I had been doing some running along with the heavy squats and deadlifts that were a more typical part of my normal fitness routine in those days. I'm sure I had something to prove to myself, but 20 years later the free beer is what I remember as the compelling factor. You can bet it wasn't the free t-shirt.
Over the last 20 years my reasons for racing have changed. Free beer is nice, don't get me wrong, but that is no longer my driving force. No, today things are much different.
There was a time where my sole focus was simple - go longer, get faster. It started with short running races - 5k, 10k - which soon led to half marathons and marathons. During the late 1990s if I toed the line and didn't return home with a PR I wondered what I had done wrong ... and I did a lot wrong. Truth be told, I really didn't know what I was doing. I have a lot of stories from those days, most ending with me blowing up or doing something stupid. The longer the race the funnier the story.
|IMCDA: June, 2008|
Over time I talked to people who knew more that I, read some books on running, and learned a thing or two. I got fitter and I raced faster. As I applied what I was learning to my training the race became something different. Yes, I wanted to be faster. Yes, I wanted to "kick ass," whatever that meant to me at the time. Yes, I wanted to place as high as possible. Yet with more knowledge racing became more about the process leading up to the race. If the process built more fitness and the results were not what I expected, I could deal with it. Figure out what happened, modify the system and move on.
I went through the same process in the early 2000s with triathlon - race for performance only while training without a clue, do my homework, then focus on process. With the help of a coach (thanks Bill), on July 23, 2006 I did my first Ironman in Lake Placid with one goal - finish. The process worked great and I met my main goal of hearing Mike Riley call me an Ironman.
No matter what my focus there were two things that always remained at the core. Racing has always been about stretching my boundaries, seeing what I am capable of at any given time. Most of those blowups come from pushing my personal limits, not stupid in-race decisions (although I have my fair share of those as well). I would much rather have 10 races in a row not go as planned in order to get that one great performance in race number eleven.
Racing safe is hard for me to do and I can count the number of races where I played it safe. I don't honestly understand it. Racing safe gives you the best chance of being successful, assuming your definition of success is completing the race in a reasonable (for you) time. Sure you keep from that big blowup, that big failure, but you never get the chance to truly test the limits of your ability.
Since that first Ironman there have been many different goals and many more stories of blowing up. Some of them for really stupid reasons. One year at the Philadelphia Triathlon I killed it on the bike before the crash around mile 3 on the run. Why did I ride so stupidly fast? There was this guy in my age group who passed me and I didn't like his attitude.
Seriously. That actually happened.
|Totally blown up at IMCDA, June, 2008|
The other thing that remains is I always have, and always will, race for myself. I ran on that cold day in 1994 without a care of what anyone else thought. I did the event and earned my chili and beer. In 2006 my family and friends were in Lake Placid cheering me on, but it was all about me. The drive came from within. If you had a problem with it, so be it. I race the races that make me happy, and I race when I want to race. You don't like it, too bad.
Point is, goals of training and racing change over time, but the fundamental reasons we race should remain. As an almost 45 year old triathlete I am much different than the 30 year old marathon runner I used to be. Beyond defining the type of athlete I am (triathlete vs. runner), I have a different perspective on racing. I suspect in 10 years time my perspective will be different than it is today.
In the end it comes down to doing what is best for you and what you enjoy doing. If that's jogging a local 5k great. If it's qualifying for the Ironman World Championships ... well that's great too. No matter what you race just make sure you are doing it for the right reasons.
Thanks for reading.
Train hard. Stay focused.