Monday, July 19, 2010
The Athlete Support System
We all learn quickly that triathlon shows us who we are. This enlightenment doesn’t always agree with the vision we have of ourselves. It usually involves good news and bad news. An unexpected second wind can give us just enough to drop cyclists on a hill. We may not have the stamina we thought we trained for, but we make it across the line. For most age group athletes, that’s the reward. After that, we think about faster. We obsess about the precious seconds we can gain or lose from last minute tactical decisions. Late nights are spent laboring over training plans, gear selection, and strategy.
Through each course of a race we find ourselves. Alone, behind the pack in an ocean swim. Passing them on the bike. Trying to catch our breath in transition. All of these moments add up when we cross the finish, and tell us what we have inside. While we all have different reasons for trying (Tri•Ing!), the benefits we gain are equally diverse. Health, confidence, and inner strength are just a few of our rewards. An unexpected benefit, and perhaps the most satisfying, is what the experience says about the people around us - the non-competitors that are a part of our daily lives.
Through all the training and competition, my wife is there. In my daily progress, she prepares healthy meals she doesn’t have an interest in eating, helps me buy gear, and understands when I take off alone on my bike on a beautiful Saturday. I just completed (survived?), two weekends of sprint triathlons. These where my second and third events ever. She got up early on a rare day she’d get to sleep in, carried my food and beverage bag all day, and took pictures of me throughout the race. Hers was the lone voice I heard through the crowd in transitions and at the finish. Then, a fantastic and satisfying event was capped by friends showing up at our house with a barbeque feast and a full cooler. While I sat and recovered, they prepared a meal to celebrate my victory of finishing.
My next event was out of town. Instead of picking my wife up at the airport on the way, I traveled alone while she sat in the airport lounge in Heathrow, having been bumped from her return flight on a business trip. Being only a couple of hours from home, I had friends in the town the event was held. While having dinner out, they told the restaurant owner of my event the next day. Water glasses kept appearing at my side, as the owner urged me to hydrate for the big day. Waking at 4:30 a.m., an uncommon hour for me, I rushed bleary eyed to my car to find a note on the door. “Best Of Luck!!” it said. I grinned widely as I pictured my friends sneaking through the lot in the middle of the night to send me off to race with their confidence. I could have gone home at that point and considered my experience worthwhile. Instead I met up with another friend on the beach before the swim wave, who came to cheer and take pictures. He stayed through the finish, enduring ninety-degree heat in the early hours of his Sunday off.
After a well-earned nap, I woke to the neighbors, one of which helps me with strength training, preparing a cookout on my grill. The event itself faded as I marveled at the enormous support network I found myself amidst.
While triathlon can seem a selfish indulgence, it’s influence carries over to our friends, family, and even strangers. From a friend paddling along in a canoe to back us up on an open water swim to the mail carrier who marvels at our training and competition, we become part of something much bigger than the sport. A sport that is much bigger than the athletes. How has being an Endurance Athlete connected you to the world? Who is part of your team? How far will you go, and who’s coming along for the ride?