When I tell people I compete in triathlons, I almost always get the same reaction — their eyes widen, their heads shake back and forth, they get a look of disbelief on their face and they almost always say, “What…triathlons? You’re crazy!” It’s a pretty common reaction, and one I completely understand. In fact, this past Saturday morning as I prepared to compete in my 3rd and final race of the season, I asked myself that very question.
It was 6 a.m., and the sun was still 45 minutes from making an appearance. My husband and I racked our bikes, staged our gear for efficient transitions, grabbed our swim caps and goggles and made our way down to the lakefront which, because of the early start time, was engulfed in total darkness. We could barely make out the outlines of the other racers, many of whom were relying on the lights from their GPS watches to avoid stepping on rocks or small debris from the trees. My husband and I waited as long as we could before entering the water to warm-up, but because the sun was still minutes away from breaking through the clouds, warm-up was more like a moonlight swim.
Now I’m a “glass half full” kind of gal, so I couldn’t help but giggle at the absurdity of the situation. “What an adventure,” I thought. However, my internal optimism was quieted when I thought to myself: “What in the world am I doing here?”
So, why do I do it? I mean, I spend enough time and money on endurance racing so I better have a good answer, right? Well, I do have an answer — I love the journey and am captivated by the “The Process” (as Alabama head coach Nick Saban would say) of what it takes to get to the finish line.
Think about it. At some point, every athlete who joined me Saturday morning made the decision to sign up for this race. They set their goals and then spent months training to reach that goal, and along the way they had to overcome mental blocks, injuries and other outside elements — bugs, snow, heat, rain, cramps and fatigue, you name it, we’ve all trained through it!
And the training, well that’s the easy part! Because regardless of how physically and mentally prepared you are on race morning, anything can (and often does happen). I’ve dealt with a dropped chain and bugs flying into my helmet. I’ve seen elite athletes, who could run circles around me, sitting on the side of the road with leg cramps. Men and women who’ve spent thousands of dollars on fancy high-tech bikes pulled over on the side of the road with a parts failure or a flat just a few miles into the ride. I watched a girl sob uncontrollably on mile 24 of The New York City marathon, as the physical pain tried to break her mental strength. But you know what, she pushed on!
Every time I pass someone whose race “journey” is interrupted, I think about what it takes to correct, refocus and move forward. What’s their motivation? Because it’s different for everyone.
This past summer, I competed in three triathlons, and each time I had a different motivation. One weekend, I swam with a woman whose head was shaved indicating her fight against cancer. The next race, I was determined to beat my husband’s best time (still haven’t accomplish that one), and this past Saturday my motivation was an 11-year-old named Alyssa. Alyssa and I went back and forth during the bike and swim, encouraging each other with a “great job” or a “you’re kicking butt” as we exchanged the lead spot. And just when I thought I had her beat, she blew past me with a half mile remaining in the run and ended up beating me. Yeah, yeah, I know I got beat by an 11-year-old….but hey, maybe I was her motivation too!
So as I get ready for my first College football game of the season, I can’t help by thing of the journey that lies ahead for all teams. They all start the season with the same expectations — to get to the finish line. And just like triathlons, you never know what the challenges the “journey” will bring. Because at some point, each and every player will have to ask themselves the question: “What is my motivation?”