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August 2, 2007

Ambivalence at the Pass

As I’m counting down to this weekend’s Ironman (sorry – I mean long-distance triathlon), I’ve got a couple of items bouncing around my head that are only marginally related to each other. So today you get a warmup post, and then some final thoughts before I’m outta here for the weekend. I’ll see you on the other side of Vineman.

My little M-dot dissertation (two posts ago) made its way to raceAthlete this week, which made me reconsider the overall message I intended to convey. Just to be clear – my cynicism with the whole M-dot phenomena is NOT with the races themselves, which provide opportunities for countless athletes to compete in Ironman-distance triathlons that they otherwise might not have considered. Nor is it with the athletes who participate in them.

Honestly, I feel that the more Ironman triathletes there are, and the more successful triathlons that exist around the country, the better. My frustration is with the whole cutthroat, corporate money-grubbing aspect of the WTC - which is understandable from a purely capitalistic standpoint, but goes completely against the whole grassroots mentality of triathlon - and the smaller number of age-group triathletes who seem to have drunk too much of the M-dot Kool-Aid.

Seriously – should it matter to any of these athletes if the city of Tempe had decided to host a long-distance triathlon under a different name than Ironman Arizona? Would some people have stayed away simply because it wasn’t an M-dot? But for whatever reason, to some triathletes, the logo does matter that much – a position I find simply indefensible.

So what’s my recommendation for improvement? Take a page from marathoning’s handbook, and institute qualifying times for Kona - as marathons do for Boston - based on age and gender. Make them challenging enough to keep the number of overall entrants where it is now, but accessible enough to be a realistic goal for top-level age groupers across the country (I know there’s a stat geek somewhere who could figure this out). In the years to come, let any city that wants to host an Iron-distance race do so, and let them all be qualifying events for Kona – regardless of whether or not the race is an M-dot.

Of course, that just seems like common sense … so it will probably never happen. But a guy can always hope.


“And you’re standing on a rocky ledge – looking down into a heartless sea -
Done with life on the razor’s edge – nothing’s like you thought it would be.”
- Rush, “The Pass”

Is it possible to get post-race depression BEFORE a big event? Because I’ve been trying to fire myself up for this weekend’s race, but it already feels somewhat anticlimactic.

Everyone says that Ironman is about the journey, and not the destination – and I wholeheartedly agree. The past several months of training have been an absolute blast. The best way I can describe this whole period of time is to say it’s been a blessing – especially when I realize how many people suffer daily hardships that make triathlon training completely inconsequential.

And I think that’s the lesson that has struck me the most profoundly in recent weeks: how relatively trivial (not to mention self-centered) this whole process of Ironman training can be.

In many ways, the journey comes with a steep price tag. It’s the time away from family or work. It’s the imperative of always squeezing one extra hour into a bike ride, or one extra workout into a week. It’s having a shorter than normal fuse with children or spouses who need patience, because you’re so exhausted you can barely stay awake.

Triathlon is an inherently selfish endeavor, and Ironman training is as demanding as it gets. So as I stand on the precipice of accomplishment, my feelings vacillate between pride for all of the physical milestones I’ve attained in training, and shame for how many other things in my life I’ve short changed or excluded to get here.

It’s the razor’s edge of training: veer too far one way and your training is insufficient, veer too far the other way, and everything else starts slipping. Everything in life has to balance – and lately, I’ve been in the red with almost every type of responsibility besides training. But, you know … on the bright side, after this weekend, I’ll be an Ironman (or Vineman. Whatever.) Does that make both sides of the equation equal? I’ve been wondering that a lot this week, and so far, I haven’t liked the answers.

However, none of this lamentation should be taken to mean that I won’t work my tail off this Saturday. I’m absolutely committed to giving my best performance - and I’ll suffer and bleed and crawl and fight to have the best race possible. I may not be proud of the high volume of training I’ve done, but I’m sure as heck not going to squander it.

Nor should this imply that I’m swearing off of Ironman races in the future. I think everyone has seasons in their life when the demands of Ironman fit into their overall lifestyle, and others when it’s just too much. In hindsight, this calendar year probably wasn’t the best season for me to take on this particular challenge - but at some point down the road, enough variables will fall into place to encourage me to try again.

I realize this isn’t exactly a Vince Lombardi-style pep talk as I’m heading into the weekend, but I also know that pep talks won’t do me much good at this point anyway. The work has been done, and the hay is in the barn. I’m either ready or I’m not. All that’s left is to go knock it out.

“Turn around, turn around, turn around … turn around and walk the razor’s edge.”
- Rush, “The Pass”


Laurie 8/2/07, 11:20 AM  

I completely agree with everything you said.

If the taper is going to your head, it isn't showing!

Enjoy your race and the preparation that got you there. I have no doubt you will have a great one. :)

Phoenix 8/2/07, 11:36 AM  

You hit many nails right on the head. Selfish - gratifying. Difficult - Sometimes seemingly pointless. Yet, we are driven to do this. There was a reason you chose to go the Long Course this year - maybe its not clear now, but it might be someday. Sometimes, an investment in ourselves is the best choice we cn make. Have a great race!

stronger 8/2/07, 12:11 PM  

If your motivation is to prove something to someone other than you- then yes, it is a selfish endeavor. But if you gain strength, perserverence, appreciation, determination...how can that be selfish as it will transfer to all areas of your life? You teach your children about setting goals, following schedules, taking care of their bodies. You teach them that if they cut corners they will suffer on race day. You show them how the family supports individual interests and accomplishments.

You give them bragging rights. "My dad is a not-an-Ironman Ironman."

GO have an amazing race! You have a fabulous family behind you- a wonderful wife and darling children. And when they hug you at the end of your 140.6- you'll know it was worth it. Then, a little later on, ask what they want to do next.

a.maria 8/2/07, 12:15 PM  

have SO MUCH FUN saturday, soak up the experience, swim straight, bike fast, and run strong. we'll be here cheering for you!


Tri-Dummy 8/2/07, 2:20 PM  

Ironman has grown into more than just the race or company. In my opinion, it's the distance.

Similar to everything sticky thing you stick on a booboo is a Bandaid...a company, btw.

Everyone who completes 140.6 is an Ironman in my books.

Downhillnut 8/2/07, 4:31 PM  

I get what you said, and really like Stronger's response. Oh, and I agree with tri-dummy too.

Race hard, Donald! Find meaning in it, and use it well.

Dante 8/2/07, 5:04 PM  

Best of luck on Saturday mate.

Backofpack 8/2/07, 5:51 PM  

I think you are right, and though I also think Stronger has some good points...I'm not sure they balance out. See, the thing is, though the lessons your kids learn from this can be good ones, they are also egocentric little souls - and the sharp words, or the time without can go deep - kids don't always see the bigger picture. Marathoning, running ultras, training for Ironmans - they are all selfish endeavors. I'm not trying to make you feel guilty - as you know my husband and I have spent some heavy time in training this year. I've felt guilty about how much time we've spent away from our 18 year old son. So, as you said, balance is the key. I think if there is an endpoint in sight, our families can wait it out. If one ends and another begins, and it just rolls on and on, then I'm not so sure.

That said, kick some butt this weekend Donald! We are rooting for you up in Puyallup!

rick 8/2/07, 11:59 PM  

Good luck Donald. I hope you have a great and strong race, one that you can be proud about like your Big Sur marathon this year.

About the selfishness of it all. I hear you. Both triahtlon and ultra are selfish pursuits. I spend a lot of time training and I spend a lot of time away from friends so I can go train. I think it's part of what drives me to volunteer at races and pitch in with training groups. Makes me feel a little better.

Annette 8/3/07, 10:33 AM  

Interesting timing for your post-race depression. I am glad that you are still planning to go hard. Hopefully, since you're feeling down now, you'll be on a major high afterwards. Don't overthink what's in the past. Instead decide what your future will hold.

craig 8/3/07, 9:20 PM  

Your M-dot thoughts make sense to me but then I don't consider myself to be an athlete so what do I know? Looking forward to hearing about the race.

Ben, aka BadBen 8/3/07, 9:30 PM  

I get post-race depression, and I think most athletes do, to a certain extent.
Take care.

Mike 8/4/07, 3:55 PM  

Donald- positive vibes your way for a strong race!! I'll be looking forward to your race report.

Great post, btw. Totally agree..especially with the "journey, not the destination" comment...I enjoy the training much more so then any particular race.

David 8/15/07, 6:57 PM  

I am way late to comment pre-Vineman but my purpose is to reflect that the commitment you make to the training is similar in some respects to what athletes and performers deal with when they attai celebrated status (fans). They get so good they sacrifice privacy. You lose the everything-but-tri time.

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