Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Happiness as Survival.

Every once in a while, an experience jolts you from your quotidian existence, prompting a period of reflection and analysis. In the midst of planning my season of racing, I was drawn to the most recent posts on Slowtwitch regarding the plight of pro triathletes. Seth Wealing sparked an interesting debate on what pros can do to better their standing, and to better the sport of triathlon. Unfortunately, the discussion devolved some to focus mostly on how pros can get more money, and how the sport can be more like American football or baseball. By far the most comprehensive and insightful reply came from Slowtwitch founder, Dan Empfield, as he made some suggestions for helping all pros improve their lot, mostly by developing their brand off the course.

The issue that arose for me in this discussion was the constant reference to the "problems" in the sport of triathlon. It seemed that the discussion moved further from the ideas which might fuel true improvement in the sport, and instead focused on bagging the sport. I have always been a believer in putting emphasis on solutions rather than problems, and although problems must exist and be addressed to prompt resolution, meditating on them doesn't accomplish much. True survivors develop solutions.

The root issue for a lot of us as "pro triathletes" is to find a way to live and support ourselves financially while continuing to train and race in the sport we love. For some of the top elites, it's a reality, but for a good number it's an ongoing struggle. Seth's post initiated a huge number of replies, ranging from the extremely critical to the indifferent, but not many really acknowledged what a blessed existence we lead. While reading the new book, "Born to Run," what really struck me was the discussion of how just being an athlete can help shape happier, better people. It's not just about developing the physical, but also the mental, and when I think about what I get to do day in and day out, it's not hard to be grateful and content.

It's important to remember that nobody is making us race triathlon. Although the sport is still very young and developing, some of the realities surrounding sponsorship are well-established. I only bring this up because it seemed that the majority of the posts were emphasizing how triathlon can be more marketable, bigger, with more money and spectators. As I said before, it's a struggle for a good number of us to make a living, to travel to races, pay rent, and eat absurd volumes of food, but there are much bigger struggles in the world, initiated by forces outside of people's control. My outlook has always been the same when it comes to triathlon: I love competing, being part of a community of dedicated athletes who do interesting things, enjoy themselves, push the boundaries of what is physically and emotionally possible. I have told myself time and time again that I will know it is my time to stop when the sport no longer fuels my spirit, or inspires me to be a better person. In a word, when I no longer enjoy what I am doing.

Let's take a step back, remember our roots, and forget about the money for a minute. Don't you love riding your bike? Running some trails? Getting an early swim in while the rest of the world sleeps? We don't NEED more money, fame, spectators, or airtime. We need a deeper passion for our sport.

Monday, March 1, 2010

2nd Place Desert Classic Duathlon

I just wrapped up the first hard race effort of the year at the Desert Classic Duathlon just north of Scottsdale, Arizona. The event has been gaining attention for many years as the premier early season short course duathlon, so it tends to attract a solid field of athletes. As with many of the other elites competing this year, I was doing some training in the desert, so it was an easy drive up to Fountain Hills outside Scottsdale. Coincidentally, my dad was down for a long weekend of golf and bike riding, so he was able to provide race support and try to keep my clothing dry amidst the downpour while I raced.

It's not often that I roll into a race without a taper, but with Ironman as the first goal of the year, I needed to keep the volume up beforehand. That meant showing up with tired, heavy legs, but it also provided perspective on the race and allowed me to relax more than I normally would. I did a course preview on Saturday to remind myself of the bike layout, and realized that I actually felt okay. With a good dinner and an early night's rest, I was ready to go on race day.

Overnight rains that continued into the morning had shaved the field from 500+ to just 350 competitors, but we pulled in amongst the other diehards, set up transition in the rain, and tried to get in a "warm-up" before the start. I was lucky to have fellow Montana triathletes Linsey Corbin, Jen Luebke, and Brendan Halpin around to keep things light, but I know we were all hoping for at least a little sun.

The first section of run is about a half mile on pavement, allowing people to get sorted before the singletrack dirt trail. From the gun, I went out hard with the leaders, but it was clear that some of the short course specialists had a little more leg speed than I did. Still, I went through the first mile in 5:02, and then settled in to a more conservative 5:20ish pace. Brendan and I came in from the first 3.5 mile loop about 1:30 down to the leader and last year's winner, Chris Foster, in 5th and 6th place respectively. My plan was to attack the bike no matter how terrible I felt, so I went to work right away, pushing hard up the hill out of transition. Within 2 miles, I passed someone who had flatted, and could see two more ahead. Ignoring the legs as they pleaded to back off, I redlined it until I passed 3rd and 4th place, moving clear into 2nd. I couldn't see Chris, as he was biking strong, but I continued to pull time out on everyone else, dodging the partially flooded arroyo crossings. Into the second run I had built a comfortable cushion on my chasers, but still couldn't see Chris. I felt surprisingly good starting the second loop, so I pushed as hard as I could on the muddy trail, weaving past cholla, prickly pear, and saguaro cacti. By the time I hit the one hard climb near the end, I was starting to come unraveled, but I held onto the second place position by about 10 seconds.

Given the training I had going in, and that I shaved almost 3 minutes off my time from last year in terrible conditions, I am happy with the result. With the fastest bike split, and some surprising leg speed on the runs, I think everything is in order for the upcoming year. Like all good things though, my time in the desert is over. I'm actually back in Durango now, adjusting to the winter once again, but happy that the roads seem clear enough to ride (at the moment). Only a few short weeks before team camp in California, then Oceanside 70.3, and a good block of training right afterwards in St. George.

When in doubt, go full gas!