheering on friends or even customers. I just lost my reason as to why I race. I am over 50, my days of PR’s are way behind me. I still ride my bike and run, but I don’t train. I just ride my bike, there’s a big difference.
I was a guy that was in pursuit of going faster and faster. What do you do when no matter how hard I work, the only thing I can hope to achieve is to not go as fast as I used to?
A few weekends back I went to a small triathlon in New Hampshire called the Top Notch Tri in Franconia. I have been to every single Ironman in North America and a bunch of other huge races. This was exactly the opposite. 350 participants, lots of cotton t-shirts, no compression socks, no aero wheels. In fact there was no “real” transition area, just a bunch of people sitting on 5 gallon pickle buckets that they brought from home so they could get their shoes on without getting their butt all dirty. A pickle bucket...awesome.
Top Notch may have been local, and less than 2 hours (for most people) but it is a freeken hard event. Easy bike, ½ mile swim and then….run straight up to the top of a Mountain. 3400 feet of elevation gain in 2.4 miles. That boys and girls…is STEEP.
The start was out of a parking lot in town. They just rolled people out into the street and said go. The one (and probably only) cop in town led the way with most of the town following close behind. 4 miles of roads, then 3 miles of dirt single track. That’s it. Simple and fun.
From that point you just dumped your bike next to the lake and jumped in and swam to the other side. .5 miles, no wetsuit transitions or strippers, no speedos, lots of surf shorts and cargo pants.
Out of the lake and to the run transition area. It was an absolute cluster that would have driven the typical type A Ironman out of their minds. Dogs everywhere, people taking pictures, kids, it was mayhem and I loved it. People weren't worried about PR’s, some were serious most were just having fun. Once you sat on your homemade seat and pulled on your shoes it was up up up to the top. Now, I am not a bad runner but this is a brutal run up a ski slope. Most of it you can put your hands on the ground in front of you and bear crawl, it’s that steep.
The event is put on by the Franconia Parks and Rec board to raise funds for things like soccer fields and to pull weeds in the baseball diamond. Not exactly a corporate enterprise. I met the race director’s (husband and wife) after the race and asked them if I could write a story about the event. It took them a little while before the said it was OK, they were worried about the event loosing its’ local flavor.
The reason they put on the event is for fun and for families to get together and have a day outside together. It’s nothing to do with going fast, or far, or the pursuit of some time oriented goals. That message was like a lightning bolt. That’s the way my career started as a way to hang with friends and have fun. It was all about just being there, being fast or winning was just a by-product of genetics. Those goals of "achievements" were not sustainable as I age as an athlete.
What I came away with was that this was the reason I started racing. It’s the fun, the music, the laughs and friendship; not the qualifying or winning the hardware. I actually got the bug to start racing again. I can get into most any event with my contacts, but that isn’t what I want to do. I want to go to events that couldn't care less if you are fast or not, or if you sit on a pickle bucket just so your butt doesn't get dirty.